Social transformation through football? Sporting mega events now on agenda of Brazilian social investors


Andrés Thompson

Andres Thompson

Andrés Thompson

For the first time in its history, GIFE (Group of Institutes, Foundations and Corporations) included two sessions on sports in the programme of its 2012 Congress – Brazil’s largest conference of grantmakers and social investors – held 26-30 March in São Paulo. The relevance of sports for development and the challenges of building a positive social legacy of the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 attracted the attention of an important share of the audience.

One session at the Congress was co-organized between GIFE and REMS (Sports Network for Social Change). The four panellists showed, through various arguments, the relevance of including sports in the social development agenda. Although there have been important positive developments in this field, like the Law of Incentive to Sports, the large majority of the projects supported through it have been for high-performance, professional sports. Participatory and educational sports still need to advance their agendas into the mainstream of public policies. While organizing networks such as REMS is a key element for that, there is still a long way to go.

The second session on the ‘Social Legacy of mega sporting events’, which I facilitated and was attended by 100 participants, was co-organized by GIFE and streetfootballworld Brazil. It brought together the director for social responsibility and public relations of Rede Globo (the largest Brazilian broadcasting company), Beatriz Azeredo; the director and president of REMS, respectively the ex-volleyball player Ana Moser and Daniela Castro; the Secretary of Sports and Leisure of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Romario Galvao; and Victoria Flores from the Partnerships Division of the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB).

In the absence of governmental policy or guidelines about the expected social legacy of both sporting events, it became clear that if nothing is done to counteract it, the most likely legacy will be negative: thousands of evictions due to the urban infrastructure works, damage to the environment, child and slave labour, imported prostitution, increased public expenditures for private purposes, corruption and the like. The panellists agreed that efforts should be made to mitigate these negative effects, calling on CSOs to increase their ‘social control’ of them but also to propose positive social legacy actions in partnership with private social investors.

Some initiatives were suggested. Mr Galvao made reference to the vision of the government of Rio, stressing that for them the focus should be on the ‘sporting’ legacy, meaning that Brazil should have (it doesn´t now) a national plan for the development of sport, including investments in educational as well as professional sport. REMS shared this vision when proposing several milestones to incorporate the teaching of ‘physical education’ and sport in general into the educational curricula of the public system.

How to build such a national policy remains, at least for me, an open question. Mrs Flores argued that some of the projects that IDB is currently funding, in particular in Colombia, to use sport as a way to train youngsters to enter the labour market could be used as examples or models that could be scaled up at the Latin American regional level, transforming them into public policies. But again – leaving aside whether these projects are really examples to follow or not – the ‘scalability’ issue is still more wishful thinking than reality among development practitioners (with very few examples of best practices).
Mrs Azeredo was, in that sense, more cautious. She invited the audience to reflect on what the population really expects in terms of legacy: jobs, better quality of life in the cities? Increase in self-esteem? In her view, designing legacy policies should be a response to those questions. A company like Globo could help to inform public opinion about these issues as well as receiving their needs and demands. Her remark about knowing other international experiences in this field could help a lot to support the generation of local knowledge and the design of strategies.

On its part, streetfootballworld is proposing several strategies to address the social legacy of the World Cup, including building a ‘field’ of non-profit organizations using football as a tool for social transformation; an independent fund to support their work in the long run; media work and an international festival in 2014 to increase the visibility of the practices of ‘development through football’; as well as promoting the social responsibility of the ‘football world’ (clubs, players, federations, etc).

The conclusion of the panel was rather obvious, though not irrelevant. Given the various social legacy initiatives coming from civil society, international organizations (like Unicef which is very active in implementing a national youth network on the right to sports) and local governments, there is an urgent need for articulation and collaboration. Social investors and grantmakers can help through funding and convening to leverage those initiatives to another level and transform the Brazilian experience into a showcase on social transformation through sport. Time will tell if, beyond the positive fact of including the topic in the agenda of a big conference, there is also a clear disposition to act.

Andrés Thompson is currently the general manager of streetfootballworld Brazil.

Tagged in: Foundations GIFE congress social enterprise Social investment

Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *