Unity in Diversity at the Rio 2016 Olympics
How? Why? These questions are the next step in capitalizing on what we already know to be true—that sport has the power to unite people across differences. If we understand the details of how and why, then federations, local governments, and organisers can maximize the positive impacts of sporting events through intentional planning and design.
Fans at the Rio 2016 Olympics revealed helpful and exciting insights for organisers to maximise the potential of their work to foster unity in diversity. According to fans’ surveys and interviews, the following factors were relevant and important to their experiences with other Olympic fans:
- Learning about others’ ways of life
- Cooperating with each other
- A sense of unity with others
- Displaying group identity (clothing, flags, singing, etc.)
- Respecting each other
- Meeting and talking with others
- Having common goals
- Feeling equal to others
- Seeing similarities with others
- Solidarity with their own group
- Making new friends
This list is powerful, because decades of previous research shows how each of these factors reduces prejudice and builds positive perceptions and relationships between people from different national, ethnic, religious, and other backgrounds. The positive influence of each factor also spreads through the stories fans share when they return home, which means a single mega-sporting event has the power to improve intergroup perceptions and relationships in millions of people around the world.
These factors of positive contact between fans start to answer the how and why emphasised above, and they already happen at events such as the Olympics and World Cup, where I have also found them to be present. But we can dig deeper than simply knowing the factors exist.
We can explore how fans experience each factor and try to enhance those parts of their experiences. Did sharing a food court table with people from another country help fans initiate conversations, learn about others’ ways of life, discover similarities, and make new friends? Then maybe we should use tables large enough for multiple groups to share! Or, were fans typically bored and frustrated on the metro and waiting in lines? Then maybe we can think about how to utilize this time with fun, interactive media that highlights where people are from and the unity of being at the event in order to spark conversations between fans.
These are obviously some of the more simplistic solutions we can develop, but they illustrate a depth of ideas we can use to plan sporting events when we know how and why fans from different groups have positive experiences with each other. Taking this a step farther, fans’ survey and interview responses indicate connections between the different factors, which allows exploration of how the factors influence each other in fans’ experiences.
For example, it seems that when fans display their group identities with clothing, flags, or singing, this leads to meeting and talking with others, learning about others’ ways of life, discovering similarities, and feeling equal to others. Knowing this, organisers can intentionally plan opportunities and activities that highlight the different fan groups present in order to produce outcomes of mutual understanding and improved perceptions. Additionally, it seems that cooperating with each other leads to making new friends and strengthening a sense of unity, so organisers should create cooperative activities for fans to foster such unity and friendship.
The larger goal of making these connections between factors is to provide federations, local governments, and organisers with guides and templates for organising their events to maximise the impact of each factor. Such guides and templates will provide a structure showing how factors influence each other, which will help planners make intentional decisions that enhance each factor as much as possible. The result? To take sporting events that already foster positive perceptions and relationships, reduce prejudice, and generate positive experiences between people from different backgrounds and advance these benefits beyond what we know is possible.
The world is in desperate need of unity, cooperation, and mutual respect and understanding. With our beautiful array of backgrounds and group identities, let us pursue the how and why of sport’s power to unite across differences and embody the unity in diversity we seek to inspire through sport by collaboratively working together to create these experiences for fans.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Peace and Sport Watch are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Peace and Sport.