Sport for Good

Photo: Launch of the Ulster Grand Prix Motorcycle Awareness Programme with members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Ulster Grand Prix and Department of Justice

Interview with Geoff Wilson by Emily Salley

Sport for Good

Whether you follow sport on a regular basis or don’t at all, there can be no doubt that it has the power to transform lives and improve communities. Nelson Mandela once said: “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.”

Why is sport so powerful? How is it able to do this? Here are six areas where sport can be used for good:

  1. Physical Health

○ One of the most obvious benefits of sport is the impact it can have on physical health. It is no secret that exercise is good for you, it strengthens your heart and other muscles and it reduces the risk of health issues such as heart disease and diabetes. NHS research shows that physical activity can reduce your chances of cardiovascular disease by 35%, type 2 diabetes by 40% and cancer by 20%.

  1. Mental Health

○ Perhaps less obvious than the physical benefits sport can provide, it also has the ability to boost mental health. It has been shown that participation in sport can help to reduce anxiety, depression and stress levels as well as boost self-esteem. A study led by King’s College London found that people who exercise regularly are 16% less likely to develop depression in the future.

Both physical and mental health can be improved through exercise but how can sport influence off the pitch matters?

  1. Education

○ If you play or take part in sport it is likely at some point you will want to learn about the mechanics behind sports performance, nutrition and the human body. Nowadays, there are many university degrees which are based on sports and nutrition such as Sports and Exercise Science, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation, Sports Coaching and Sport Nutrition (and that’s only naming a few!)

○ Sport teaches key life skills. From working in a team and good sportsmanship to problem-solving, communication. leadership and concentration.

  1. Crime Prevention

○ Sport has the power to tackle crime and prevent anti-social behaviour.

○ Anti-social activity often occurs because young people don’t feel like there is much to do in their area. By providing accessible opportunities to participate in exercise, sport can become a diversion away from crime or anti-social behaviour. A successful example of a sports programme reducing crime and anti-social behaviour is the English Premier League’s ‘Kicks’ campaign. It has seen a reduction in anti-social behaviour of up to 60% in the areas the programme is operating, all through the power of football!

○ And it isn’t just an alternative thing to do, sport instils core values into people which can alter their behaviour. In the sporting world, principles such as respect, resilience and teamwork are praised.

  1. Employment

○ As already mentioned, participating in sport promotes key skills and values such as teamwork, respect, leadership, time management, commitment – the list goes on! But these are qualities that employers look for when they are hiring people.

○ And where there is sport, there are employment opportunities. In today’s world, sport is big business and people build their careers around the sporting landscape. From coaching a team to working on the business side of a club or sports organisation, these jobs wouldn’t be available if it wasn’t for sport.

  1. Community Cohesion

○ Sport itself often brings people together who may not communicate otherwise. After all, sport is a universal language and people from completely different walks of life can show up to support their favourite team or athlete from the sidelines.

○ Sports clubs can also do their bit in local areas to create a greater sense of community. Hosting events, such as charity fundraisers, helps to forge important community relationships and the club’s facilities become a community hub.

○ Both local level and elite sports clubs can do amazing work to help people in need. In recent months we have seen numerous clubs supporting local people during the COVID-19 pandemic, from providing food banks with supplies to checking in on those who needed support.

     At the beginning of lockdown in March, three sports clubs on the Ormeau Road in Belfast (Bredagh GAA, Ormeau Boxing and Rosario Football Club) came together to help with food deliveries and check in with local elderly and vulnerable residents.

○ Community clubs can use sport for good by looking at all of the areas mentioned above. Clubs can implement education initiatives along with schemes to tackle crime and to support local people’s employment opportunities. Monkstown Boxing Club in County Antrim is a prime example of a sports club introducing a programme (Box Clever) to boost young people’s employability and education. In an area of Antrim where the  number of people with a degree or higher qualification is 8.4% lower than the Northern Ireland average, Box Clever can be a much needed second chance for local people.

Looking at just these six things shows exactly how sport can change lives. It could be the thing which turns them away from crime or helps them get the job they’ve always wanted. It keeps your body and mind fit and healthy, and it can bring people together in a way like no other.

Ulster Grand Prix

A perfect example of sport working its magic was the Ulster Grand Prix in 2018. The event championed an initiative called the Motorbike Awareness Project, funded by the Department of Justice and supported the PSNI, which encouraged safer use of off-road motorbikes.

Through education, both in a classroom and practical workshop setting, 13 young people from Northern Ireland were taught about motorbike safety and first aid, as well as bike maintenance and how to ride a bike safely.

These lessons aided crime prevention by warning them of the dangers of illegal and anti-social off-road motor use, as well as giving them transferrable skills which they could take with them into future employment opportunities.

Fresh Start Through Sport

Similarly, a recent pilot programme called ‘Fresh Start through Sport’ has launched in Northern Ireland. It involves the Irish Football Association, Ulster GAA, Ulster Rugby and the Belfast Giants coming together to tackle criminality amongst young people who are at risk of getting caught up in anti-social behaviour.

Each sports organisation will deliver activity based modules which will educate and support young people to make positive life choices.

About Geoff Wilson

Geoff runs his own Sports Consultancy, working with clients such as FIFA, UEFA, AFC and FIBA across the world. He is also on the board of Tourism Northern Ireland. You can follow Geoff on twitter @geoffwnjwilson connect on Linkedin at

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