Nelson Mandela famously said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

In February 2018, the World Economic Forum posted an article entitled, The uniquely unifying power of sports, and why it matters. In it the author, Mark Ein, states:

“Any discussion of the power of sport has finally to include its importance as a vehicle to teach our youth – and the rest of us – the lessons of leadership, good health, teamwork, fair play, self-reliance and continuous improvement.” 1

South Africans can testify, particularly over the last three months of 2019, to the unifying power of sport and its ability to engender pride in our country.  As a nation we waved the South African flag and were behind Siya Kolisi and his World Cup Rugby squad – and we stood as one people and roared with delight in the winning moment. Our boys were bringing the World Cup trophy home. Then our Blitzbokke outclassed New Zealand rugby sevens team to win the Dubai Sevens Series and a few weeks later South Africa’s beautiful “daughter”,  Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe.   In Cape Town in February 2020, history was made and a world record broken as South African tennis great, Roger Federer went head to head with super star, Rafael Nadal, at Cape Town Stadium, raising US$3.5 million for the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports education programmes in rural South Africa.

“Our boys were bringing the World Cup trophy home” 

Rafael Nadal at Cape Town Stadium

Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe

In the workplace, it is fairly common for organisations or groups of employees to coordinate teams to enter social sporting activities such as fun runs, to play soccer or action cricket, or even get together in their lunch break to play table soccer.  The teams may keep track of who won and lost, and there may be a trophy or prize for the best team at the end of a game or tournament, but winning is just a bonus. The true benefits are found in building camaraderie and sportsmanship – and improved fitness. Employees have the opportunity to gain insight into co-workers during sport participation.  This leads to social barriers coming down and colleagues becoming friends. As a result they are more creative and share more ideas; they work more efficiently and feel more actively involved.  Ultimately the organisation becomes more competitive through improved relations and enhanced cooperation.

“The true benefits are found in building camaraderie and sportsmanship – and improved fitness”

Team activities, whether organised or informal, offer numerous health benefits, both physical and mental, and as a result they can be a perfect fit as part of employee wellness programmes, for enhancing workplace wellness. When administered properly these can:

  • support a corporate health vision;
  • engender a healthier workplace culture;
  • support the physical and mental health of employees;
  • improve employee morale;
  • benefit the functioning and cohesion of a team;
  • increase health awareness;
  • increase employee productivity through
  • decrease employee absenteeism;
  • support disease prevention and management; and
  • improve the organisation’s ability to attract and retain valued employees.