Practitioners Perspective: Sport for Development in the Media

 

We at the Power of Sport Media Lab at Brown University have been working to build more awareness of Sport for Development (SFD) through mainstream sports media outlets. Over the past few months we have conducted interviews with practitioners from the SFD field on the topic of 'Sport for Development in the Media'. Our discussions helped us to gain the practitioners’ perspective of mainstream sports media outlets and their current coverage of SFD related stories.

Below is a report summarizing the common themes heard throughout our interviews with practitioners. Our report highlights the practitioners' perspectives on awareness of SFD, current media coverage of SFD, keys to building more awareness and thoughts on our movement going forward. We hope this report encourages further discussion and engagement in finding ways to generate more coverage of SFD through mainstream sports media outlets.

 

Practitioners Perspective: Sport for Development in the Media

Over the past few months we have spoken to practitioners in the sport for development (SFD) field to gain their perspective on mainstream sports media’s coverage of SFD related stories. We contacted practitioners from various backgrounds such as marketing, communications, program management and even journalism who all have positions in the SFD field. Some are founders and presidents of their own non-profit organizations; others hold positions within a non-profit or NGO, but all work to use sport as a vehicle for social change. Most practitioners contacted work in the United States however we did speak to practitioners in other countries to gain the international perspective.

The conversations were structured as informal interviews with questions to guide the discussion. We communicated with these practitioners via skype, telephone and in-person when feasible. The topics ranged from how much coverage his/her organization has received from mainstream sports media in the past, to brainstorming the thought of a potential sport for social change television network.

The following is an overview of my conversations with these individuals, focusing on the common themes throughout all of the interviews. For reference, at the end of the document is a list of the practitioners contacted and the questions, which guided these conversations.

Awareness vs. Understanding

On the topic of awareness of SFD in the United States there was a general consensus that although people are increasingly becoming more aware, there is a need for more understanding. Going further, the practitioners feel it is not simply a lack of awareness by our general population but rather a lack of understanding of SFD. In the US most people do not fully grasp the societal issues referred to in sport for social change; things like homelessness, racism, HIV/AIDS, etc. Alexandra Chalat, of Beyond Sport, who has worked both in the United States and London, had this to say,

People in the US tend to identify SFD as healthy lifestyles, obesity prevention and individual change, which is good. However, in countries like South Africa and other places it is more about community development, education and dealing with other major issues.

This lack of understanding stems from the way we, in the United States, have institutionalized sport itself. As the professional sports industry grew into a multi billion-dollar business, our perception of sport changed to one in which sport is viewed as a form of entertainment or a means of producing revenue. Geopolitically sport plays a much larger role around the world. Mori Taheripour, Senior Advisor of Sport for Development for USAID spoke to this point,

People need to realize how serious of a platform sport can be for social ills; economic, political and peace keeping issues alike.

Although, in the US, we may not have the same understanding as others internationally, of what the power of sport can do, we are not “behind” the rest of the world when it comes to SFD. Kirk Friedrich; Co-Founder of Grassroot Soccer said this,

In fact, with the resources and influence the US has, there is an opportunity for them to be a real leader in the SFD movement.

In order for the United States to assume this role a key to success will be developing a more clear understanding of SFD as a field and what type of work is currently being done locally and internationally. To develop an understanding, people need to see what is going on and the most effective means of this is through the influence of our mainstream media outlets.

Current Media Coverage of SFD

The common thread between practitioners we spoke with is that the amount of coverage on SFD related stories is microscopic in comparison to how much is going on in the SFD field. Although a couple of the organizations represented have had mainstream media coverage from entities such as ESPN and CNN, the majority of the practitioners have had little coverage of their respective organizations. Darius Shirzadi; Executive Director, Project GOAL spoke about coverage of his organization,

It is usually a small story in the local newspaper or a one to two minute clip on the evening news.

The practitioners’ viewpoint of the current coverage of SFD related stories are that this coverage usually comes as the result of a larger event such as the Olympics or the World Cup. For example ESPN agreed to advertise Grassroot Soccer by covering stories within the organization surrounding the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Another example of this was CNN partnering with Beyond Sport during their annual Beyond Sport Awards. CNN created the Beyond Sport Week, which highlighted organizations who were nominated for awards.

A common view from the practitioners is at the mainstream sports media level, where we often hear of professional athletes doing community service, but rarely do we see any coverage of what is being done at the grassroots level. This is not viewed as a negative thing, but rather an opportunity to utilize the star power of our professional athletes to enlighten others of the work being done in SFD. Kasia Muoto; Founder/ President, We Play to Win spoke to this opportunity,

We need to find ways to present SFD in a way, which is not only appealing, but also relevant to professional athletes in order to get them on board.

The general consensus is when coverage of SFD is tapped into by the mainstream media the work is great. This offers a new perspective on the lack of coverage in comparison to the amount of work being done in the SFD field. From the practitioners perspective this means there is plenty of opportunity to show SFD as a practice and a field through covering the stories currently going unnoticed. Alexandra Chalat had this to say about Beyond Sport’s coverage,

When it is covered they (media outlets) portray SFD well and we (Beyond Sport) have been very pleased with the stories. Unfortunately there has not been as much constant coverage as we would like to see.

Keys to Building Awareness

In relation to how we can capitalize on this opportunity to build awareness and understanding, the common thread is education. First, educate our media personnel to give them a better understanding of SFD. This, in turn, will encourage them to cover more SFD related stories. Second, educate our government, corporations and general population on SFD by utilizing the influence of our mainstream media outlets. With the amount of influence our media has on people in the US, this is a powerful means of building awareness and understanding. Mori Taheripour gives her advice,

…we need to be lobbying for more SFD coverage. Outlets such as ESPN, USA Today and Yahoo sports need to be getting a call to action to be responsible for covering these stories.

More specifically the practitioners agree that personal stories are what people want to see. Showing how individuals and communities have overcome real life obstacles through the work of SFD organizations is the best way to grab the audience’s attention.

Another common theme amongst the practitioners is the aforementioned opportunity to utilize the influence of our professional athletes. The audience may be attracted to the story because of the athlete involved, but will learn of SFD through the message delivered in the story.

Going Forward

Practitioners agree as we look to move forward with this initiative to bring more awareness and understanding of SFD we should not focus solely on mainstream sports media, but rather all types of media. Whether it be targeting the neighborhood section of newspapers, women’s magazines, world news, etc. There is much opportunity to get SFD stories out there; it is a matter of using whatever leverage you have with that particular outlet. Mori Taheripour; Senior Advisor of Sport for Development for USAID gave this insight,

There is plenty of opportunity to cover SFD, not just in sports media. The WNBA and other philanthropic efforts of women could be covered in glamour, fashion or fitness magazines for women.

In relation to a potential sport for social change television network, there are many different ideas and viewpoints. The majority of the practitioners feel there would never be a lack of coverage for this network due to the amount of work being done in the SFD field. There was also consensus that one program dedicated to sport for social change would be a good place to start.

List of PractitionersAlexandra Chalat, Head of Social Innovation; Beyond Sport (London)Darius Shirzadi, Executive Director; Project GOALGreta Teller, Founder; Teller Marketing SolutionsKasia Muoto, Founder & President; We Play to WinKirk Friedrich, Co-Founder; Grassroot Soccer (S. Africa)Kona Shen, Founder; GOALS Haiti (Haiti)Mori Taheripour, Senior Advisor of Sport for Development; USAIDScott Meyers, Executive Director; World Sport Chicago Interview Questions: Sport for Development in Mainstream Sports MediaHow do you feel about the awareness of the SFD field in the United States today?What actions do you feel we should take as a field to create more awareness in the United States?Do you feel more coverage of the SFD field in our mainstream sports media is essential to creating more awareness of the SFD field in the United States?What is your take on the amount of coverage of the SFD field currently in our mainstream sports media (ESPN, SI, USA Today, etc.)?In the stories they are releasing, how do you feel these mainstream sports media outlets are portraying the SFD field?Has your organization received any media coverage over the years? Which media outlets? What form of media (print, radio, TV, internet)?Were you pleased with the coverage?What kind of stories do you feel are most important to release, through our mainstream sports media, in order to catch the attention of the average sports fan?

 

Co-authored by Eric M. Payne & Eli A. Wolff, Power of Sport Media Lab, Brown University