“Every Child has a right to play”, Article 31, UNCRC.

Sport is more than a game. An estimated one billion people watched the London Olympics opening ceremony and as the nation remains gripped by sporting fever, the power and potential of sports as a tool for development is limitless. Go almost anywhere in the world and it won’t be long before you see a group of children chasing a ball. In countries around the world sport is being used to enrich the lives of millions of children and young people. Aside from the physical and mental benefits that sport brings, its power is being harnessed to promote education, healthy living, to fight poverty and in conflict resolution. The right to play and participate in physical activity is entrenched in international law, under article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international human rights treaty ratified by almost every country in the world which sets out the basic rights that every child regardless of race, gender or ethnicity is entitled to.

In 2007, following presidential elections in Kenya, trouble broke out between local Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups, leaving 20 people dead and more than a thousand displaced. Several of the displaced were volunteers with the African sports empowerment programme and realised how sport could be used to build bridges between communities. The volunteers set up activities in the make-shift camp and arranged a football match between rival tribes. It was a risky proposition and many thought there could be more fighting and killing. It turned out very differently; before the match the players shook hands and a month later 80 young people came together to play a series of sports, this time amongst mixed tribes. By the end of the year over 600 young people become involved in sports arranged by the volunteers. The matches were followed by discussions about the need for peace led by local leaders. It would be naïve to think that sport alone is a viable solution for long term peace and reconciliation. But it can build bridges and open routes for communication without which there can be no reconciliation.

When Seb Coe delivered the London 2012 bid seven years ago, he promised to leave a sporting legacy both at home and abroad. The programme – international inspiration aimed to use the power of sport to help millions of children and young people, particularly in developing countries through high quality and inclusive physical education, sport and play. Funded by DFID and through various implementing partners the programme reached 12 million children in 20 countries. According to the Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey, an estimated 17,000 children die annually due to drowning. Broken down, this constitutes around 26% of all deaths among 1-4 year olds and 29% of all deaths among 5-9 year olds. The drowning rate goes down as soon as children learn to swim, however at age 10, less than 50% of children know how to swim. Since its inception, International Inspiration alongside the Bangladesh Swimming federation has taught swimming survival techniques to over 80,000 non-swimming children and trained 784 swimming instructors in seven flood prone districts.

Restless Beings are building a village in Dhaka to provide a home for 100 of the most marginalised street children in Bangladesh to save them from sexual abuse, human trafficking, drug abuse, homelessness and isolation. In addition to providing shelter, education, health benefits, and counselling, creativity, as well as sport will be used to teach them the valuable life skills; teamwork, self-discipline, respect, leadership and the value of social freedoms that every child deserves.

Many of the children having gone through unimaginable pain, abuse and hardship will be severely traumatized and using sport and recreation we can provide them with a sense of normality, to help them integrate in a healthy and safe environment where they can attempt to heal their emotional scars and flourish. For young girls who are often discouraged from education and many of whom are the victims of horrific sexual abuse, sport can help them gain self-esteem, respect for their bodies and to challenge the stereotype that they are less able and weaker than boys.

More RB Village Articles

Get Newsletter

Urgent Appeal

Support Rohingya Genocide Survivors