Sport for Social Cohesion: Transferring from the Pitch to the Community?
Orientation towards the common good
European sport policies and programmes have increasingly focused on promoting social cohesion. Often presented as a multi-dimensional concept, social cohesion is considered the ‘glue’ that holds societies together and is seen as essential to addressing common challenges. However, the term remains contested, and it is not always clear how programmes conceptualize or support social cohesion. Thus, this paper explores how three European sport programmes conceptualize and foster social cohesion. Findings are generated from a thematic analysis of interviews, group discussions, observations and documents. The themes developed show how organizations adopt an individual-centerd view of social cohesion, focusing mainly on social relations, tolerance and mutual help. In turn, this translates to an individual-focused practice of social cohesion, emphasizing personal skills, behaviors, and social relations, with the transfer of social cohesion to the broader community left mostly in participants’ hands. Due to a number of systemic barriers, programmes struggle to implement more holistic and structural approaches. As such, if we want to facilitate a move towards more structural or interventionist approaches, we as researchers must play an active role in questioning, challenging, and reshaping the systems that underpin sport-based social interventions.