Sport-for-Development: A Level Playing Field?


  • Janet Njelesani University of Toronto
  • Barbara E. Gibson University of Toronto
  • Debra Cameron University of Toronto
  • Stephanie Nixon University of Toronto
  • Helene Polatajko University of Toronto



occupation, Zambia, sport-for-development, qualitative case study, critical occupational approach


In the burgeoning field of sport-for-development, the benefits of participation for youths have been widely discussed. However, it has also been noted that some youth are excluded based on ability, location, economic means, and gender and are thus not participating. We considered that this might be an issue of ideologies. Thus, it was the purpose of this study to use a critical occupational approach to explore how sport-for-development ideologies in Zambia shape the participation of young people. Drawing on empirical data gathered from five case studies of sport-for-development organizations in Lusaka, Zambia, three themes were identified that describe ideological beliefs within the Zambian sport-for-development context. The first, sport benefits all, contributed to the practice of sport being used uncritically as an activity for all youth. The second, good people do, perpetuated what were considered acceptable activities that boys and girls could do in the local context. Finally, a belief that sport is the way out privileged boys who play football as well as athletic non-disabled boys in opposition to girls, poor youths, rural youths, and girls and boys with disabilities. Together these beliefs have contributed to successes (careers in sport) and shortcomings (occupational injustices) associated with the sport-for-development phenomenon.



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Author Biographies

Janet Njelesani, University of Toronto

Janet NJELESANI holds an Adjunct Lecturer position in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include critical qualitative research methods and approaches, and disability and global health. This manuscript was completed as part of her PhD in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto.

Barbara E. Gibson, University of Toronto

Barbara E. GIBSON is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto and a Senior Scientist at the Bloorview Research Institute at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, Canada. She holds the Bloorview Children's Hospital Foundation Chair in Childhood Disability Studies. Her research investigates how social, cultural, and institutional practices intersect in producing health, inclusion/exclusion, and identity with disabled children and youth.

Debra Cameron, University of Toronto

Debra CAMERON is an Assistant Professor and International Fieldwork Coordinator in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto. Her research interests include international health and development, international fieldwork placements, cognitive interventions, and parenting.

Stephanie Nixon, University of Toronto

Stephanie NIXON is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and Director of the International Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation. She is cross-appointed in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at University of Toronto. Her current research uses critical social science to explore links between HIV, disability and global health in Canada and in Southern Africa.

Helene Polatajko, University of Toronto

Helene POLATAJKO is a Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the University of Toronto Neuroscience Program, the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Interim Director of the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute, at the University of Toronto, Adjunct Scientist at St John's Rehab Hospital and Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy. Her research has been focused on intervention and outcome measurement. Her particular interest is in exploring how cognitive strategy use can support skill acquisition among individuals with performance deficits.




How to Cite

Njelesani, J., Gibson, B. E., Cameron, D., Nixon, S., & Polatajko, H. (2015). Sport-for-Development: A Level Playing Field?. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 16(2).

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