Using Sport to Reduce Prejudice and Enhance Change Agent Confidence

Prejudice and discrimination are commonplace in most areas of life, and sport is no exception. The nature of the prejudice might be different from years ago, but there is still a lot of evidence showing that people who differ from the majority--that is, women, racial minorities, religious minorities, LGBT individuals, the poor, and so on--experience prejudice on a regular basis.

Given this, scholars and practitioners have long sought to identify ways to reduce prejudice, and there are many options. We recently conducted a study to explore one such possibility: using a sport for development SFD) event.* SFD represents the use of sport and other activities to help affect individuals, groups, and/or communities.

In our case, we examined the effects of what is termed a sport-plus event. Youth from around the world were invited to participate in sport events and also take part in educational and cultural activities. They spent about equal time in each. During the sport events, they participated on teams with people from other countries so they could learn about people different from themselves.  The sports were also designed to be highly skilled, but cooperative. The educational and cultural components included seminars, guest speakers, and workshops, all designed to reduce prejudice and help the athletes be agents of change in their home communities. 

For this project, we collected two types of data. In the first analysis, we asked people before the event and then at the close to complete a questionnaire measuring their prejudice and confidence in being a change agent. We found that their prejudice decreased and their confidence in affecting change in their home communities increased over the course of the event. The findings even held when considering personality variables (social dominance) that might influence these results. 

We then wanted to follow up with additional analyses to offer another check on the findings. In this case, we conducted focus groups with 27 of the participants on the last day of the event. We observed a similar pattern. One person commented: "I have to admit, I was a little prejudice[d] before I came.... Through meeting my teammates, my views have changed." The same was true for confidence in being a change agent. One person noted: "Now that I've done this and seen how much of a difference I can actually make, I feel like I actually want to do something now." Another commented on how important the educational components were: "They just taught us how to believe in ourselves. Be leaders. Nothing is going to come to you, that's one thing I really didn't grasp on before. You have to work hard to achieve the change that you want."

To be sure, the sport-plus event we studied was not without its faults. But, what we did observe is that it provided a good venue for young athletes to be engaged, to learn about others, to display their sport skills, and ultimately to reduce their prejudice and enhance their confidence in affecting change. Thus, SFD events offer a good possible option for affecting change in sport. 

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* Welty Peachey, J., Cunningham, G. B., Bruening, J. L., Cohen, A., & Lyras, A. (2015). The influence of a sport-for-peace event on prejudice and change agent self-efficacy. Journal of Sport Management, 29, 229-244.