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Sport policy lessons from Colombia

Sport policy lessons from Colombia

The European perspective considers Colombia a developing Latin American country recovering from years of internal conflict, however the reality is more complex. By visiting Colombia and taking a closer look at the country’s sport for all system, one can identify forward-looking and innovative approaches. In the article below you will read about three core policy concepts that have recently been shaping Colombian sport.

Colombian Sport for All

One of the most impactful achievements in the field of sport is the investment in grassroots and publicly accessible facilities. For instance, before coming to Colombia I wouldn’t have imagined training in such well-equipped outdoor gyms. And the best thing about them: they are completely free! The city of eternal spring, Medellin is equipped with over 800 publicly accessible sport facilities (without counting privately run sport centres), some of them also include swimming pools. The municipality owned institute for sports and recreation, INDER has been investing billions of pesos to boost sport participation and make citizens more health-conscious. Another remarkable example of sport promotion is the so called Ciclovía; in many of the big cities (including Bogota and Medellin) the local council closes certain major roads to traffic on Sundays and public holidays. As a result hobby runners, cyclists, walking residents take over these motorways for a period of six hours. Instead of pumping public money to unsustainable football stadiums, Colombia has recognised that there is a bigger need for real actions in the field of sport for all that results in the well-being and increased productivity of society.

Sport for Peace and Development

Yes, Colombia experienced severe internal armed conflicts in the last decades, however the recent peace-deal with FARC guerrilla forces might pave the way for a more peaceful future. From my personal experience Colombia is a safe country where the majority of people condemn violence and conflict. Indeed, the government is committed to implementing some profound socio-economic changes and intends to utilise all possible means to strengthen values of mutual trust, peaceful coexistence and dialogue. Sport is not an exception, but a well-recognised tool for fostering peace and development in the country. COLDPORTES (the government’s institute for sports administration) and the Ministry for External Relations are both running sport-based initiatives in post-conflict territories to educate disadvantaged young people and equip them with soft skills and competencies. Due to a large number of NGOs and community based organisations the Colombian Sport for Development and Peace sector is thriving, while their interventions are contributing to long-lasting social change in an unprecedented way.

Sport Diplomacy

Sport is not only used for public health and social development purposes, however it is also seen as a tool for boosting the foreign image and reputation of the country. Not too many nations in the world has such an advanced public diplomacy strategy as Colombia where culture and sport are recognised as unique contributors to peaceful diplomatic endeavours. The Ministry for External Relations (Cancílleria) has been running a successful culture and sport exchange programme through which they create opportunities for disadvantaged young people involved in sport and cultural activities. In the last decade a number of sport-based exchanges were realised in foreign countries, but Colombia also welcomes young athletes from all over the world. Colombians recognised that a country’s reputation and image can be improved through, not only the organisation of costly and often corruption driven Mega Sport Events, but also by investing in people-to-people relations and grassroots sport for public diplomacy.

About the author:

Bence Garamvölgyi is the Hungarian Committee Member of ENGSO Youth. As a part-time PhD student, in 2018 January he took part in a research scholarship in Colombia financed by the Hungarian scholarhsip program Campus Mundi.

The author with the officials of the Ministry for External Relations

Free outdoor gym in Medellin

Sunday's Ciclovía in Medellin

The author in Cartagena