The Role of Sport in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

By Lemke, Wilfried | UN Chronicle, September 2016 | Go to article overview

The Role of Sport in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


Lemke, Wilfried, UN Chronicle


After 15 years of progress towards the unprecedented Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the world has turned its attention to the successor Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a period of transition to the newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In reviewing achievements and pending business surrounding the eight MDGs, the international community, led by the United Nations, undertook a thorough consultation process with stakeholders from all spheres of society and agreed on 17 SDGs to be pursued over the next 15 years. With the overarching aspiration of bringing people and the planet closer together and leaving no one behind, the 2030 Agenda is a unique opportunity to inspire global action for development worldwide, including in the field of Sport for Development and Peace.

Sport has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible tool for promoting peace and development objectives. Since the inception of the MDGs in 2000, sport has played a vital role in enhancing each of the eight Goals, a fact that has been recognized in numerous resolutions of the General Assembly. In resolution 70/1, entitled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", adopted in 2015, sport's role in advancing social progress is further acknowledged:

   Sport is also an important enabler of sustainable
   development. 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.

Harnessing this tremendous potential of sport, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) has long been bringing people together through sport and supporting sport for peace initiatives, from mega sport events to grass-roots activities. These initiatives help sport achieve its fullest potential in realizing the SDGs.

Regular participation in sport and physical activities provides various social and health benefits. Not only does it have a direct impact on physical fitness, but it also instils healthy lifestyle choices among children and young people, helping them remain active and combat non-communicable diseases. A number of studies conducted by the World Health Organization have also highlighted that physical exercise can stimulate positive mental health and cognitive development. Exercise has been linked to improvements in self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as positive effects for people struggling with depression and anxiety.

Sport contributes to well-being regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. It is enjoyed by all, and its reach is unrivalled. For instance, the World Taekwondo Federation established the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation to promote the martial art in refugee camps around the world. Such initiatives raise awareness about the plight of young refugees and are fully in harmony with the SDGs, particularly with regard to health (Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages).

Children and young people benefit tremendously from physical activity. Combined with a school curriculum, physical activities and sport are necessary for a comprehensive education (Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning). Sport provides lifelong learning and alternative education for children who cannot attend school. By taking part in sport and physical activities alongside school, students are exposed to sport's key values, including teamwork, fair play, respect of the rules and others, cooperation, discipline and tolerance. These skills are essential for future participation in group activities and professional life, and can stimulate social cohesion within communities and societies. Given the personal and social development benefits sport offers, increasing access and participation is a primary development goal. …

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