Power of Sport to Inform, Empower and Transform

In August 2013 the United Nations declared that April 6 will now be recognized as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP).

According to the United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP):

The adoption of this day signifies the increasing recognition by the United Nations of the positive influence that sport can have on the advancement of human rights, and social and economic development.

In other words, sport has the power to drive positive social change.

Now remember -- sport in and of itself is neither good nor bad. How we choose to use sport as a tool determines that. Think of sport as a match. The act of lighting a match is neither good nor bad. One can use that lit match to light a candle in a dark place or to set fire to a forest. The outcome, not the action, dictates its impact.

What does the power of sport look like? Three things really -- (1) Sport has the power to Inform, (2) Sport has the power to empower, and (3) Sport has the power to transform.

Let's first consider the power to inform. Here we can look to the recent Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. How do Paralympic and Olympic athletes inform us? They have stories -- stories of great athleticism, stories of overcoming obstacles, stories of survival, stories of military veterans. This year's Paralympic and Olympic Games informed us of the worth of athletes with and without disabilities not only as role models, but as spokespeople as well. This past Olympic and Paralympic Games informed us of so many things that matter.

Next, we have the power to empower. Here we would like to introduce an emerging topic for you to consider, the concept of universal design, which is a framework for the design of places, things, information, communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Basically, universal design is human-centered design of everything with everyone in mind. Even more simply -- everyone matters.

The concept of universal design takes the idea of accessibility to a higher level. This is not about bathroom stalls, curb cuts or allowing service animals into a sporting space. Universal design is more about the sport consumer as whole person regardless of ability, language differential, age, intellectual capacity or mobility -- not to mention income, home zip code or team affiliation. This innovative and emerging concept in the sport industry opens up a whole new world of sport consumer experience -- one which is inclusive of all. It empowers people using the fuel of inclusion.

Finally, we have the power to transform. Once people are informed and empowered, real change can happen. This past month, we had the privilege to co-host the second Athletes and Social Change Forum at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Here we learned about how people use the power of sport on a daily basis to transform people's lives. For example, the organization Doc Wayne, has the slogan, "Do the Good," and aims to direct youth to work hard to find their positive path both on and off the field using soccer, basketball, flag football and softball as the backdrop. Groups like this are using sport to transform people's lives every day.

Using the power of sport to inform, empower and transform is part of our fabric, focuses the lens of our work. The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace offers an outstanding opportunity to see the power of sport in action in multiple ways in multiple locations. The day will utilize sport to advance gender equality, improve physical and mental health, include everyone regardless of ability, promote respect and dialogue, and enhance life skills of children and youth. Sport is a useful tool to empower people in all these ways. The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace will provide a global platform so all can see the power of sport.

Dr. Mary Hums is Professor of Sport Administration at the University of Louisville and Research Fellow with the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design. Follow Dr. Mary Hums on Twitter (@mahums).

Eli Wolff is the program director of the Sport and Development Project at Brown University, and also directs the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design, and the Disability Sport Education Program at the University of Illinois. Follow Eli Wolff on Twitter (@eliwolff10).