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Sport in Nation Building & Sustainable Development

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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Nation building is the process of unifying a country and solidifying its identity. A major part of building a nation is creating a sense of nationalism. Nation building involves both creating a sense of pride in one’s country among the citizenry and also enhancing a country’s status in the eyes of other nations, which, of course, is a chief way to build national unity and pride at home as well. People love to feel they come from a country that others admire and respect. People in a country have to feel that they are all part of the same nation and that they are proud to be part of that nation.  Sport is one way to help make people feel this way.
Sports is actually an excellent way of doing this because it creates a unified goal and brands all the differing groups in the nation under one banner. There is a sense of camaraderie inherent in sports because, regardless of the ideological differences you may have against another individual; you both wholeheartedly support your team. For that reason, hosting international sporting events, such as the Olympics, can be a nation building exercise that brings much positive attention and can build a sense of prestige and good feeling about a country. The most likely way to use sport to build a nation is to promote the national team in some sport that is popular throughout the country.  In most countries of the world, football (soccer) is a very popular sport.  If the country has a national team that competes against other countries, the government can encourage people to follow that team.  This will be particularly effective if the team is competitive.  The people of the country can feel proud that they are associated with a team that is going out and winning (or going out and competing gallantly against overwhelming odds).
Sport, however, still faces many challenges to the fulfillment of its true potential. Too often we have seen examples of intolerance, racism, hatred and violence during sporting events. Sport organizations, managers, players and fans must do all they can to combat these ills and fully harness the positive power of sport. Like many other areas, corruption also affects sport. Corruption kills sport, and no tolerance should be afforded to malpractice in sport, including doping. Our role is to keep fighting abuses and promoting the adoption of good governance, integrity and transparency. We must also seek to place the SDGs at the core of all sporting organizations. Sports are often praised for its potential to bring people together and to provide unity amongst people. Supporting a sports team unites people by providing them with a social link, something they all have in common: their excitement for a particular sporting event and the support for their team. This even works on a national level, as undoubtedly sporting events can help bringing a nation closer together and they can most certainly support nation-building.
Sport is also an important enabler of sustainable development. We recognize the growing contribution of sport to the realization of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and  the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives. Harnessing this tremendous potential of sport, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) has long been bringing people together through sport and supporting sport for peace initiatives, from mega sport events to grass-roots activities. These initiatives help sport achieve its fullest potential in realizing the Goals. Regular participation in sport and physical activities provides various social and health benefits. Not only does it has a direct impact on physical fitness, but it also instills healthy lifestyle choices among children and young people, helping them remain active and combat non-communicable diseases. A number of studies conducted by the World Health Organization have also highlighted that physical exercise can stimulate positive mental health and cognitive development. Exercise has been linked to improvements in self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as positive effects for people struggling with depression and anxiety. Sport contributes to well-being regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. It is enjoyed by all, and its reach is unrivalled. For instance, the World Taekwondo Federation established the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation to promote the martial art in refugee camps around the world. Such initiatives raise awareness about the plight of young refugees and are fully in harmony with the SDGs, particularly with regard to health. Children and young people benefit tremendously from physical activity. Sport provides lifelong learning and alternative education for children who cannot attend school. By taking part in sport and physical activities alongside school, students are exposed to sport’s key values, including teamwork, fair play, respect of the rules and others, cooperation, discipline and tolerance. These skills are essential for future participation in group activities and professional life, and can stimulate social cohesion within communities and societies. Given the personal and social development benefits sport offers, increasing access and participation is a primary development goal.
Additionally, sport can be used as a meaningful tool for the prevention of conflict and the promotion of long-lasting peace, since sport and its universality has the ability to transcend cultures .In its contribution towards peace, sport often provides safe environments at the grassroots and community levels, at which participants are brought together in the pursuit of common goals and interests; learn values of respect, tolerance and fair play; and develop social competencies. As a common denominator and shared passion, sport can build bridges between communities regardless of their cultural differences or political divisions. In times of conflict or instability, sporting activities can provide participants with a sense of normalcy. Fundamental to the true enhancement of global development and the realization of the SDGs is the establishment of strong and cohesive partnerships. The world is more interconnected than ever and the global phenomenon of sport has the power to connect influential networks of diverse partners and stakeholders with a shared commitment to lasting development. In this regard, the world of sport can provide powerful partner and stakeholder networks committed to the use of sport for sustainable development.
Any major international sporting event like the Olympics or World Cup promotes universal brotherhood and gives one a sense of belonging to a larger global community. Sports people have always been very successful goodwill ambassadors for any country and have admires across borders. The moment we hear “Brazil” or “Argentina”, one of the first thoughts that cross our mind is that of football and its legends “Pelé” and “Maradona”. Nelson Mandela’s beautiful quote sums it up in a very meaningful way- “Sport has the power to change the world”. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. Despite many challenges, the vast positive power and passion of sport will continue to bring people together, promoting a more inclusive and peaceful world through its universal values and principles. Historically, sport has played an important role in all societies and acted as a strong communication platform that can be used to promote a culture of peace. It is, and will continue to be, one of the most cost-effective and versatile tools to promote United Nations values and achieve the SDGs. 
(Writer can be reaches to:[email protected])

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