Sport's active contribution to our lives

16th September 2005 at 01:00
The London Olympics to racism at football matches, sport reflects society. Crispin Andrews reports on how it can be an ideal vehicle for teaching citizenship

More than three months have passed since the announcement that the world's biggest sporting spectacle, the Olympic Games, was coming to London, and nationalistic fervour is yet to die down. What is more, as the war against terrorism continues, an England cricket tour to Pakistan is imminent and we are also once again in the initial stages of the multi million pound business that is Premiership football. This past summer, the sight of former Olympic Gold medallist, Conservative MP and current chairman of the London 2012 organising committee, Sebastian Coe addressing the people of London in the aftermath of the terrorist atrocities, was as clear an indication of sport's importance and relevance to our society, as was the full house at Lord's on the first day of the summer's Ashes battle between Australia and England.

From the international stage down to its grass roots, sport is full of the sort of interaction, contradictions and controversy that make it an ideal vehicle through which to teach citizenship. Do we need a new skateboard park, or might a basketball court serve the community more effectively? Why do so many British Asians support the Pakistan cricket team? And what does it say about attitudes towards authority, when a leading international referee is forced into retirement after receiving death threats from aggrieved football fans?

Matthew Morgan, advanced skills teacher in citizenship at Bishop Challoner's School in Birmingham, uses issues like these to engage his key stage 4 students' interest in citizenship. In this way, the subject is brought to life by making it relevant to the everyday lives of young people.

"While few may be bothered about European integration," he says, "take a look at the cosmopolitan make up of Premiership football teams and suddenly there is interest." Comparing teams like Arsenal and Chelsea to their counterparts from the 1970s or 1980s indicates the effect of the European Union on employment practices. It also raises a host of other questions.

Should talented young English players have to fight for their place against experienced foreign professionals? What effect might this have on the quality of the national team? Is it legal to limit the number of EU players employed by a football club?

Sport is a reflection of the society in which we live. Events like the US-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, Rio Ferdinand's eight month ban for missing a drugs test and the England cricket team's tour of Zimbabwe last year, provide contexts through which social values and the role of institutions, can be discussed. Similarly, disgraceful scenes like those in the Bernebau stadium last year, when black England players were subjected to racist chanting from sections of the Spanish crowd, provide a contemporary stimulus, from which ways of kicking racism, not just out of football, but out of society itself can be discussed. Sport also provides a whole host of positive role models from every section of society - Sol Campbell, Kelly Holmes, Nasser Hussain, Amir Khan, Jason Robinson.

It is important, Matthew Morgan stresses, that however engaging the sporting angle might be, the actual citizenship focus of the subject matter shouldn't be lost sight of. "I might introduce a topic like law and society by setting up a game with no rules," he says. "But after students see first hand what might happen when there are no accepted guidelines governing conduct, I would quickly move on to the main subject matter".

Citizenship is about taking part in, as well as understanding, society and the democratic process. At local level, sport, with its rapidly growing infrastructure and remit to increase participation, provides a range of opportunities for students to make active contributions to both school and community life. As development manager for the Bishop Challoner School Sport Partnership, Matthew Morgan also has regular contact with professionals from the world of sports development, coaches and volunteers from sports clubs, which provides further ideas for citizenship lessons.

"One group of GCSE students made an application on behalf of their school, to the lottery funding provider, Awards for All," he says. "From this they learnt about the wider role of sport in society, how organisations like Awards for All aimed first and foremost to engage young people from under-represented groups and to create links between school and community groups."

Sport also offers opportunities for volunteering. This should mean more than press ganging sixth formers into refereeing the Year 7 inter-house tournament. Students need to be aware of why they are choosing to volunteer and with what intended outcome.

"It is all about helping them understand their own motivation to get involved," says Matthew Morgan. "What's in it for them in terms of CVs, further education, future employment opportunities and the effect they can have as positive role models.

"We look at the massive impact that people can have through sport, on the lives of others. In many cases individuals and communities have been transformed through involvement in sport and students need to know that by volunteering at a primary schools festival or at their local club, they are contributing to this in their own small way."

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