It has been said music is a universal language that every human being, irrespective of his or her socioeconomic condition or geographic location, can use to communicate with and understand others. According to Ban Ki-moon, United Nations former Secretary General, sport “is a language every one of us can speak.” Sport, as a universal language, can be a powerful medium for social and economic change. Sport is a means of exchange and understanding among people of various backgrounds, nationalities or beliefs, and it promotes expression beyond traditional barriers.
It has long been perceived that sport is a fundamental right of all people. Sport is far more than a form of entertainment and amusement. It is much more than winning medals. Access to and participation in sport and physical activity are human rights and are essential for individuals of all ages to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. To be clear, when we refer to sport we mean all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. The dual benefits of sport as a fundamental human right instrument and engine for development makes sport a common activity undertaken by rich and poor countries.
Today, all countries are recognizing the positive contribution of sport to the realization of development and peace through its promotion of tolerance and respect, support for the empowerment of young men and women, individuals and communities, and contributions to health, education, social inclusion, and other national objectives. The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP), based in Geneva, works to bring the worlds of sport and development together and maintains a firm belief in the idea that “Sport brings individuals and communities together. Sport provides a forum to learn skills such as discipline, confidence, and leadership, and it teaches core principles such as tolerance, cooperation, respect, and the value of effort.” When these positive aspects of sport are emphasized, sport becomes a powerful vehicle through which countries can work towards achieving their goals.
The positive influence of sport on all aspects of human life, including its benefits for health, socialization, self-confidence, and mutual understanding across divisions of race, culture and gender, means that its importance should not be overlooked in any national development projects and initiatives. Sport can contribute to economic development by creating additional sources of income, including the manufacture of sporting goods, the development of related services and infrastructure, tourism and hosting of sports events. It is the economic reasons along with other benefits that encourage countries to host Olympic Games, global competitions, and other international sporting events.
Sport should therefore be seen as an engine for development, not as by-product of it. Sport and development have many common denominators in that both demand participation and inclusion of the mass population, in general, and the youth, in particular. In most countries, sport is seen as directly related to national development projects. Indeed, many countries have a ministry dedicated to sport. In Eritrea, sport is regarded as an important driver of development and is currently administered by a commission of sport and culture.
The role of sport in the national development efforts of Eritrea has been well articulated and understood.
Sport can provide a useful channel for improving relations between nations. Sport’s role in nation-building is multi-faceted: a victory in a major international sport event provides national dignity and pride. Sportsmen and sportswomen equally – and sometimes more than politicians – have the power to represent the correct image and advance the interest of one country. Zeresenai Tadese, Daniel Teklehaimanot, Ghirmay Gebreslasie and others, much more than only winning medals in international sport events, have helped introduce Eritrea to the world. The victories scored by these athletes are a proud legacy from which the present and future generations of the country will benefit for many years to come.
Sport can play a positive role in winning public diplomacy. Sport can be an innovative and effective tool assisting existing efforts to achieve specific targets of foreign relations and domestic affairs concerning education, gender equality, combating HIV/AIDS, and other diseases. More importantly, well designed sport programs are also a cost-effective way to contribute significantly to health, education, development and peace and a powerful medium through which to mobilize societies. Notably, Eritrea has a regular sports program for Eritrean students; this year it was conducted from 8th to 14th July 2017 in Asmara. During the competition, young students from all over Eritrea came together to compete, share, learn, and have fun.
This student sport festival could serve as an important opportunity to identify and trap emerging talent, especially from deprived areas. This calls for an integrated system from the school level in order for talents to be recognized and cultivated at an early stage and then developed to an elite level. Sport federations need to forge partnerships with schools if we expect to intensify the identification and nurturing of talent. Through time this sport festival of students could be elevated to a national festival that truly reflects the diversity of our people and contributes significantly in eradicating poverty, improving human capability, empowering youth, creating healthy and sustainable communities, consolidating social cohesion, and promoting national identity. The student sport festival has also contributed greatly to the future development of sport in our country. Traditional games with the potential to provide insight into cultural practices of various ethnic groups in the six provinces of Eritrea and with the power to reinforce community values, customs, and symbolize the beauty of diversity must also be carefully managed.
Sport therefore is an instrument to stimulate economic growth, enhance foreign relations and domestic stability. Effectively designed sports programs are also the best apparatus of human rights. The recreational and entertaining aspects of sport were among the top constructive “vitamins” necessary for the development and growth of youth. Sport strengthens basic human capabilities, creates connections between individuals, and teaches positive and needed values and life skills required for development. They are a valuable tool to initiate social development and reinforce social cohesion. To achieve this objective, we have a responsibility to use sport and recreation to transform and develop all parts of the country equally, in line with the idea of social justice and self-reliance.
There is no doubt that sport is a promising tool for development. Sport’s enjoyable, participatory, unifying and engaging nature makes it appealing and universal. After 15 years of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, in which Eritrea was able to achieve remarkable victories, the world has now turned its attention to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A UN resolution concerning the SDGs stated that sport is an important enabler of sustainable development. The UN recognizes “the growing contribution of sport to the realization of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives” (UN A/RES/70/1). Eritrea, which has already registered a good record in the eight MDGs, is looking forward to the realization of the 17 SDGs to be pursued over the next 13 years. Toward this end, we have to carefully maximize the benefits gained from sport.
Today, international politics is able to fly high and far undetected using the wings of sport. War has been described as a continuation of politics by other means. Sport is also elevated to such levels. Sports come to symbolize nations. There is a strong connection between sport and national identification. Many countries across the world are known for a certain type of sport. In this case, Eritrea has been globally known through cycling and athletics. Thus, cycling and athletics could be used to promote Eritrean culture and traditions. Though many ways sport could be organized against cultural and political hegemony and encourage independence, development, socio-economic growth, health, self reliance, and social justice. Apart from this it could also assist as a potentially progressive activity to introduce Eritrea to the world.
Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences