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A volunteer contribution from the Play the Game Conference 2009 – by Nils Bradtberg

Play the Game 2009 Coventry, UK 8 – 12 June 2009

The big modern Cathedral in Coventry was this year setting the scene for the 2009 Play the Game conference, where many speakers from within the sport sector were discussing visions for sport in times of crisis. Even though outside it was cloudy and rainy, the Cathedral was sparkling with excitement and commitment - extraordinary moments dealing with the future of the sports sector.

Think about this question: What is the main value of sport?
For most people the answer will be complex, as sport itself is a mixture of many different players, movements and areas. These areas often have their own logic in handling challenges, their own ‘arguments’ and structures that make sport organisations or the sport industry focus on themselves with a certain sense of endogenous meaning and legitimacy. The conference presented a variety of answers, given by the speakers representing different themes, all dealing with the critical aspects of sport.

One possible answer to the question “What is the main value of sport?”, is that sport has become a global entertainment industry. In order to survive, sport and especially elite sports, need to be entertaining and understandable for the masses. Here we can conclude that the entertainment effect of sport to the masses is an essential part of its definition.
At the same time, commercial success can be accompanied by serious threats to the core values and credibility of sport as a driver of social, cultural and educational progress. Sport is in the cross field of different interpretations, meanings and reasons that we need to identify, and not less importantly define its main value.

Mogens Kirkeby, president of the International Sport and Culture Association, was in charge of the “Sport for development” session. This session featured sport as a tool for ‘entertainment’, focusing on how to define sport as a positive and entertaining tool for social change. In this context entertainment represents positive moments in people’s life. The focus of the session was therefore on how to gain most of the developing projects that take place in third worlds countries.

Professor Fred Coalter from the University of Stirling, gave his point of view, saying that it is not about praising sport itself in general, but about the promotion of good practices handling both social, cultural and educational processes. The way to evaluate whether a sport project is successful or not, has to be based on a very specific evaluation and not on generalised methods. In this aspect sport can help people and social change processes in third world countries.

The case-by-case method demands more resources and manpower to succeed and evaluate, however it could provide a new way to accept that core values of sport depend from circumstances and respective needs. In a time were sport is based on many other things than sport itself, it will be important in the future to understand sport as a tool that is strongly linked to marked mechanism and development work in third world countries. But the core value of sport itself and why sport is so important in different areas remains hard to define.