Sport for Development

Sport moves and educates

Please note:
Our information on the topic of sport for development is currently being thoroughly revised. An updated version will be available here shortly.

Children taking part in a physical education class at a school in the West Bank.

Sport has great power. It gives pleasure. It has a positive impact on the physical and mental health of children and young people. It teaches people values such as fairness, tolerance, respect and discipline. It boosts self-esteem and self-confidence, and increases people's willingness to take on re­spon­si­bil­i­ty. Sport teaches people how to cope with setbacks. And sport teaches life skills which help people to cope with difficult situations and to take their future into their own hands.

Sport can be an im­por­tant stimulus not only for individuals but for the whole of society. Consequently, sports clubs and associations can perform im­por­tant tasks as part of an active civil society. Sports grounds are not only attractive infrastructure, they are also places where people can meet, exchange ideas and enjoy companionship.

Sport as a "fundamental right for all"

Girls in the Philippines playing with hoops

In Article 1 of its 1978 "In­ter­national Charter of Physical Education and Sport", the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes the practice of sport as "a fundamental right for all".

It is generally recognised today that sport and physical education, both in school and as an extracurricular activity, play an im­por­tant role in helping children and young people to prosper, and that children have a right to engage in sports activities. Thus Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child talks about "the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts".

However, this right is often ignored or violated. Only very few children and young people worldwide are offered sport as part of their general education. In many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, sport is not even on the curriculum, or there are no teachers qualified to give lessons in physical education. On top of that, 57 million children of primary school age are unable to go to school at all.

Sport as a tool for de­vel­op­ment

Schoolchildren taking part in a 75-metre sprint

Sport can be used in many areas of de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion as an educational tool. Areas where sport can be used in this way are, for instance, education, boosting health, preventing violence, trauma counselling, peace-building, good governance, social inclusion, economic de­vel­op­ment, environmental protection and gender equality.

In order to tap the benefits of sport for de­vel­op­ment, the relevant de­vel­op­ment programmes need to be tailored to the social and cultural conditions prevailing in each partner coun­try. For sport can also have a negative impact and can encourage violence, corruption, racism, doping and cheating.

Most suitable for inclusion in de­vel­op­ment programmes are widely-played sports that do not require costly gear or equipment, for example football, volleyball, running or swimming. When seeking a suitable sport, it is crucial to choose one that is not only affordable but also acceptable in the coun­try in question.

Mass sports events can also be used to support de­vel­op­ment policy goals, since they tend to interest and motivate people like few other events. They attract worldwide attention to the sport being played, thus enhancing the impact that sport can have on de­vel­op­ment.

United Nations

Children in Burkina Faso playing football

Sport stands for certain values such as respect for one's opponents, the acceptance of rules, team work and fairness. All of these principles are also mentioned in the United Nations Charter of 1945. In fact, within the UN system, sport is used as a multi-sector instrument for conveying these values. Sport can raise public awareness and can thus be a gate opener for other im­por­tant goals that the United Nations wants to realise – such as respect for human rights.

In 2001, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed the first Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for De­vel­op­ment and Peace, thereby underlining the importance of sport for de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion work. The Special Adviser has been supported in his work since 2008 by the United Nations Office on Sport for De­vel­op­ment and Peace (UNOSDP).

Other major UN resolutions underlining the importance of sport are Resolution 58/5, "Sport as a means to promote education, health, de­vel­op­ment and peace", and its follow-up resolutions. In these resolutions, the United Nations emphasises the role that sport can play in helping to achieve the Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goals.

In order to raise public awareness for the importance of sport, in August 2013 the United Nations declared the 6th of April the "In­ter­national Day of Sport for De­vel­op­ment and Peace".

European Union

The European Union also supports sport as a means of boosting de­vel­op­ment. In 2006, the European Commission signed a joint declaration of intent with the in­ter­national football federation, FIFA. In that declaration, the two parties agreed to put football to work as a tool for de­vel­op­ment – specifically in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean coun­tries. In 2007, the European Commission published a "White Paper on Sport", which called for greater support for sport in in­ter­national de­vel­op­ment work.

German gov­ern­ment

The Federal Government of Germany regards the promotion of sport as an im­por­tant contribution towards achieving in­ter­na­tion­al de­vel­op­ment goals – to the extent that, in future, it intends to become even more involved in supporting "sport for de­vel­op­ment". More details of what plans the gov­ern­ment has in this respect can be found here, in the next chapter.

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