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Give us our Ball Back
25th June 2012
Sport is everywhere. Yet in spite of its prominence, its position in society is relatively under-analysed.
As sport becomes more central, we realise that we don’t just want it for its own sake, but because of what it can do for us. We believe it has the power to make us good, peaceful, prosperous and healthy. Today, there is no such thing as ‘just a game’ – sport is treated as an arena for moral development, a way to resolved deep sectarian and international conflicts, a key plank in government strategies to make us healthier, and it is ‘big business’.
This report assesses how the claims stack up, and argues that the more governments, inter-governmental organisations, and NGOs pump sport for its social, political and economic benefits, the less it will be able to offer for the common good. Inflated rhetorical claims have distorted our understanding, expectations, and often our olitical decisions. Sport is just as capable of making us bad as it is of making us good. It is just as likely to promote and excuse conflict as it is to reconcile. Although the sporting economy is growing, the claim that mega-events like the Olympics will contribute substantially to the economy must be carefully scrutinised. Finally, the participation agenda has faltered, raising questions about methodology and strategy for getting people healthy. Again and again, sport has been set up to over-promise and under deliver.
The report concludes with a theological appraisal of sport as an unnecessary and playful, yet serious, activity that does not require utilitarian justification. It makes several proposals with a view to sport taking a different but still essential place in society – reclaimed from the social, political and economic agendas of the age for the common good.