With the Vancouver 2010 Olympics on the horizon, we can anticipate a range of media stories in the upcoming weeks highlighting ways that sport is beneficial for society. We will be reminded of victories that brought nations together in support of their teams, and told about sport’s value in promoting unity and social cohesion. We will hear about sport’s influence beyond the Games – about international development organizations that use friendly sport competitions to promote reconciliation among rivaling groups in areas of conflict, or about inner city recreation centres that provide safe environments for youth to play sports and learn life skills.

HKIN 360: Sport, Peace, and Conflict

Students in UBC’s School of Human Kinetics discuss the merits of and problems with these sorts of claims in the third year course “Sport, Peace, and Conflict.” According to instructor Brian Wilson, a sociologist and Associate Professor in the School, “students are encouraged to think not only about the various benefits of sport, but also about social problems associated with sport, and ways that these problems might be addressed.”

With these goals and topics in mind, class members create their own ‘sport for development and peace’ working groups that do background research on sport-related social problems, and offer potential solutions to these problems. According to fourth year student Meghan Pritchard “it became our job to re-imagine sport and physical activity so that they would create peace in the world rather than perpetuate inequalities.”

Students explore challenging questions

Students address a diverse set of questions related to sport, peace, and conflict: How might sport be used as a forum for educating about violence that takes place in non-sport settings?; How might negative and overly simplistic depictions of transgendered athletes be challenged?; and How might new media be used to promote networks of organizations committed to ‘sport and peace’?

A unique student project

Students Ognjen Dukic, Erin Franklin, Dejan Preradovic, and Pritchard formed a group concerned with the prevalence of human trafficking around mega-sporting events like the Olympics – and proposed a ‘social awareness coalition’ aimed at combating the problem.

Reflecting on her experience, third year student Franklin maintains that “working cooperatively on a sport for development and peace project that focused on social justice issues was unlike anything I’ve had the opportunity to experience.”

Preradovic adds “this course teaches critical thinking for both inside and outside the realm of sports” while Dukic points out that the class “supports UBC’s goal of creating global citizens, and encouraging social sustainability.”

Sport and Sustainability

Over the term students engage in issues relevant to sustainability through discussions about sport’s relationship to politics, social movements, violence, international development, mega-events, and the environment. The capstone for the course is a student conference where each working group presents their proposed solution to a social problem.

“The class was incredibly liberating in that it taught us that change was possible, even in the most challenging of circumstances,” according to Pritchard. “Sport, Peace, and Conflict” is one of several sustainability-related initiatives in the School of Human Kinetics, including the recently launched Centre for Sport and Sustainability.