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UI historian tells how sport can foster development

Bill Smith

Bill Smith, historian and faculty advisor for Model United Nations at the University of Idaho in Moscow, recently spoke at the Spokane United Nations Day dinner on the role of sport in global relations and six UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As director of the UI’s Martin Institute and Program in International Studies, he sees that sport influences international relations: a Dutch soccer player boycotted the 1978 World Cup in Argentina because of human rights abuses. South African teams were left out of world competitions because of apartheid.  In the 1970s, there was “ping pong diplomacy” with China. The Olympics often has political ramifications.

Aid workers often bring sports equipment. People appreciate being treated as human beings.  Because sports and play touch lives, they draw people, Bill said, noting they may draw youth and all ages to education, health care, HIV/AIDS education and even opportunities to learn about micro-credit.

Six of the 17 SDGs relate to sport: good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities, and peace, justice and strong institutions, he said.

Exercise contributes to health. Sport can motivate children to go to school and start life-long learning.  Girls can be empowered by participating in sports.  Sport motivates people to clear land mines for fields or introduces amputee soccer for those injured by land mines.

Bill believes sports, with the global interconnections they foster, can create social change.  They shape how trillions of dollars are invested.

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