Sport Promoting Human Development and Well-Being: Psychological Components of Sustainability

By Gary, Juneau Mahan; Rubin, Neal S. | UN Chronicle, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Sport Promoting Human Development and Well-Being: Psychological Components of Sustainability


Gary, Juneau Mahan, Rubin, Neal S., UN Chronicle


In the summer of 2016, much of the world's attention will be focused on the athletes representing their countries at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As citizens of the world, we will marvel at the transcendent achievements of these extraordinary athletes. We will also celebrate the Games' spirit, which promotes international friendship and cooperation, as athletes compete peacefully on playing fields rather than in conflict zones, in spite of their countries' geopolitical differences. United Nations representatives have become active supporters of this Olympic ideal. The United Nations General Assembly, reviving a tradition dating back to ancient Greece, observes the Olympic Truce beginning the seventh day before the opening of the Olympic Games and continuing until the seventh day after the closing of the Paralympic Games, during which countries agree to cease all conflict and provide safe passage for athletes and visitors.

Concurrently, representatives of the United Nations and its Member States are also turning their attention, and ours, to the post-2015 development agenda, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This confluence of events compels us to ask how participating in sport might promote sustainability, peace and human rights. After all, when most people think about sport, they usually visualize "competition", in which one wins and the other loses. It is also possible, however, to envision sport as representing overarching goals beyond winning and losing. For example, as psychologists, we are particularly interested in how sport promotes human development and well-being in concert with SDG 3, to "ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages". We highlight this connection between sport and psychological development and assert the interrelatedness of achieving Goal 3 and advancing other aspects of sustainability.

SPORT, LIFE SKILLS AND GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP

Faced with so many compelling, twenty-first century challenges, such as the war in Syria, terrorism, global migration, and the Zika crisis, we may ask why the world community should invest time and resources in sport. From a global perspective, sport has the potential to assemble athletes from diverse backgrounds who may be experiencing social inequality related to ethno-religious strife, ethno-nationalistic conflict, gender inequity or classism, yet they compete proudly as equals on the field. Because sport programmes embody foundational principles of fairness, respect for the opposition, teamwork and honouring the rules of the game, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) works actively with United Nations system entities, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), the World Health Organization and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to develop an appreciation for the contributions of sport to sustainable development, global citizenship, mutual understanding and peace-building. Additionally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has defined sport as a human right.

Concomitantly, emerging psychological and social science research examining sport intervention programmes has detailed the value of youth participation in sport as a way to enhance a range of life skills and engender global citizenship. Such life skills include cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and social skills that promote social development, independent living and the enjoyment of life. More specifically, at the personal level, these skills include emotional self-regulation, enhanced self-esteem, feelings of empowerment and character development. At the level of global citizen, sport programmes help build leadership skills, conflict resolution abilities and a capacity for achieving a superordinate goal cooperatively with others in spite of individual differences. …

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