Transforming whose lives? the portrayal of international sport for development volunteering by UK Higher Education Institutions

Joanne Clarke, Vicky Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article critically examines the portrayal of sport for development (SfD) international volunteering by UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Volunteer tourism or ‘voluntourism’ is a popular experience in which individuals combine international travel with voluntary work in a destination typically in the Global South in a bid to offer support to those in need. A body of literature offers an optimistic view of volunteer tourism, suggesting that it can facilitate the development of cross-cultural understanding among volunteers and host communities.
However, there is also critical literature which argues that if volunteer tourism programmes are not carefully developed and managed, they can lead to cross-cultural misunderstanding and reinforce negative cultural stereotypes; this latter critique provides both the justification
and context for this article. Several studies have acknowledged the centrality of Global Northern volunteers to the delivery of sport-based programmes in the Global South under the banner of SfD [Darnell (2007). Playing with race: Right to play and the production of whiteness in ‘development through sport’. Sport in Society, 10(4), 560–579; Darnell (2011). Identity and learning in international volunteerism: ‘Sport for development and peace’ internships. Development in Practice, 21(7),
974–986; Lucas & Jeanes (2019). Ethnographic reflections of the role of global north volunteers in sport-for-development. International Review
for the Sociology of Sport, 55(7), 953–974]. However, given the pivotal role that UK HEIs play in marketing and facilitating such opportunities
for students, there is a lack of research that critically examines how such volunteer opportunities are portrayed by HEIs. The article draws from a sample of thirteen UK HEIs to examine how they discursively frame SfD international volunteer opportunities. The findings illustrate how student volunteers benefit and even socially transform because of
volunteering in poor Global South communities. The article concludes by outlining a series of recommendations for UK HEIs to consider
regarding their portrayal of international SfD volunteering.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)998 - 1010
Number of pages13
JournalSport Education and Society
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


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