The recent one-day international saw the return of one-day international and T20 cricket to Pakistan after a long wait. Whatever your opinion may be on the Pakistan cricket team’s performance, it is undeniable that sport has the ability to bring people together. But the ability of sports to create new bonds and friendships isn’t just limited to cricket fans: sports can also have a real positive impact on improving the lives of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our societies.

Sport is increasingly becoming an important component of development and humanitarian work, particularly around programmes for children. According to a recent UN report, sports can have a massive impact of improving education, child protection and social inclusion.

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest and most diverse city. It has also sadly long been associated with crime and violence. And while the security situation in the city has improved remarkably over the past few years, nonetheless issues of violence, instability and crime are still prevalent, often a result of perceived disenfranchisement and societal conflicts among different communities. And to make matters worse, it is not uncommon to see children - sometime as young as 8 - inducted into these gangs to act as informants or carry out both petty and major crimes.  Among the main reasons behind youth involvement in violence in Karachi are poverty, illiteracy and limited access to positive social interactions.

The challenges here are myriad, so how does one start to deal with them? One way to tackle community cohesion and disenfranchisement is how the British Council’s did with its work with young people in sports. As a programme, DOSTI was created to promote peace and community cohesion by providing young boys and girls with safe spaces and opportunities to engage positively through sports, harnessing the power of sports to bring people from diverse backgrounds together. It was developed in response to the lack of positive pathways available to children, particularly from marginalised areas, many of whom were embroiled in a life of crime and gang-related violence at ages as young as 12. It helped children like Rajab, who had left his home at a very young age due to a contentious relationship with his parents, and a lack of interest in traditional education.

DOSTI, and the life skills taught through sport, not only provided Rajab with a positive avenue to channel his energy but also inspired him to mend his relationship with his parents. Rajab was part of the Street Child World Cup team in 2014, in which Pakistan secured third place.

These efforts also support girls like Umama Asif find their self-confidence to pursue their dreams. Last year, Umama became part of Pakistan’s under-21 Women’s Cricket team and Pakistan National Women’s Cricket team.

There are stories of parents becoming more open to the idea of girls playing sports, to young volunteers who learnt about tolerance through playing cricket with volunteers from other communities.

Sport is much more than competition and victory; it can change lives and create opportunities where there were none before. It inspires hope and brings people together like no other phenomenon. As you cheer for your team at the next big match, ask yourself why it matters so much, and reflect on the true power of sport.

– The writer is British Council’s Area Director Sindh and Balochistan