Sport development goes a long way in underprivileged communities

Tuesday 1 July 2003, by Ingrid HEIN

Fighting poverty and exclusion in the global South is often reported as a dry struggle involving policies and regulations, and rarely as an effort to reclaim simple everyday joys for the world’s poorest.

Fun and games can, however, help promote social progress in unexpected ways. Masoud Gumbwa believes this, holding that "in a developing community, sport is good for physical and health development." So Gumbwa volunteers for SCORE (Sports Coaches’ Outreach) in Bathlabine, South Africa. SCORE is a non-governmental organization that recruits international and local volunteers to teach sport to children in underprivileged communities in South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia.

"In Bathlabine, the children are very good in sports that do not require systematic training. Like running, they are very good. We are working on ball control and team participation." Through sport, children develop confidence, learn new skills, and get active-a healthy alternative to crime, drugs, and other activities that come out of boredom, Gumbwa claims.

The program has seen success across southern Africa. More than 450 volunteers from 22 countries have already served. More than 300 000 children have participated in the program, and more than 5 000 teachers have been trained.

SCORE was founded in 1991 by American Olympic athlete Juliet Thompson, after she learned about the lack of sports activities and equipment in South African schools. She volunteered her assistance to a school in Khayelitsha, a township outside of Cape Town. It was here that she came up with the idea of starting an organization that would bring other volunteers like herself to South Africa, to provide sports opportunities for schoolchildren in impoverished townships.

Gumbwa does a lot with his limited resources and SCORE’s help, but he still faces challenges. "Even though the facilities are not good, we improvise," he said. "We only have soil to play basketball on, but we just try to compact it a little. We use the net ball net and a piece of iron and make a basket. For soccer, we use wooden poles to make a goal post."

There’s also the question of clothing and shoes. "About 90 per cent of the children do not have shoes to play soccer, they play in their bare feet. This is a bit of a problem. If there comes a time that he has shoes, he cannot play comfortably. He has to take off his shoes to play better." Gumba says this is a particular problem for those athletes that may want to join provincial teams. Without being able to play in shoes, aspiring barefoot players don’t have a chance.

Nonetheless, the program is making the community, and especially its kids, happy. According to Rubin Mogotlo Sekgodyana, the official SCORE contact in the community, sports development in Bathlabine is hugely successful. "The children are enjoying. Before we only played netball and soccer, now we know handball, basketball, touch rugby and so on. I think it can be sustained," he said.

In addition to the Physical Education program, and training teachers to organize school teams, SCORE caters to special needs in other ways. The "Interplay" program brings children from townships, suburbs, and private schools together on the field to learn about one another and share sporting abilities. "Special Sport" helps physically and mentally challenged persons, while "Club Sport" helps communities develop sports clubs.

Since sport in South Africa is dominated by males, SCORE works to increase the participation of girls and women through its "U Go Girls!" program. The program focuses on introducing girls to historically male-dominated sports, developing girls’ and women’s sports clubs, ensuring female representation on sports committees, and delivering specific sports leadership and assertiveness training workshops.

Ingrid Hein, Alternative Media Intern, back from South Africa

To become a volunteer for SCORE or learn more about the program, see the official web site at

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