Opinion

Benjamin Boukpeti
Canoe Olympic medalist and Champion for Peace

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05/11/2019 par Benjamin Boukpeti

“Through Sport, We Help People to Integrate into the Workplace”

“Sport has changed my life. It has made me. It has brought me so much, including an Olympic medal – bronze – in the kayak single men’s slalom at the 2008 Beijing Games. The first Olympic medal in Togo’s history. But sport has also given me experience, a work method and greater self-confidence. All this has helped me in my studies and in my professional life. There are many similarities between the sports world and the corporate world. I realized this early in my career as a high-level athlete. In 2006, when I was training for the Beijing Games, I started my studies at business school. On reflection, I realized that it was possible for me to apply what I was learning in class to my sports preparation strategy. I decided to use business tools in my training for kayak: setting goals; generating progress; finding external skills, and advancing as a team … I’ve never regretted it!

Since then, I have always been certain that there are many links between sport and professional life.  In 2009, I joined Peace and Sport’s Champions for Peace club. I became a member the year in which it was launched. Very quickly, we speculated about the role that we could play to help people find their place in society through sport and bring them closer together. There is need everywhere: in conflict zones, refugee camps, and in areas hit by natural disasters. Also in France where social problems are often linked to unemployment. There are more and more people who are excluded from the world of work. They are on the outside, sometimes marginalized, with limited resources to integrate into the professional world. We have undertaken to help these people get back on the right track. Through sport. With sport.

For three years we have worked with other stakeholders in this area: the French employment agency ‘Pole Emploi’ and local missions as well as sports workshops. In 2016 I was asked to be a presenter in one of them, in Tarn-et-Garonne. I liked the concept. I wanted to be engaged in the long term. I’m still involved in Montauban et Creil, in the Oise department in France. In practice, a sports workshop lasts between 10 and 15 days. About 40% of the time is devoted to classroom training, focussing on discussions, exchanging ideas, developing skills and personal callings. The remaining 60% is composed of physical activities. We use 4 to 6 different sports, chosen from boxing, tennis, climbing, horseback riding, hiking, and general physical exercise. In all cases the sessions last two hours, involving one hour of physical practice and one hour of explanations and conversations on the analogies between sport and the world of work. The similarities are numerous: discipline, surpassing personal limits, respect for rules, motivation, the importance of teamwork, etc. We teach them methods and we prepare them mentally.

The results are very positive. Participants leave with the feeling that they have experienced a real endeavour which they can use in their approach to working life. The Sports Workshops have a very good attendance rate and participants see it through to the end. They get more confident. A local mission compared the impact of Sports Workshops and more traditional training courses. The outcome was that more people attended the Sports Workshops and established links to the workplace. As for me, I learned as much from the participants as I taught them. This is something I wasn’t expecting!

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