The fifth Commonwealth debate on sport ended in a draw as the teams argued that technology, however useful, is not the solution in itself to rebuilding the sport sector after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the debate heard powerful arguments for and against the idea that investment in technology is the key to rebuilding the sport sector post-COVID-19.
In favour of the argument, the first team warned that it would be a mistake to view technology as a disruptive force instead of one that could enhance the potential of sport in boosting health, activity and development.
Team members were Rwanda’s Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of ICT and Innovation Yves Iradukunda, Vice President of the Global Esports Federation Chester King and Head of Sport Tech Hub at the London Sport, Alex Zurita.
They pointed to the use of technology in keeping people active during global lockdowns and highlighted how gaming is being used to pique interest in sport.
On the opposing side, their rivals countered that access to technology is not equitable and it will be a mistake to focus investment on this particular aspect of sport.
Calling for people-centred policies, they insisted that the emphasis should be on more urgent priorities such as addressing racism, governance issues and investment gaps in sporting activities.
Leading the opposition, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, argued that investment should go towards areas identified in promoting human rights, tackling non-communicable diseases and enhancing access to sport benefits.
She continued that the key is investing in initiatives to mainstream sport as part of an integrated policy across health, education and economic sectors.
In her team, Minister Grange was joined by former Commonwealth, Olympics and Paralympic Gold Medal Winning Swimmer and Laureus Ambassador, Natalie du Toit, and Professor Simon Darnell from the University of Toronto.
They concluded that technology does not offer an ethical or equitable framework to solve the challenges in sport, and that it is part of the solution but should not be considered the solution in itself.
Addressing the teams, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “The past year has been challenging for us all, full of uncertainty and unlike any we have seen in recent history… We have suffered together, we will recover together.
“Sport is well placed to help catalyse growth to build back not only better but faster and stronger - whether in addressing the impact of non-communicable diseases, driving economic growth or increasing social cohesion.”
She added: “But how do we bring it all together? Each one of us offers valuable insights on how best to rebuild sport and society. This is why we are hosting this debate to be stimulated and enlightened by experts, leaders and practitioners on diverse ideas and perspectives which can help transform lives across the Commonwealth.”
Dame Louise Martin, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, judged the virtual debate and said: “Sport for development must engage with technology as it can supplement the mission to get more people active.”
Both teams termed the debate “timely” as the sport industry is facing a recession several times worse than the average sector of the economy due to the pandemic.
Speaking after the debate, Secretary-General’s Champion for Equality in Sport and British Paralympic athlete, Anne Wafula Strike, said: “In many places, people are discriminated against in sport because of the colour of their skin. Unless we tear down the institutional and social barriers that divide and separate us in society, we will continue to see them in sport.”
She stressed that greater investment in sport should be prioritised to include those often left behind.
The Commonwealth Debate for Sport and Sustainable Development is a signature annual event, which brings together leading specialists from the 54 Commonwealth countries to examine emerging issues affecting the sport and physical activity sector.