As London launches into its post mortem of the Olympics and Paralympics and the legacy question rears its head, I have been hearing stories from further afield that tell of the Games’ influence in remote villages of India.
At first one might question the influence of the Games on a country of 1.1 billion who won only six medals and sent an all-male team of ten to the Paralympics. In conversation with a philanthropist this week, she said it was a bit of an eye- opener for her that India has such a poor representation. I am afraid this was not a surprise for me, as disability is still such a neglected area for policy, funding and development, and it was equally not a surprise for me at all that there were no female Paralympians. To be female and have a disability in India compounds your alienation and discrimination. Indeed since 1968 when India first competed in the Paralympics not one woman has been selected. This is not for want of exceptional athletes; take Deepa Malik for example who was inexplicably excluded from the team.
A legacy of the Games that I am hoping to see and excited to start to hear about is being borne out in remote villages of India, where girls are hailing the two medals in badminton and boxing as aspirational. The founder of CREA (an NGO working on the sexual and reproductive health rights of women, among other things) who I spoke to last week said she has already heard from girls on their programme, inspired by what they have seen beamed across the world. Organizations like CREA and Magic Bus (the forerunner in India) and programmes like GOAL are using sport as a powerful medium or platform to empower girls, tackling issues such as preference for sons, child marriage, sexual and reproductive health and community engagement.
Ever since the International Year of Sport and Physical Education, initiated by the UN in 2005, the role that sport plays in peace and development has become more visible. When I first worked with Magic Bus in the early 2000s, funding was a struggle, and many will of course argue that it still is. However, as the evidence base has been created, funders have increased their participation – obvious suspects like FIFA, Nike and the Premier League have backed sport for development programmes, and some of the more traditional agencies such as Comic Relief have also funded projects using sport. Governments have been the longest standing and most vocal advocates for sport for development with UK Sport, the Dutch and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) all big players.
Indeed it is the ASC that is supporting Dasra’s next advisory research report, which will take a different approach to our usual problem-solving framework, and instead will look at the intervention of sport and analyse its usage across a wide range of development challenges. This will create a piece of work that we all hope will bring the innovation and power of sport in development to the attention of funders and practitioners both in India and internationally.
I worked for eight years for Magic Bus and witnessed first hand how successful sport is as a tool, a platform, and a catalyst for change in women, children and men. One of the critical problems in social development is how hard it is to change deeply engrained cultural norms and socially backward behaviours – behaviours that see girls married before their teens, norms that refuse to see girls educated, deep-seated views that disability is a curse and the result of an evil spirit, open defecation habits that cannot be changed just by building a toilet.
BCC or ‘behaviour change communications’ is a development strategy that we are increasingly seeing as critical if the outcomes of programmes are to be sustainable and for the successful uptake of critical services – whether they be delivered for free or at low cost. Sport is a mechanism for delivering revolutionary behaviour change messages to community leaders, parents and girls and boys themselves, whether they be about the equal standing of boys and girls in families, the right and need of girls to go to school or an understanding of girls about their bodies that leads to clear messaging about choice and bodily autonomy.
When Dasra wrote its last report Owning her Future on adolescent girls’ empowerment, we were not all that surprised to see three of the nine shortlisted organizations using sport to bring about important changes in the communities they were working with.
While the arguments rumble on about the legacy, we are hoping that CREA’s confidence in recent Indian female Olympic heroes to inspire a generation of girls in India will ring true and that the legacy will be felt globally – perhaps furthered by the analysis and research we can bring to the table.
Alison Bukhari is director of investor relations at Dasra