The Beyond Sport Summit, held this week in London, is an initiative promoting the use of sport for positive social change amongst young people globally. Awards were presented to particularly successful projects and I would like to draw attention to two winners that I found especially inspiring.
The Girls Kick It Project in Northern Uganda won the Sport for Social Exclusion Award. This scheme is based in an area with a history of civil war, violence and gender inequality where many women and girls have been abducted and forced into sex work by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Girl Kick It provides crucial hope and opportunities for girls living in displaced persons camps and empowers them through the use of football to address issues of HIV AIDs, nutrition and peace building. Football has enabled the girls to grow in confidence and team building as well as economic opportunities through management and maintenance of poultry houses.
The Amandla EduFootball Project on the other hand uses football to tackle social inequality and violence in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town. This slum is home to extremely high murder and assault rates and young people can easily slip into dangerous lifestyles. The Amandla scheme enables girls and boys to access a safe hub where they can gain support from strong role models. The football league run by the project is also based upon a points based system to encourage positive behaviour and build self-esteem both on and off the pitch. These two schemes alone help show how important sport can be for young people young people to become educated, make friends and create brighter futures. Congratulations Girls Kick It and Amandla!
I would love to hear how sport has helped you to overcome challenges in your own lives.
I would like to draw attention to an incredibly inspiring South-Sudanese born athlete who has triumphed over extreme adversity to compete in London 2012 Olympics: Guor Marial grew up amidst bitter and violent civil war in Sudan with very little childhood or hope. After 28 members of his family were killed by the Sudanese government and having been kidnapped by gunmen, Marial escaped from a labour camp and fled Sudan aged 8.
He eventually reached the United States where he took up athletics and discovered his talent. However he does not have a full American citizenship and newly independent South Sudan does not yet have a national Olympic body so he cannot compete for either country. Yet Guor Marial will get his chance to become an Olympic hero as this week the IOC granted him permission to compete as an independent athlete under the Olympic flag!
He has not seen his parents since he left Sudan in 1993 but hopes that they may be able to catch him compete by making the trip to the nearest big town with electricity 40 miles from their village, although I am sure he will have more people than only his parents supporting him!
A truly remarkable Olympians: I look forward to seeing how well Guor does but he is already a champion in my opinion!
With the announcement that Saudi Arabia along with Qatar and Brunei will have female athletes competing at the Olympics, London 2012 will be a ground-breaking event with women taking part from every nation.
This move, which has been fiercely opposed by many religious conservatives, represents a great shift towards gender equality and should bring much hope to women throughout the Muslim world. However we must make sure that this is not a hollow victory. Progress towards rights for women remains fragile throughout the world and is very vulnerable to age-old pressures.
Both athletes who have been selected to compete for Saudi Arabia, Sarah Attar in the 800m and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in judo, live and train outside of the kingdom and carry little influence within the nation.
Additionally womens’ sport remains very much an underground activity within many parts of the world. Therefore whilst this news makes me very happy, we still have a long way to go until we will achieve true gender equality. I will be watching Sarah and Wodjan with much anticipation and wish them the very best of luck!