Integration – Sport as vehicle for moral education

Ethical philosophies as previously discussed build a foundation to understand and appreciate diversity, by respecting other belief and value systems.  Ethics is a normative field of study that mainly relies on rational justification of arguments.  It answers questions on good behavior of human beings, with guidelines and recommendations by developing a string of arguments with good reason and conclusive evidence.  The following considers ethical theories to assess the best, in light of the goal of this document, framework that shall underlie the overall methodology.  Based on those claims, a recommendation emerges for how those principles are best conveyed to those involved in programs applying such a framework.  Hence, the second part of this thesis provides answers to the question which means may be appropriate to convey a moral way to life. 

Sport is assessed as a possible tool, arguing for its efficiency and appropriateness for moral development as the primary purpose of any development activity.  A critical reflection of current SDP practices appears to be crucial for such a discussion as is a thoughtful analysis of how sport and moral education are linked.  Sport for Development and Peace programs are evaluated according to their scope, from local to international activities, considering their contexts.  Each should face different challenges, yet achieving sustainability seems to be the main concern for programs regardless whether they are centralized or decentralized. 

Given that the herewith suggested framework claims to be universal and to leave positive legacies behind, the methodology has either to be integrated into non-SDP projects or needs to differentiate it from current ones.  This thesis claims it does both, as sport is understood as an adjustable tool that assists and facilitates achieving the objectives of moral development outlined earlier.  However, sport and its ethical value is much debated among scholars, opinions range from sport being inherently moral, over having a temporary impact, to the view that it deteriorates one’s character.  This document positions itself somewhere in the middle by suggesting an ethical principle that is assumed to be most appropriate in the quest of developing an innate sense of moral duty.  Finally, and given the infancy of SDP, critical inquiries from other adjunct fields are discussed which have their own interest in the field of development.

A critical reflection of current SDP practices

Scope and status of SDP today.

Sport for Development and Peace is a relatively new phenomenon of ‘sport for good’ programs (Donnelly, Atkinson, Boyle, and Courtney, 2011), in both the scholarly world as well as its practical construct as a social movement.  Though their scopes vary most of those projects are reported and appear to originate in Europe or Northern America as reported at sportanddev.org (http://www.sportanddev.org/en/connect/organisations/organisations_list/).  It can be assumed that SDP exists in far more areas on earth than this, because even though the term emerged recently, Christian missions have been using similar concepts for quite some time.  Additionally, the growing and international emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) allows for the assumption that corporations beyond those from the Global North are investing in this field throughout the world.  More importantly, however, is a clear definition which objectives SDP programs want to and can achieve as well as metrics measuring how successful they are.  Statistical evidence could support arguments to secure funding, however, quantitative, hard evidence will almost be impossible to provide.  Further, relying on international de-facto standards, such as the UNs’ Millennium Development Goals (MDG), may either be inappropriate in a specific development situation or fail to provide objectives that are sustainable and achievable for SDP. 

Sport for Development and Peace might constitute a new field of study in its contemporary form, yet is it anything but new.  In particular, local initiatives go back far longer than research suggests SDP has had emerged only after the United Nations put it on its agenda.   Though, when scholars and practitioners claim for the international rights to SDP, they talk about the recent global phenomenon that experienced a surge in international aid to support sport-based development activities and attracted an increasing number of multi-national corporations, exploring SDP as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.  This Westernized SDP model might, however, be the reason why statistical evidence is scarce in proving the success of such programs to resolve conflict or fight social inequalities.  Almost all programs claim they assist all eight MDGs, but measuring those is almost impossible.  How many people from the Global South made it into talent development programs in the Global North is, in contrast, calculable.  Those numbers are more readily available and more frequently marketed, than stories representing how pressing social issues of the hosting community have been solved.  Becoming a professional soccer player, for instance, may help a few, maybe the insignificant number of individuals who successfully find their ways into clubs of the West.  Nonetheless, and no matter how small those numbers might be, they raise the hope of many, even though they are commonly dashed, as Plunkett, Foster and Van Zeller found in their documentary Soccer’s Lost Boys (2010).  Stories based on falsified facts and exceptional individuals that are marketed through the media, become the heroes and the heroic tales for a whole nation; the dreams ready to be exploited for the sake of generating profits.

As Hayhurst (2008) noted, ‘the effects and impacts of sport for development projects cannot always be quantified’ (p. 221).  The theoretical foundation laid down throughout this paper provides qualitative evidence that liberal education and sport can be paired together to develop moral values.  Additionally, the practices and projects outlined throughout provide anecdotal evidence of the importance and likely positive change in ethical behavior.  Both theory and application lay the foundation for the implementation of the methodology.  Certainly, each initiative that would support those ideas would still have to undergo the same scrutiny, because circumstances and specifics change; though the main objective in creating moral agents does remain the same.  Assessing the success of those projects will remain situation-specific and qualitative, though in the long-run quantitative measures may become available.  In particular, because it is argued that the hitherto suggested approach supports conflict transformation, which can barely be measured.

The scholar does not disregard or disrespect critical analysis from others towards SDP; specifically public sociologists’ questioning sport’s universality and benefits.  Sport may indeed carry advantages, but it remains reasonable to argue that the United Nations International Working Group’s claims on SDP that it has ‘the capacity to assist in the realization of all eight MDGs, in addition to providing other benefits’ (Donnelly et al., p.595), might be a little too optimistic.  Particularly, the sustainability assumption has been proven wrong, i.e. the claim that SDP projects leave behind positive legacies where they were implemented. 

The fight against social ills is a delicate one, a balancing act between improvement and impoverishment.  Through a Western lens, we may perceive a situation as unjust, though we may well misinterpret the cultural, historical, and social context.  Our actions, no matter how laudable, could well amplify current or create new injustices.  Precisely that risk is the reason that this thesis describes a process, a long-term perspective, which is adaptable and meant to facilitate moral development; meant to respect – even celebrate – diversity, be open to scrutiny, and in the end serve its target audience’s needs.  The goal must be to make a real difference, and that cannot happen if we rely on our own standards, the effort needs to be a cooperative one, including all involved and addressed by the development activity.

The paradoxical nature of SDP.

Debates addressing Sport for Development and Peace are somewhat paradoxical, so it can be shown that conflict resolution through sport intensifies or amplifies issues (Mangan, 1985; Brohm, 1987), while at the same time SDP is commonly understood to promote peace or strengthen a community’s identity.  The latter somewhat romantic view is mainly promoted by International Sporting Federations (IFs) or the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which continuously emphasize sport as a means to humanitarian ends (Guttmann, 2002); a claim reinforced by an increasing number of governmental, non-governmental and international organizations, as well as Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) discovering sport to support their development activities.  Most programs, launched after the International Year of Sport and Physical Education in 2005 (UN General Assembly 2006) and steered out of the Global North, follow the United Nations’ (UN) guidelines for SDP and refer to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as their main objectives.  Such an approach might be attractive to potential funders, given its de-facto legitimization through the United Nations, but may also reproduce inequalities and injustices by benefiting those in power – the ones who have direct access to Western resources – rather than reaching those in need.

Historically, sport has been used as a ‘socio-cultural and political-ideological tool in shaping Global North-South relations’ (Giulianotti, 2010, p. 209) beginning in colonial times between the 18th and 20th centuries.  Projects were intended to civilize indigenous groups, assuming they were inferior compared to their conquerors – so called de-humanization.  This belief established itself over time as stereotype of the West for all colonized group – so called de-individuation.  A second era of using sport for other purposes than for the love of the game emerged around World War II.  The world increasingly utilized sport for nationalist purposes, something still prevalent today, as governments began to promote and represent the strength of their own country.  One may, for example, refer to the Nazi Olympics of 1936 or the Beijing Olympics in 2008; the latter targeting to project China as a modern and great power, despite being overshadowed by human right issues in Tibet (i.e., a geopolitical concern).  Finally, from the mid-90s onwards, Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) emerged as single phenomenon which led to a politicization of sporting events, producing a ‘tracking device’ for international relations.  Sport for Development initiatives, mainly originating from Western sport federations and governmental agencies, have become part of sporting mega-events as a representation of the power of sport to fight social ills, inequalities, and transform conflict towards sustainable peace.

International Sport Federations and their approach to development work.

Answering critical enquiries of missing positive and sustainable legacies for countries hosting sport-mega-events, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) announced the establishment of 20 Football for Hope Centres in Africa as part of their World Cup Campaign 2007 up to the Games in 2010; an idea representative of the belief in the inherent ethical nature and transformative capacity of sport.  The universality of sport and its character-building ability is assumed to be a generic solution for positive social change around the globe.  FIFA claimed that their Centres are beneficial for everyone and would reduce inequalities within the population.  However, as Shehu (2010) found, ‘the Centres may maximize private goods at the expense of public ones (i.e. increase inequalities)‘ (p. 151), which actually increased inequalities by benefiting the prosperous.

Maybe it could be claimed that FIFA did not assess contextual factors influencing development activities in Southern Africa or evaluate the distribution of power prior to the announcement and implementation of their Centres.  Understanding the impact of Football for Hope with regards to their appropriateness for social development has to integrate those considerations.  Relying on Western development models must be questioned and adapted towards cultural and social appropriate ends as it may otherwise risk exclusion of certain, already marginalized, groups from the program.  The diversity of social factors (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability) is nothing that can be normalized towards an assumed ideology it is rather something that should be valued and strengthened, because it will empower a community to find own solutions.  Concurrently, Western sport SDP programs – including FIFA’s approach to them – tend to be driven by the desire to feed the talent development machine of the Global North.  Different access to resources, however, influence and intensify inequalities as they make it more likely that the ones in power are the exclusive beneficiaries of such initiatives. Consequently, FIFA’s integrity might be questioned, as the claim to create Centres that assist in fulfilling the needs of the whole society might be fabricated.

Finally, some studies have given reason to believe that investments in developing countries follow considerations of profit, consequently making opportunity costs a vivid issue.  There is a high degree of uncertainty in whether international funds supplement or substitute governmental spending.  Aid may very well risk a drain on social systems in an attempt to attract foreign investors while at the same time benefiting those in power (Van de Walle & Nead, 1996).  Inequalities may be further amplified if development programs lack the ability to have a positive economic impact; to benefit a wider array of people.  It may, therefore, be reasonable to suggest that though sport can be used as a tool for development, it has to be planned and adapted to the context and targeted towards overall society.

Common objectives of contemporary SDP practices.

Tiessen (2011) evaluated eight organizations active in the field of Sport for Development and/or Peace and provided an in-depth analysis of online material, narratives and images used among those institutions.  Even though Tiessen primarily focused on global citizenship as an independent variable, the term is largely concerned with ethical ideals, which therefore relates to the fundamental assumptions of this thesis.  Tiessen described global citizenship, ‘as a way of understanding the world in which an individual’s attitudes and behaviours reflect a compassion and concern for the marginalised and/or poor and for the relationship between poverty and wealth – within and between communities, countries and regions’ (p. 573).  Consequently, we may understand her definition as utilitarian, promoting ethics as assigning equal worth to every member of society and his or her ability and willingness to contribute to a common good.  Most common among the themes of the SDP initiatives analyzed was an emphasis of sport as an appropriate tool for development.  However, none of the programs addressed specific needs or outlined processes on how to overcome inequalities and fight social ills; the assessed online material was rather generic.  Furthermore, the adherence to and assistance of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals was very common among all SDP projects, even though those objectives are extremely broad to be accepted without scrutiny towards what the program is capable to deliver and too universal to be targeted towards the most pressing needs.

As mentioned earlier, SDP as a field is fairly new as far as literature and scholarly efforts are concerned.  Sport in itself, and in contrast to SDP, has been part of larger development activities for quite some time; something this document deems to be important.  However, as Tiessen argues, integration is rather uncommon in international SDP which, ‘is still in its infancy, underfunded, unregulated, poorly planned and coordinated and largely isolated from mainstream development efforts.’ (p. 579).  Thus, this thesis wants to understand and suggest sport being part of a greater whole, a tool that can, but does not have to be used to fulfill objectives which are closely related to other development efforts, addressing the most pressing needs of its target audience.

The main risk any development activity faces is misunderstanding the facilitative nature that has to underlie each undertaking.  Projects are usually externally funded and thus necessitate a third party which is meant to support, empower and assist.  In particular, the Western form of paternalism should not become a principle to be followed.  When we want to facilitate, we cannot rely on our own cultural and social belief and value systems.  We need to respect differences of each group, of each individual and rely on their inherent strengths to find a solution that fits their specific situations and needs.  This answer may not be perceived as being ideal from our perspective, or fulfill international standards such as the MDGs suggest, yet we must not disregard its appropriateness, as it would undermine the principle of empowerment and self-efficacy.

Further, several programs highlighted both a sport for all and an initiative that is meant to develop talents.  Giulianotti (2010), for instance, quotes an official interviewed during a fieldwork project who says that ‘we would not admit as a partner a pure sports academy like the many now being created in Africa and elsewhere, where they would pretend to do something positive in the social aspect whereas in reality they would be turning more meat into the talent machine.  This is something that we would never support.‘ (p. 216).  Thus, it could be claimed that Western sport development models are reproduced in the Global South, though claiming that sport is a common human right, but rather providing a pathway for elite athletes, which may rather segregate than integrate. 

Scholars have been criticizing sport for all as being exploited as a political instrument to counterbalance an overemphasis on elite sport (Palm, 2003) that has come under scrutiny.  There is growing concern that focusing on elite athletes might undermine other more pressing needs, such as hunger in the world, which would then lead to question SDP initiatives that claim to provide both.  In Western societies we may argue that sport systems are not designed to provide sport for all; they are in fact developed to nurture elite athletes and provide economic value.  Consequently, it appears reasonable to argue that reproducing such a model in developing countries is more than questionable.  Finding and recruiting talent might be attractive to Western funders and aid organizations, but we must carefully evaluate if the hunger for elite athletes actually assists in accomplishing any developmental goals.

In sum, and keeping those critics mentioned above in mind, this document won’t judge any SDP initiative as being deceptive; all will most likely have their perks and can present laudable accomplishments.  However, this thesis has to rely on common sense, experience, or online material that is freely available.  The purpose of those documents is mainly to attract potential donors, volunteers, and gain legitimacy for their efforts from the public.  As such, they are usually marketing-oriented, not necessarily providing insights into the organization and most likely not addressing possible pitfalls or past wrongdoings.  The material is meant to excite, maybe even riding on a wave of pity, to attract funding.  Not all SDP projects risk amplifying existing or creating new inequalities; at least not in the short-term; however, according to Donnelly, Atkinson, Boyle, and Courtney (2011), only 4 projects out of 40 websites randomly selected, ‘achieved satisfactory scores on the sustainability rubric’ (p. 596):

  • Kenya based project ‘Adapted Physical Activity International Development’,
  • EduFootball a branch of Street Football International,
  • Kisumu Youth Football Association, and
  • Mifalot’s Education.

Hence, the following chapters discuss and suggest a framework to use sport as a means to convey moral values, based on an ethical framework that is assumed to be universal and impartial.  This thesis argues that an SDP program which adapts the principle outlined below will be both efficient and sustainable to facilitate moral development as a foundation to transform conflict and move towards perpetual peace.

Ethical principles governing and protecting sport’s moral worth

Nowadays, in both the developed and less-developed world, curriculums include ethical education to develop socially responsible citizens accountable for their actions, in consideration of their impact and respect for others.  Even though it appears indisputably worthwhile to teach such values, scholars and practitioners alike are debating about appropriate means to deliver lessons on morality.  Laker (2000) suggests, ‘physical education as a vehicle for developing responsible, and personally, socially and morally educated citizens’ (p. 74).  If we take this further and extend his claim to sport more generally, we may have to begin by identifying elements that are characteristic to modern sport (Coackley, 2009); for instance, and among others, quantification and records, i.e. sport as being precisely measureable and comparable over time.  Successful actions are usually extrinsically rewarded (social reinforcement) and likely to be repeated by self and imitated by others (modeling); the elements of the so called Social Learning Theory by Bandura (1977).  Thus, if our actions in sport are ethically just, then replicating them would indeed be a constructive way to convey morals. 

Another theory that could be addressed suggests a form of structural development (Haan, 1991), which describes a process of learning adequate responses to others’ and our environment.  Considering two further elements of contemporary sport, rationalization and bureaucratization – the former referring to the rules that clearly regulate participation and competition, the latter being the trained officials that enforce these – we could argue that behavior in sport is unambiguous and actions are entirely rational.  According to Kant’s categorical imperative (De Vries, 1997) because of this consistency, we behave ethically just.  However, scholars in the ethics of sport constantly challenge this assumption, because in a competitive environment, it remains questionable if every victory, every defeat and every action taken has been moral.  Can we really claim that no one in a competition cheated, everybody ‘played by the book’?  Even if actions in sport were always non-controversial – because participants do not need to discuss goals, clearly winning is the answer – isn’t it also true then that one may use any means possible to achieve this rewarding goal in a society were being second means losing it all?  In conclusion, even if rationally we should be consistent and ethical in our doings, we may well find other non-ethical ways to be rewarded; which then if being reinforced and imitated by others would achieve quite the opposite of conveying a sense of morality.

Towards a ‘mutual quest for excellence’.

This thesis is not a discussion about the pitfalls of modern spectator sport; it rather wants to understand sport as a possible part of development initiatives to teach moral values.  As such, the program this document suggests can freely choose and adapt an ethical framework that fits this objective, by limiting or eliminating the negative impact of a winner-takes-it-all philosophy.  The ethical principle that is suggested, because it is assumed to provide the greatest benefits for the greatest number of people, is Simon’s (2004) notion of the ‘mutual quest for excellence’.  Following a utilitarian perspective, Simon argued competition is morally justifiable only if the consequences are better for all than the alternatives.  A definition that, however, is flawed, as it elicits the question what characterizes better from worse implications and if interpretations of those terms may not vary with situation, time, and/or place.  Further, competition happens on different levels thus it could be asked which level (e.g., against self, within a team) is governed by this ethical principle.

In general, it could be contended that competition is just if it can be assumed sport is beneficial for overall society.  Some sociologists claim that sport is a facilitator to build good character, teach loyalty, dedication, sacrifice, and teamwork; which are arguably positive and morally valuable virtues.  Regrettably, it appears that despite the good in sport, it also leads people to be dishonest, irresponsible, and creates a wrong sense of justice.  It is somewhat paradoxical that even if sport has the capacity to build good character, it appears similarly to encourage bad character.  A possible reason might be the fact that if we make the value of winning so important that our actions tramp morality in order to win, then sport becomes ethically biased.  Simon argued that in order to solve this conflict certain rules would have to be adapted to overcome the negative impact of sport, competition, and winning.  He defined three levels: constitutive rules that create and define the game, define what is permissible; strategic rules that help play the game better; and rules of sportsmanship that govern the behavior during play as a mutually agreed yet unwritten social contract between all.

Ethical considerations of Simon’s ideas.

In his further discussion, Simon contrasted deontologist beliefs about competition with utilitarian ones.  Kant, a non-consequentialist himself, would have argued that any of our acts rely on an innate sense of moral duty, thus rules are meaningless because sport is inherently ethical.  Additionally, our doings according to Kant would follow a categorical imperative, i.e. be consistent without exception, whereas a utilitarian would still have an option to adapt behavior to a situation if an unethical act became necessary to serve the greater good.  Simon proclaimed that competition is a zero-sum game which is inherently selfish and egocentric, because one’s victory is another’s defeat.  Thus the question remains whether we can neither rely on our inner beliefs nor on rules to make competition ethical; and if our human nature leads us to be inconsistent in our actions, what can we do to make it morally just? 

From Simon’s perspective we can only assume moral justifiable competition if we turn to Hobbes Contractarian views to create a social contract which is governed by a ‘mutual quest for excellence’.  This means we have to redefine competition as a cooperative effort to provide the best possible challenge for our opponents.  In particular in our current ‘winner takes it all society’ Simon’s principle appears to be a valid suggestion within sport but also beyond.  Competing with each other does not necessarily have the goal of humiliating the opponent.  Winning while treating the challenger with respect and losing with grace are in fact virtues which can help to overcome the selfish behavior one might be inclined to turn to while facing a competitive challenge.

The discussion above mainly focuses on team competition, but Simon went further and tried to analyze if competition with self is ethically better or more defensible.  From a utilitarian perspective the aim is personal improvement and not necessarily beating somebody else.  It appears, additionally, from a deontological viewpoint that competing with self is inherently selfless and not selfish, because of the absence of others.  However, it remains questionable if even though one is not competing physically with another person, if striving for achieving more is motivated by role models one wants to follow or beat.  Bodybuilding, for example, is assumed to have a predisposition towards unquestioned over-conformity, even though one not necessarily competes against someone else.  Bodybuilders tend to exercise at a level of intensity which has a negative impact on their family relationships and job performance (Keith and Jiobu, 1985).  Thus, we could conclude that even competing against self might be ethically questionable, because it might have a negative impact on self and others.  Thus the question if Simon’s mutual quest for excellence has the power to overcome selfish behavior in both team competition and against self remains to be answered.

Human excellence as an underlying principle.

If we contrast sport with another high performance and competitive field – business – then we could argue that if enterprises compete in order to improve social welfare, competition helps wider society and is thus, from a utilitarian perspective, morally just.  If we were to apply the same concept to sport, this means providing an appealing and interesting challenge, to make competition exciting and stimulating for everyone, we would have found an answer to make it ethically defensible.  Nonetheless, competing against others or self will always create winners and losers, successes and failures, stars and scrubs.  Thus, if we continue to promote a ‘winner takes it all society’ in both business and sport, where being second means losing it all, we won’t be able to enjoy competing and might be encouraged to try everything we can to avoid being defeated. 

Simon argued, however, that if we define competition as a quest for excellence, then being second doesn’t necessarily mean we lose.  The winner, our opponent, instead has given us the opportunity to play to our best, and so makes being second a valuable experience.  Nowadays in the sport system it appears that winning is the only criterion of success.  Coaches are hired and fired based on scores, and players are on top of the world as long as they are successful winning.  We need to come to terms and rethink our beliefs about victory being the only indicator of achievement.  Meeting the challenge, enjoying the aesthetic of play and embracing the opportunity to lose with grace and learn for life have to become attitudes to make competition a mutually beneficial experience; together striving for human excellence through competing with each other is a more fulfilling quest than the loneliness of a winner in a society where being second means losing it all.

Final remarks

First, the idea to use sport to promote a good cause is anything but new; it has been around since the Olympic idea was born.  Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), founder of the IOC, envisioned international mediation through mutual understanding and tolerance.  Even though we may claim this was a very idealistic vision for something like sport, in fact it has been utilized to build a foundation for international peace missions.  The benefits of sport, however, need to be conveyed and based upon a mutually acceptable ethical framework. 

Second, sport as a means for social interaction is commonly accepted, even though the approach to it needs to be culturally adjusted (e.g., belief in cooperation or competition).  It is commonly assumed that social capital can develop within communities by building trust through common activities that require cooperation (e.g., team sport), trust being a key component for social relationships.  This capital may even stretch beyond its participants, because it is reasonable to assume that spectators as well will create bonds.  Sport must, however, be structured so that acting morally is justifiable and socially beneficial.  As discussed previously, the author argues that Simon’s ‘mutual quest for excellence’ is an answer to critical inquiries about unethical behavior in sport.  

In conclusion, mutually agreeing on some unwritten goals (i.e. social contract) might sound idealistic, though promoting an understanding that each and every person has responsibility to allow human excellence to happen, respecting diversity of skills, experiences, and behaviors, are universal and impartial moral values.  Establishing those requires primarily the acknowledgment that other approaches are not any less appropriate than one’s own, and unless one is exposed to a variety of different situations and is able to reflect on one’s own behavior this will remain difficult to achieve.  Sport governed by the ethical principle discussed can provide the experience, but reflecting on self, the situation, and adapting the morality discussed throughout this paper is the missing link yet to be found.

With time we may be able to accept challenges towards our own belief systems and attitudes, even if they are rooted in our deepest social and cultural norms.  If we can transcend and` look beyond what is obvious, we may understand other approaches to life and that those are not any less effective than ours.  In order to facilitate this process, this paper argues that sport needs to be accompanied by a form of liberal education, which the Association of American Colleges & Universities (2012) describes as,

a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement … characterised by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study. 

Pairing those two creates a tool for moral development that allows participants to become moral agents who celebrate diversity.


Figure 4: Sport as a way to experience diversity