Critical left-realism and sport interventions in divided societies

John Sugden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


What, if any, is the value of sport to processes of peace and reconciliation? After introducing the largely rhetorical arguments for and against the value of using sport as a vehicle to promote peace building in divided societies, this article makes a more detailed and forensic examination of the evidence based on: the role played by sport in South Africa before and after apartheid; and second, drawing upon the author’s own experiences garnered over more than two decades of conducting research and leading sport-based intervention initiatives in Northern Ireland and Israel. The article argues that sport is intrinsically value neutral and under carefully managed circumstances it can make a positive if modest contribution to peace building. The mobilization of an engaged sociological imagination in the context of a broader human rights agenda is central to this contribution. Drawing upon notions of pragmatism, left realism and praxis, the article concludes by presenting a ‘ripple effect’ model that illustrates the circumstances under which sport can make a difference in the promotion of social justice and human rights in deeply divided societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-272
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Review for the Sociology of Sport
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010


  • critical left-realism
  • divided societies
  • sport-for-development

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