The power of a platform: UBC clubs create positive change through sport

Sport is a universal means of bringing people together. It can build common ground, teach valuable life lessons or provide a platform for positive change — whether it be on a grand scale or through smaller movements closer to home. But where can UBC students fit in with that, be it through promoting sport overall or through raising awareness for a sports-related issue or cause?

Several UBC clubs already have it figured out, flying under the radar as they spark change and awareness of sport right here on campus and in the Lower Mainland.

Right to Play UBC

Right to Play UBC has been serving the Vancouver community every week for the past few years. The AMS club sends a group of volunteers to Queen Alexandra Elementary School through its After School Play Program.

“We’ve had a lot of good fortune being able to participate in sports, and it’s really important to share that with kids and share a passion with future generations so that people stay active and healthy,” said After School Play Program coordinator Genevieve Goldstein. “We get to bring an opportunity to kids who might not otherwise be introduced to sport.”

While the sports and game program is an opportunity for exploration and play, it is more about igniting an enthusiasm for sports than focusing on competition and winning. Not tied to a specific curriculum, the After School Play Program is adaptable to what the students enjoy, whether that be basketball, volleyball or badminton.

“We try to make it less structured than the classrooms, so it’s not an overload of information. We try to keep it as fun and relaxed as we can for us to be safe and for it to be fun for everybody else,” said Goldstein.

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At the same time, the program is more than simply a playtime for the students. Club President Rachael Chan explained that, similar to what the organization is doing around the world, Right to Play UBC teaches children important lessons through sports, such as leadership and teamwork skills.

Combining fun and fundraising is also an important part of Right to Play UBC, with the proceeds going to the organization’s numerous locations around the world. In some countries, including Benin, Rwanda and Thailand, Right to Play’s programs are approved by the government and used in the national curriculum.

The UBC chapter has played its part through a variety of events which vary every year. They’ve done spin-a-thons, where UBC athletes would pedal on stationary bikes outside of the Nest to bring attention to what Right to Play is doing internationally. Another time, the club used stationary bikes in conjunction with blenders, putting a creative spin on healthy living. Fundraising events planned for the upcoming months include a dodgeball tournament and an Amazing Race-esque competition.

But while fundraising is an integral component of how UBC students can contribute, Chan stresses the importance of serving people hands-on.

“The one-on-one connection with the students — being able to see them and take something beyond the fundraising and actually being involved with the people you want to make a difference in the lives of — that’s so much more than you could do by giving money somewhere and hoping that it does something good,” she said.

Goldstein agreed, stating that serving individuals such as the children of Queen Alexandra Elementary is a great way for university students to contribute positively.

“Donating our time is very meaningful, and we can also see the results that we created,” said Goldstein. “We also have the chance to make a difference without burning a hole in our wallet.”

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer is another organization that uses sports to educate and support young people. Based mainly in Africa and South America, it provides education programs, health services and community leaders for youth, with soccer as a focal point of each of these initiatives.

“Soccer is such [a] universal thing, and it’s so accessible,” said Prakrik Baidya, president of the UBC chapter of the organization. “That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so popular. Even if you’re from different backgrounds, soccer is something that is very common to a lot of people. It opens up a communication method with other people.”

Members of UBC's Grassroot Soccer club taking a break from an event.
Members of UBC's Grassroot Soccer club taking a break from an event. Courtesy Grassroot Soccer UBC

Grassroot Soccer UBC gives students a chance to experience what it might be like to play a beautiful game in a developing country. For example, the club hosted Lose the Shoes in October 2016 — a five-on-five tournament that gave teams the chance to win the Totem Park Cup. The catch? All players had to play barefoot.

“Part of the tournament is [understanding] that not everyone is as privileged as you,” said Baidya. “There are kids that can’t afford shoes and you step into their shoes.”

Without basic necessities such as shoes, many of the youth in Grassroot’s locations are also unable to pay the fees of the programs. Some of these countries are among the poorest in the world, such as the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

This is where Grassroot Soccer UBC steps in.

Through events such as Lose the Shoes and FIFA video game tournaments, Grassroot Soccer UBC’s financial contributions have given young people the opportunity to participate in Grassroot Soccer programs. Other events include viewing parties for important soccer matches such as the fall Champions League match-up between Dortmund and Real Madrid.