Sport is such a fundamental part of many cultures, and this is certainly true in Kenya – football, basketball, track games, hockey… the list is endless. But what if it could be more? What if sport could be used to further development and alleviate poverty?
Sports are the present and future advocate for social and cultural change. They have been around for thousands of years in one form or another. Sports have been a part of human life since time immemorial and they have constantly evolved with the times, people, society and culture.
Throughout modern times, athletes have long used sports as a means to get out of a life of poverty. Sports have long proven to be a route out of poverty into a life of fame and fortune. While many young people aspire to succeed in sports as a means to change their lives, it’s not always reliable. Less than two percent of all high school athletes go on to play professional sports. But this does not stop athletes from dreaming.
The hardships that athletes must go through in order to truly make it out of poverty are immense. From old friends wanting a “cut” of the money to possibly reverting to an attitude of wanting to spend the money as soon as you get it, there are a lot of obstacles along the way. But making it through that really shows how sports can help impoverished people dream, and eventually lead a better life.
To fully understand why sports can be such a good push out of a life of poverty, first you need to truly understand how bad poverty is. With the over 21 million Kenyans living in poverty (www.ruralpovertyportal.org), nearly 50 percent will spend more than half of their lives below the poverty line. And even more towards sports, minorities are two-and-half-times more likely to spend the greater part of their childhood in poverty, substantially limiting their opportunities and forcing them to look to sports as a way to get out.
By just looking at basic numbers it becomes abundantly clear why many young impoverished people turn to sports. Not only for the dreams of living large and having money, but because it keeps them out of trouble.
Part of sports becoming a real tool to get children out of below-average lives is the ability to keep them out of trouble and away from a life of crime. Sports play a massive role as a dynamic tool to prevent crime among youth. This approach of trying to get at-risk youth involved in sports is not only local, but also global.
The just concluded Rio Olympics made it a goal to get at-risk youth more involved and even demonstrated how it worked, citing silver-medalist Luvo Manyonga from South Africa (pictured above), who repeatedly has given credit to sports for helping him break his drug addiction.
As sports have increased in popularity, so too have the star athletes. Players are now viewed as celebrities and, much like movie stars, can barely be seen in public without being mobbed by hundreds of adoring fans. This is a feeling many young people look up to and wish to attain. While this may seem like it would not have much pull on social or cultural change, it is quite the opposite.
Many famous athletes grew up in a rough environment so many impoverished kids feel they can relate to it. This leads them to want to get involved with sports and work on their skills so they can make it professionally and lives as comfortably as their idols did while they were playing. Superstar athletes play such an important role in kids’ lives that many times they will do anything to emulate them, from wearing their number while playing to even asking for their actual jersey as a gift.
Many may argue that sports have really not had much effect and rather society just became more adept to change and more willing to change. However, this could not be further from the truth. It has been seen through history that time and time again sports and social/cultural change go hand and hand.
From the racism of Hitler and Jessie Owens proving him wrong at the 1936 Olympics to women’s equality gained through the Battle of the Sexes tennis match, sports have been going through the same turmoil that most of the world goes through at the same time, so it is only fitting they have influence and can help change both society and culture. But one thing that has always existed is poverty, and for millions of youth, sports seem to be their only way out of a rough life.