Global, continental, regional, national, and communal local crises are on the rise and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were crafted to address the myriad of these challenges. The Zimbabwean setting is characterised by increased vulnerability owing to climate change, economic crisis, conflict and political intolerance. Alarming levels of poverty, food insecurity, health insecurity, unemployment, human rights violations, inflation, Covid-induced setbacks, as well as extreme weather events like drought are issues dominating the Zimbabwean space. The electoral and governance systems’ credibility and legitimacy is contested regionally, nationally and locally in communities. There is conflict and sporadic violence in these political hotbed communities.
One of the strategies to address conflict and crisis is though building Peace, Justice and Strong democratic institutions (SDG 17). Towards this end, 4-H Zimbabwe has created Peace Building footprints through Sports, in order to address conflict crisis and communal problems such as violence, discrimination and human rights violations. The sport has successfully brought together youth from rival political and social groups in Zimbabwe. This intervention cut across several sustainable development goals such as Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3), Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10).
This article gives the philosophical foundations of sport usage in development, as well as highlighting the conceptual roles of sport in democracy and diplomacy. It then ends by illustrating the case study 4-H Zimbabwe peace building through sport practical examples.
From trivial to critical
The role of sport in contemporary democracy and diplomacy issues cannot be underestimated. Various disciplines of sport have evolved from being trivial to being critical.
Traditionally, sport was considered trivial because it was just for fun. In the contemporary era of globalisation, sport is considered critical because it has become a tool to advance democracy and development.
For example, Greek sporting contests were used to build Greek democracy and philosophy (Frias et al, 2014). Sport carries within it the democracy potential and gymnasium in which people can exercise not just their physical skills, but also their moral and communicative capacities. Sport is an agonistic social practice that enables humans to compete in a persuasive, respectful, peaceful and productive way (McCoy & Martínková 2022).
Peace in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean political terrain is marred by violence and intolerance, especially during elections and in post-election periods. Having realised the negative impact of the conflict in Zimbabwean communities, 4-H Zimbabwe Foundation rode on the related SDGs 3,5,10 and 16. Gender equality, democratic participation, peace building and inclusion of the marginalised became key variables that the organisation pursued, using sport. The effects of building peace through sport was overwhelming in Zimbabwean communities through 4-H Zimbabwe.
4-H Zimbabwe has realised numerous roles of sport in enhancing democracy and diplomacy. These include:
- Civic engagement
- Public dialoguing
- Unification of polarised groups
- Gender mainstreaming
- Social cohesion and connections
- Policy influence
- Enhanced democratic participation
To buttress its influence and impact, the organisation recently won an International Peace award from Peace and Sport in Monaco, for its work on using sport as a tool to promote peace and tolerance in Zimbabwe. In addition, the organisation has received other peace awards, locally from diplomats for the outstanding work on peace and sustainable development in Zimbabwe, and regionally, from the African Union Political Affairs, Peace, and Security Department (AU-PAPS) through its Gender Peace and Security Programme (GPSP) and the Youth for Peace Africa (Y4P) Program, for the outstanding work on peace building in Zimbabwe and Africa.
Breana McCoy & Irena Martínková (2022) Democracy, philosophy and sport: animating the agonistic spirit, Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 49:2, 246-262, DOI: 10.1080/00948705.2022.2080070
López Frías, Francisco Javier; Isidori, Emanuele Sport and Democracy: Philosophical Trends and Educational Challenges in Contemporary Society 2014.
John Muchenje is the Executive Director of 4-H Zimbabwe Foundation and is the leader in the democracy and diplomacy through Sport Initiative. He has over 10 years of experience obtained from non-governmental organisations (both local and regional) and through working with the government. His work involves direct implementation of developmental programmes leveraging on the peace building, conflict resolution, power of technology, youth sports and youth social development in Zimbabwe.