Magazine article UN Chronicle

Sport as a Means of Advancing International Development

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Sport as a Means of Advancing International Development

Article excerpt


In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which contained a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Paragraph 37 of the Agenda states:

We recognize the growing contribution of sport to the realization of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives. (1)

This specific recognition of sport followed an increase over the past 25 years in efforts to organize and mobilize sport towards achieving the goals of development and peace. Hundreds of organizations of various types-governmental, non-governmental, corporate, charitable, sport-based, international and local-have looked to sport, as well as to physical activity and play, to make a positive contribution towards overcoming the most enduring development challenges. The issues to which these efforts have been regularly directed include gender equality and the empowerment of women; HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention; recognition and inclusion of persons with disabilities; economic growth; environmental clean-up; peace and conflict resolution; and education. The majority of programmes have been developed for and targeted towards youth, particularly those living in the most disadvantaged nations and communities of the global South.

This uptake in "sport for development and peace" (SDP) has been accompanied by related research in the social sciences, including sociology, anthropology, history, social psychology and management. A critical mass of SDP research has emerged, pointing to the possibilities of achieving positive, sustainable development through sport. At the same time, this body of scholarly work shows the limitations of the SDP concept in both its perception and implementation, and foregrounds significant challenges in mobilizing sport in the service of sustainable development.


A major goal of social science research related to SDP in recent years has been to assess the positive outcomes experienced by participants in SDP programmes. A significant amount of this research suggests that such outcomes do accrue. Providing sport-based programmes and opportunities for physical activity can therefore make a considerable difference in the lives of the world's most marginalized people, particularly youth.

For example, sport has been found to make a positive contribution to raising awareness and helping to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. Research conducted in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, found that children who participated in HIV/AIDS education programming through sport-focused peer coaching demonstrated better knowledge of, and intentions towards, safe behaviour when compared to children who had taken part only in the school-based national curriculum. As the researchers concluded, "the sport-based approach is an effective means of communicating desirable information about safe sex behaviours to a population of at-risk adolescents." (2) Particularly in the context of insufficient public health-care infrastructure or lack of national policies regarding HIV/AIDS, sport-based programming can positively impact the fight against the pandemic.

Sport has also been shown to support gender empowerment, particularly for girls and young women who are marginalized or constrained in social, economic or physical ways. In these kinds of programmes, the novelty and even transgressive nature of girls' participation in sport may challenge patriarchy and contribute to gender-based empowerment and greater equality between men and women. (3) For example, a study in Delhi, India, found that amid deeply patriarchal social structures, sport-based programming provided an opportunity for girls and young women to acquire important knowledge related to reproductive health and to improve their confidence, social standing and relationships. …

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