The International Olympic Committee (IOC) thinks sports are the answer to improving life in developing countries. The IOC’s “Sports for Hope” program provides communities with better opportunities to exercise and learn about the values of Olympism.
The organization believes practicing sports in a safe and welcoming environment has the power to bring hope and positivity to developing countries. Sports have the ability to foster cognitive development, social interactions and community integration. The program involves building multi-functional sports facilities in developing countries.
Besides improving the health of those who participate, the program will also help young athletes actively develop their minds. Other goals of “Sports for Hope” include offering athletes professional training opportunities, organizing sports competitions and providing health services.
The pilot project for the program is in Lusaka, Zambia. In addition to the Olympic Youth Development Center, the project provides community development services, Olympic education, health services and sports administrators’ seminars. The Olympic education covers girls’ empowerment and civic education.
The Center, costing a total of about $10 million, includes outdoor sports fields, indoor multi-purpose courts, a boxing arena, a gym, classrooms, administrative offices, locker rooms and storage rooms. The IOC partnered with the Government of the Republic of Zambia and the National Olympic Committee of Zambia to bring the center to the people of Zambia.
Now in its third year, the Center welcomes about 10,000 children and teenagers each month. The facility offers opportunities for young athletes to train in 16 different sports.
Following the success of The Center in Zambia, the IOC is currently building its second Olympic Youth Development Center, this one in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Haitian Center will feature large shaded areas to protect athletes from the heat of the region.
The Centers offer educational classes, including HIV/AIDS programs. Zambia has one of the world’s most devastating HIV/AIDS epidemics; at least one in every seven adults in the country live with HIV. Woman and girls aged 15 years old to 24 years old are most vulnerable to the disease with double the prevalence of men in the same age group. The educational programs on female empowerment focus on positivity, including safe sexual practices to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Zambia’s Olympic Youth Development Center is an example of how a sports complex and sports in general, can be so much more than what meets the eye. Zambian Olympian Samuel Matete says, “As an Olympian myself, I look forward to using the Center to provide great opportunities for young people to achieve their dreams.”
– Haley Sklut