Bank Holidays are a good time to let some thoughts break through normal routines of academic life.
As I sit facing across the window, with a magnolia tree in full bloom and not many yards from the famous tree that that was a part of Kent County Cricket Club grounds till high winds destroyed it a few years ago, I thought of recollecting and reflecting on an extraordinary few weeks in April.
Just recovering from co-organising a workshop on UN Sustainable Development Goals and Higher Education at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London with a fellow Senior Research Fellow, I search for answers for what one of the contributors, a seasoned Programme Officer of a range of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) – in South Africa and Afghanistan and UK — asked: Can the expertise/knowledge held by ‘Ivory Towers’ (exact quote) be made available to CSOs?
Living in an ‘Ivory Tower’, I find the above disconnect (or perceptions of it) a bit surprising. Have universities always been seen as being remote from day-to-day realities/issues? What has happened to all the ‘Third Stream Activities’ and ‘Knowledge Transfer’ (and PR) activities that university staff engage in? Can Universities, speaking of ‘vertical’ activities, redefine their roles and support goals of universality in SDGs by forming and actively participating in specific/individual SDGs involving both the Global South and the Global North? Can universities, additionally, as sites of disciplinary/multi-disciplinary/inter-disciplinary knowledge taxonomies, look out of their ‘Ivory Towers’ and conceptually and practically help to work across what could, if due attention is not paid, become 17 SDG ‘silos’ of activity?
Thinking back to the 6th of April, there was a high profile event on Sport and Sustainable Development organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat. The format was that of a debate with three speakers each arguing for and against the proposition: To maximise the contribution that sport can make to sustainable development, governments should focus investment on ‘sport for health’.
As I was unable to attend the event, I sent in my contribution to the debate in the form of points supporting the ‘against’ argument. As with any oppositional debate, my points were one-sided:
- ‘Sport for health’: Sport can contribute in a range of ways to achieve sustainable development, such as contributing to social cohesion cutting across a range of political, linguistic and cultural divides, and so the intangible benefits are equal if not more in importance to benefits such as health with regard to sustainable development
- Investing in ‘Sport for Health’ should be left to sports bodies which have a greater reach, appeal and financial resources than individual governments (for example, football and cricketing bodies have enormous resources that are more than what many governments can afford). Governments can, however, ensure that the investments are directed equitably and free from corruption and mismanagement
- To be successful, ‘Sport for Health’ investment should be accompanied by attitudinal change rather than just creation of stadia or sports facilities. These changes would come, mostly, from a range of opinion builders and icons in public life that can pass on/embody messages of health benefits from sports. So, governments should invest in communication strategies rather than sports per se for one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications regarding sports and their links with the health of individuals, families and communities
However, my main contribution was to suggest that Sports in the Commonwealth as a whole will get a boost if cricket (T20 format) is included in Commonwealth Games 2018, and Olympics 2020 (and later ones too).
I thought I must make a more detailed case for T20. Here is my argument in five points:
- Cricket is the most popular sport of the Commonwealth going by the number of fans/supporters. For numbers, just add the populations of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, and the West Indies
- Cricket embodies Commonwealth and its key democratic principles of adherence to rules, fair play etc. , its diversity of membership, which has ‘equal say regardless of size or economic stature’, its gender equality, as there are teams for both men and women, and others
- T20, the latest format in which cricket is played, is ideal for getting quick results, in a matter of hours. Several newspapers, TV Channels and media outlets devote space to T20 league matches, bi- and trilateral tournaments, and reciprocal tours by teams
- Many teams from the Commonwealth and beyond (Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Oman, UAE, Holland, Ireland, Hong Kong) participate in national/regional tournaments, bilateral or trilateral series, and/or the T20 World Cup
- Cricketing bodies such as the Indian Premier League are rich and could potentially help in popularising the game in all countries through helping to construct cricket grounds and develop training facilities
These investments, in addition to promoting cricket, can have spin-off benefits such as helping in the overall development of sporting facilities, enriching the culture of participation in sports, and promoting SDGs such as Health and Education.
I would like to (continue to) argue that Commonwealth institutions need to work towards getting T20 cricket included in Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, as part of their strategy for Sport for Sustainable Development.
I am sure there will be some agreements and disagreements regarding what I said. That is what blogs are for!