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Looking for the spark

How will Whistler reach out from its lofty position of advantage to those who are disadvantaged? Glenda Bartosh looks for the answers.



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The upside for kids isn’t just play time, something cherished by youngsters who’ve been uprooted by strife and taught to work for their families as soon as they can walk. Play can literally save their lives.

Congolese rebels roam the refugee camps at night to recruit child soldiers. UN observers have reported that boys are less likely to be recruited when they have something as simple as a soccer tournament to look forward to.

Sport as mobilizing tool

The way Right To Play parlays sport and play into tools for peace, health and development can be ingenious, the impacts astonishing.

More than 12 million children around the world have been vaccinated against a variety of diseases through Right To Play/Olympic Aid programs. Truces have even been set up in war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq during the Olympics to allow NGOs to do vaccinations.

One of the most successful programs is measles vaccination, largely because of the way Right To Play uses sport as a mobilizing tool to drive it. Soccer stars in countries like Ghana and Mali attract thousands of families to soccer games, where it’s much easier than going out to small villages to do vaccinations.

Right To Play has also developed games to teach youngsters how vaccinations help protect them from disease, as well as how condoms can protect them from HIV/AIDS and how hard it is to tell who might carry HIV. Even the simplest games are followed up with discussions emphasizing health, hygiene and well-being.

For Molloy, experiencing it first-hand was beyond expectations: “I got to go on this incredible adventure, live in this completely different community, and put my background to use on something I really believe was making a positive impact on a community.”

Could it happen in Whistler?

Could an initiative like Right To Play spring out of the 2010 Olympics? More than a few indicators point that way.

First, through Olympic Aid/Right To Play, the IOC has already demonstrated that sport can play a role in improving the lives of individuals and whole communities. It’s also set up tools like Olympic Solidarity, which grants scholarships to assist athletes who might not be able to afford the cost of training programs.