I often get asked what role the soccer ball has in my walk across Africa… I believe sport and physical activity is a fundamental human right. Sport is well recognised internationally as a low cost and high impact tool for development and a powerful agent for social change. It is a culturally accepted activity that brings people together and unites families, communities and nations. Effective sport-for-development programs combine sport and play with other non-sport outcomes to achieve the desired development objectives such as the joy of movement, self-esteem, health prevention, mental wellbeing and social interaction, just to name a few. Sport can also be used as a tool for addressing some of the challenges that arise from humanitarian crises and in conflict and post-conflict settings. At the grassroots or community level, sport can be seen to provide a useful way of creating an environment in which people can come together to: work towards the same goal, show respect for others and share space and equipment. All these aspects are crucial to peace-building. The United Nations recognises that by including sport in development and peace programmes in a more systematic way, they can make full use of this cost-efficient tool to help us create a better world.
“Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and for development.” Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General
I believe sport is under-utilised as a development tool and should be an integral component of any comprehensive development program. Sport brings people together from all walks of life to compete on a level playing field. Sport knows no bounds. It is important in a world of highly paid sports people not to lose focus of the real meaning of sport.
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” Nelson Mandela
I am hoping that by kicking the soccer ball it will bring children out of their villages to kick the ball with me on my journey. I may not be able to speak their language but we will be able to share the language of sport. And to be honest, I also need something to keep my mind occupied during the long and sometimes lonely days. Having grown up with a footy in my hands from a very young age, I can’t imagine doing the journey without a ball by my side.