If there is one sport most kids around the world know about, it’s soccer. Kids like kicking balls around, don’t they? Kids may grow up playing soccer or other sports as a pastime, an after school activity, or even in advanced soccer leagues. But that doesn’t exclude the thought of being an Olympian one day. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Regardless of whether your kid will be into sports or not, world sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics are something kids will know about at some point in their lives.
And beyond sports events being entertaining, they can be a way to show kids how these world events affect everyone involved – not just the athletes. Major sporting events can be a way to teach kids about inequality.
Here are some ideas you can use to teach kids about inequality using the World Cup, the Olympics or other major sporting events.
Use real-world math to teach wage inequality around sports events
The World Cup and the Olympics are huge events that take place every 2-4 years. As such, they employ an enormous amount of people from all walks of life and from various countries, to do a myriad of tasks. By the time we watch these events on TV or in a stadium, countless hours of labour have gone into the preparation work. And as we see in the news, wage equality is not always practiced in the run up to major sporting events.
Based on this, you may want to show children that the fantasy of athletic pride comes with a cost for other human beings, with feelings just like them. To help make an impact on kids regarding this world inequality issue, you could research a few significant jobs within the World Cup or the Olympics, and their weekly wages as the main reference.
A website called Teaching Ideas suggests the lesson can start by having the kids brainstorm possible jobs they think can be found at the World Cup or Olympics sporting event. Pick out a few of their choices and ask them who do they think earns the most money and who earns the least. You can then give them your list of jobs and wages. Make sure kids understand what each job entails. You can then ask them to organize the wages from lowest to highest and discuss whether they think those wages are fair or not.
You can also make this a group activity by making the jobs and wages into a matching card game. The lesson on the Teaching Ideas website is based on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but you can modify that to current times, such as the upcoming Olympics, which are also in Brazil. Using math in this way can really highlight the issue of inequality.
And this shockingly sad news video by VICE News will display the struggles of overseas low-wage workers supplying labour in Japan in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. When you hear what a foreign worker is willing to work for, you can’t help but feel guilty about our ‘cushy’ lives in North America. A word of caution: please discuss with your school principal and parents before showing this video to younger audiences.
Teach a human geography lesson out of inequality surrounding sports events
Moreover, teaching kids about wage inequality issue can also highlight ongoing injustices in a country where the poor have little say. Governments have been known to evict residents to be able to build stadiums, and to overspend on sports events instead of on social welfare. This is a growing problem in Brazil, and was also one during the Russian Olympics in Sochi.
Oxfam has even created an in-depth lesson plan surrounding these inequality issues during Brazil’s World Cup. The lesson is still relevant to the upcoming Olympics, as it highlights the historical nature of Brazil’s inequality issues, which are an ongoing problem in media reports related to the sports event. See this article quoting a source saying that the Rio Olympics are now affecting children’s lives too.
In fact, Oxfam has several resources to teach inequality issues of the World Cup. These are covered in many aspects, and are brought about with an educational viewpoint. Check them out here:
And, don’t forget to highlight the issue of human migration when teaching about sports and equality. Exploring the hashtag #TeamRefugees online can be a fun way for students to see how the world is feeling about the first team without a country to compete in the Olympics. Hint: it’s mostly about inspiration, and meeting the individual team members (already a great project idea in itself!). This issue could also go together with the next lesson about equal opportunity.
Use real-world fractions to examine equal opportunity for sports teams
Oxfam Education has another great resource using math and the World Cup to teach about equal opportunity when it comes to sports teams’ chances of winning. This will not only be a great exercise showing kids that fractions can be used in real life. It will show them that there is more than just math and previous wins to consider when it comes to determining a sports team’s success.
Questions to ask students on this topic: What are the resources given to sports teams in different countries? What about the placement opportunities to compete in the World Cup for some countries versus others? How does income affect a person’s potential to be a professional sports player? What about place of birth? Does this mean the ‘best’ athletes are actually ‘the best,’ or could there be others out there who just haven’t been given the opportunity to be their best? Is this fair?
And here is another major issue surrounding the upcoming Olympics and equal opportunity: drugs in sports. Is it fair to ban athletes from competing if they have used drugs to enhance their athletic ability, or otherwise? According to the International Association of Athletics Federations, the answer is “yes.” They called to ban Russia’s track and field team from competing in Rio for drug use.
Teach kids about gender inequality in sports
In light of the recent complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation by female soccer players, another thing to mention to your students will be the inequality of pay for women athletes versus male athletes. These same women are now threatening to boycott the upcoming Olympics in Rio.
This topic can spark an interesting class discussion (and let’s hope a mature one!) on why the students believe females get paid less than males in sports. Is it tradition? Is it economics? The facts and figures may tell a different story, which may surprise the students.
To conclude, let’s make kids more aware of what happens behind the scenes of their favourite sports events
Before we sign off, for even more learning ideas, The Guardian has an article listing a number of other great resources for teaching kids about FIFA and the World Cup. It includes some resources we’ve mentioned here, plus more. It surrounds various topics that can be turned into teachable lessons for students.
Sporting events can often bring out issues with unfairness and inequality. Their main goal is to entertain the millions of sports fans around the world, at any cost, for financial gain. And they seem to always successfully achieve their goal. If we decide to let our kids partake in such entertainment (after all, it’s hard to stop anyone from doing so), we could at least teach them do it in a more globally conscious way.
It may be good for kids to understand that not everyone involved with sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are being treated fairly and equally. And supporting these events has ripple-effect consequences for others in our world.