PtG Article 09.11.2005

Sport development from South to North

The development of sport does not flow in one single direction from developed to developing nations.

Based on experiences from Nordic contacts with Africa, academic Henning Eichberg from Denmark’s Centre for Sport, Health and Civil Society showed a much more complex picture of exchange between popular sports in developing and developed nations. Indeed, the accepted norm of ‘development’ moving from traditional games to modern sport is sometimes turned on its head.

As an example of traditional sports development aid, he referred to a well-intentioned 1980’s Swedish project which began by sending discarded sports clothes and equipment to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania.

The idea initially met with great success, but gradually the project began to show flaws. Looting occurred when shipments arrived, culminating in one person being shot dead. Many people took the goods for resale, and corruption meant that the best goods often ended up in upmarket stores. In 1989, the project was closed down.

To Henning Eichberg, this project is a classic example of what he calls the colonial ‘one-way imbalance’ whose underlying tone is ‘we the rich are giving to you the poor’. However, Eichberg stated, the system does not always have to be this way. He cited the introduction of the Tanzanian ‘ngoma’ dance to Denmark as an example of ‘development’ being channelled in the opposite direction.

The phenomenon started when a group of young Danes entered into a partnership with a cultural centre near Mwanza, Tanzania. A total of 50 local groups of ‘ngoma’ drummers and 20 choirs were integrated into the project. When visiting Denmark on cultural exchanges, Tanzanians brought their dance and music with them, and Danes found it so much fun that they started to practice it themselves.

Since the 1980s, ngoma drums have become an important element of Danish festivities, and are commonplace in large city carnivals and festivals. A whole grassroots movement has developed from this initial exchange, and continues today with, courses, tours and exchange programmes. Other successful projects have taken their starting point in popular crafts or the production of sports equipment or musical instruments, he added.

In conclusion, Eichberg stated that the living culture of games, dance and festivities can ‘flow’ in any direction. Traditional games, dance or music can catch on in the West, just as Western fashions can gain a following in developing nations.

‘Development’, he stated, can also mean the exchange and empowerment of the people, challenging the established categories of ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ in history.