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When looking at the social and health related issues in the Pacific Islands, the need for community development initiatives and applied research is critical. From a social perspective, the Pacific population suffers from one of the highest rates of domestic violence and suicide in the world. From a health perspective, the region has experienced a major shift in disease burden: life-threatening non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have overtaken communicable diseases as a key risk area. NCDs include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, different types of cancer and depression. Overall, the NCD risk rate in the Pacific is among the highest in the world.


Since 2012, S4Dr has been working with Just Play, the sport-for-development programme of the Oceania Football Confederation. We have been conducting research in Samoa, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands to better understand the challenges and opportunities in managing and leveraging healthy lifestyle projects in a Pacific Island context.


In combining the concepts of sport-for-development, health and local capacity building, the overall aim of the research project was to improve the effectiveness of sport-for-development initiatives in creating sustainable social and health benefits for people in disadvantaged Pacific Island communities. Our qualitative investigation included interviews focus groups with all project stakeholders, as well as project observation techniques.


The Just Play research project allowed stakeholders to a) understand the needs of funding bodies, ‘change agents’ and local communities in more detail; b) appreciate the social, cultural and economic issues faced by change agents in working with local communities; and c) explore facilitators of intercultural management. For example, our research highlighted the value differences of local and international staff related to issues such as timing, engagement and (social and economic) family / community support. We also identified the importance of events as boosters for community action and suggested flexibility in project design as a key factor for addressing community issues in a meaningful and effective way. These findings are of strategic importance as flexible approaches often contrast largely pre-determined performance standards set by international funding bodies. We were able to identify strategies for overcoming such issues and improving relationships in inter-cultural sport management.


The cooperation between S4Dr, Just Play and its key stakeholders has resulted in follow-up investigations of sport-for-development programmes across other Pacific Islands. Supported by the Oceania Football Confederation and the Australian Sports Commission, S4Dr is currently engaged in a research project in New Caledonia that empirically examines the value of special events in sport-for-development.