The 2016 Summer Olympics will be remembered for a number of things; from hen parties on the beach to protests on the streets. In fact many of the most newsworthy stories came from what was said or done after the medals had been handed out. One such moment was when Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui told reporters the world over that her performance had been affected by the fact that she was on her period. This admission drew praise from elite athletes and people across the globe. Fu had broken a taboo that so few female sports stars feel they can address, and to such celebration. However, that simply speaking about periods generated such headlines shows just how far society sadly still needs to come.
What Fu did opened up the conversation around gender and sport and gave the topic a global platform in front of a diverse audience. The Olympics offer the chance to witness just how powerful sport can be in addressing inequality and promoting cooperation, teamwork and cultural exchange. Some of the enduring images of Rio 2016 will be the refugee team proudly announced to the crowds of the opening ceremony or the North and South Korean gymnasts sharing a selfie together. Sport has the power to unite like nothing else and the Olympics embody that in spades.
But once the games have ended and the streets are cleaned what happens to the spirit of fair play and equality? Do the actions of Fu and others really have a lasting impact on the lives of ordinary people across the world, or does it only take the next clickbait headline for people to forget? Does there need to be another approach to addressing inequality in communities, both local and global, one that sport can take a leading role in? I believe that there has to be a bottom up, community led approach to tackling social issues and that is why in 2015 I founding the charity Connecting Clubs International (CCI).
Sport provides the ideal medium for driving meaningful change, bringing people together in a way that no other activity can, and I believe we need to utilise this power. CCI was set up to harness the power of sport to create development programmes in partnership with communities both in the UK and overseas. We bring together stakeholders from the local community to discuss issues that they believe are important to them. So this week, after a year of planning, we are launching 'Cricket for Equality', a programme working with the Horizon Cricket Academy (HCA) in Biratnagar, Nepal, to address issues around gender equality.
Our partners in Nepal highlighted gender equality as a priority for them, thus we have worked together to identify three strands for development. The first is gender violence; a significant problem in Nepal that has grown since the devastating earthquake in April 2015, with rural communities in particular seeing a rise in violence against women. The second is the role of taboos in Nepalese society; just as Fu helped break down the barriers during the Olympics, we hope to create a safe space in which girls and woman can speak openly and honestly about the concerns they have and issues they face in the community. Finally, we will tackle the stigmatisation of women & girls who play sport in Nepal, crystallized by traditional gender roles. To tackle these three areas of priority, we will initiate a national media campaign, using cricket as the focus to constructively challenge the perception of gender roles.
But why cricket? In recent years there has been a significant shift from simply trying to achieve 'gender equality in sports' towards 'using sport for gender equality and personal development.' Cricket in Nepal holds special significance and clubs are often the centre of communities. Together with HCA we will develop their expertise and status in Biratnagar. This will help the club use sport to bring people around the table for conversations and workshops. Sport, whether at the elite level or the community level brings people together, it challenges people to think in new and innovative ways. CCI's 'Cricket for Equality' programme recognises the importance of sport in Nepal. We are working with the local community to provide sustainable growth and address pressing social issues.
The Olympics give sport a powerful platform every four years, and it is now time for communities all over the world to recognise how sport can be used for development. Through challenging social norms and providing a platform for community led social development, CCI's inaugural project will lead the way in achieving this recognition.
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