Despite the numerous challenges created by the current COVID-19 situation, and ahead of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on 6 April, we take a moment to reflect on what sport can bring for social cohesion and community building, both of which the world will need even more once it has recovered from this unprecedented health crisis.
Basketacademy, the inspiring initiative established by German former junior basketball player Paulina Fritz, is what the upcoming International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) is all about: combining culture, sport and education to contribute to a more socially developed and peaceful world.
The 24-year-old Paulina Fritz is driven, passionate and highly focused on changing the world for the better. Since 2013, 6 April has marked the world’s annual celebration of the power of sport to drive social change, develop communities and foster peace and understanding. Fritz’s Basketacademy achieves all three.
“It is an initiative that aims to combine basketball, culture and education in order to create global citizens,” Fritz explained just ahead of the 2020 IDSDP. “The main objective is to create a platform for intercultural exchange on the foundation of basketball and built around educational themes.
“In my view, global citizens should be interculturally aware, locally engaged and socially responsible citizens who care and act beyond themselves.”
In line with the ethos of the IDSDP, Basketacademy has been busy translating these words into action. In February this year, Fritz spent four weeks working with the Sports for Education and Economic Development (SEED) Project, a Senegal-based not-for-profit which uses basketball as a platform to engage young people in academic, athletic and leadership programmes.
“In my last week, I organised the SEED Youth Olympic Day together with the staff and volunteers on 3 March 2020,” Fritz explained. “The aim of the event was to make the SEED Academy students aware of the upcoming Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2022 and to introduce the Olympic values, as well as the 3x3 format, to the basketball-based SEED Project.”
The event, which took place in Thiès, Senegal, attracted 55 local attendees and involved Fritz and her team delivering an introduction on the Olympic Movement, the Youth Olympic Games and the Olympic values; a mixed gender 3x3 basketball tournament; the creation and comparison of value posters; and an award ceremony celebrating a variety of achievements.
“The short-term impact has already been remarkable,” Fritz said. “Especially the project video, which has contributed a lot to sharing the experiences and impressions with my local community to promote future action.”
As successful as the day was at instilling the Olympic spirit in some of Senegal’s young people, the main objectives are all long-term.
“I will continue my cooperation with the SEED Project with the aim of launching the Basketacademy exchange, a German-Senegalese youth basketball exchange, soon,” Fritz said. “The next step will be the creation of an online platform.”
The German is combining her dreams with a Master’s in Sport and Olympic Studies at university in Tsukuba, Japan. And it is that Olympic passion which has been crucial in helping to turn those dreams into reality.
Fritz, who won her national U17 basketball championship in 2013, has long wanted to use her experience in sport to change behaviour. While a fine player, she was always most enthused by the social and educational opportunities basketball gave her and, when chosen to be an IOC Young Leader at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, everything finally fell into place.
“I was responsible for coordinating the cultural and educational activities for the German athletes that were offered in addition to the sports competitions,” she said. “The excitement of the event itself and my position and interaction with the athletes were a huge inspiration to follow this path and take action.”
Crucially, the Young Leaders programme introduced her to Babacar Dieng.
“He supported me from the first moment on,” Fritz said of the Senegalese IOC Young Leader. “I told him about my idea to establish a German-Senegalese basketball youth exchange at the IOC Youth Summit in September 2019 and my plans to contact the SEED Project for this purpose. He immediately set up the contact for me and was involved continuously.”
Babacar was by the German’s side on 3 March this year, delivering an impassioned talk to his compatriots on the magnitude of Dakar 2022. As Fritz says, their relationship, and indeed the entire project, is a “stellar example of how powerful and valuable the Young Leaders’ network can be”.
Fritz’s own role model is the totemic former NBA basketballer Dirk Nowitzki. The 2007 NBA MVP, 2011 NBA Finals MVP and two-time FIBA Europe Men’s Player of the Year has “inspired a whole nation” according to Fritz, and like him she wants to leave a “lasting legacy”.
“My ambition is to make my Basketacademy project a sustainable social business that creates global citizens through basketball, culture and education – that’s what Olympism and the Olympic ideal are about,” she said.
“Connecting cultures is something I really want to pursue in order to contribute to a more socially developed and peaceful world.”
For the fourth year running, the IOC is delighted to welcome the support of TOP Partner Panasonic, whose generosity has made it possible to expand the YCM+ programme.