The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, which highlights the need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education to empower girls and women. One project being supported by the IOC and its Olympism365 strategy in working towards this goal is Sportic, a Latin America-based initiative that combines sport and technology to foster the socio-emotional development of local children and teenagers. To date, over 8,000 children, typically between the ages of 12 and 18, have participated in Sportic’s activities across Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador.
Operating in over 60 schools and “socio-community spaces” across Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador, Sportic supplements the learning of local children and adolescents with compulsory after-school activities, and offers optional sessions in local youth clubs and community centres outside school hours. Many of the children supported by the initiative come from low-income neighbourhoods, where the benefits can be felt the most.
Coordinating a continent-wide programme
For its creation, both the Inter-American Development Bank and the IOC contributed USD 1.5 million to Sportic as founding partners, with implementing organisation Fundación SES also providing USD 750,000. In addition to funding, the IOC’s approach to the project embodies the collaborative spirit underpinning its Olympism365 strategy: providing support with best practices and technical assistance, while fostering a strong link between Sportic, its local partners and the respective National Olympic Committees in each country.
Sportic classes are typically delivered through sessions divided into two equal parts: one dedicated to physical activity and one focused on technology classes. Technology classes offer local children access to facilities that they might not otherwise have, while sports sessions are built on a foundation of inclusivity and participation for all. A platform has also been developed – www.sportic.org – with more than 100 open-source educational materials.
One development brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the use of online video games to tackle themes such as gender identity. Developed by Fundación SES, with support from video game co-operative Matajuegos, Viaja Baraja is an online game designed for 12- to 18-year-olds that sees users play the role of a teenager embarking on their first trip away from home alongside three friends. Players are asked to pick one card displaying different emotions in response to situations applicable to real life. For example, one situation involves a female footballer facing difficulties with integration, self-image on social media and gender identity.
A modern curriculum
The ongoing objective is to keep the teaching plan modern and in tune with the social issues children might face. Sportic regularly celebrates relevant international days such as Olympic Day and the International Day of Peace, but also those aligned with modern, inclusive values, such as the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, and the International Girls in ICT Day.
Mariela Speranza is one of the lead educators who trains incoming teachers and works on the curriculum with Sportic. She believes that remaining at the cutting edge of education is vital to give the most value to participants. “We are always looking to improve learning situations, and how we can include [topics like] gender more deeply,” says Speranza.
Creating new possibilities
What truly differentiates Sportic from the classes children typically have at school is the emphasis that’s placed on teamwork and open discussions, and the role these have in developing their social and emotional skills. Sportic educators also have an evolving understanding of how sport and technology can be combined to foster children’s development.
“In their teenage years, there are many physical changes that the kids go through, along with personal situations with their families or at school, and sport is one of the places where they can express themselves and communicate with their peers,” says Luz Cornejo, one of the programme’s area managers for the Buenos Aires region.
“Confronting social and emotional skills through sport helps the children with identifying what is happening to them and understanding themselves and one another, which is very valuable. What Sportic does is listen to the kids and open the possibility for expression.”
Programmes such as Sportic are strengthening the role sport and Olympism in society can play in developing people’s transferable skills and increasing access to education, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. As one of the flagship projects of the IOC’s Olympism365 strategy and particularly its “Sport, Education and Livelihoods” portfolio, Sportic is bringing together a range of partners to work collaboratively and make a positive contribution in their local contexts.
This is an edited version of an article originally published in the Olympic Review.