Match in Progress

Debbie, our Chief Executive, and formerly Chair of the UN Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace, marks the International Day of Sport for Development & Peace 

This week, we marked the second International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. The day, established as a tribute to the retiring IOC President, Jacques Rogge, is a recognition of his and UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s, leadership in bringing together the Olympic movement and the United Nations to harness the power of sport for good.

2015 is the target year for the achievement of the original Millennium Development Goals, to be replaced by a new set of poverty-reduction ambitions.

As a former Chair of the UN Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace, I wonder what, if anything, has sport contributed to the progress of the human and social MDGs?  And how is that momentum continuing?

Enhancing education

There are a host of reasons why children are not in school. The tragic displacements caused by the ravages of war unfold horrifically every day on our screens.  Yet, many children in stable communities are not in education either, often because they or their families do not trust schools.  Within the International Inspiration programme, inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, UNICEF introduced sport and play into their Child Friendly School programmes in countries including Nigeria, Pakistan and Jordan.  Sport was effective in refreshing teachers with new pedagogies, engaging parents in school through activities like sports festivals, incentivising children to want to be at school and helping communicate valuable life skills.   

UNICEF is continuing to champion this approach.  Their partnership with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games raised significant funds for their international mission, and also towards raising awareness of Child Rights in Scotland and the wider UK – it is not just children in less developed countries that stand to benefit from sport for development.

Safeguarding and protection

A particularly valuable initiative is the implementation of global safeguarding and protection standards for children and vulnerable people.   As I said at the UN/IOC Forum on Sport for Development and Peace in June 2013, abuse can and does happen in any setting, including mainstream education and families, where adults have power over children. We should salute the sport sector’s courage in insisting on recognition of the issue and pioneering practical and workable processes to prevent abuse happening. This has again been driven by UNICEF, supported by the NSPCC, UK Sport and practitioners worldwide. A significant supporter has been the Commonwealth Secretariat, which has worked with policymakers and practitioners to produce a framework for governments in developing and implementing safeguarding and a comprehensive range of other sport for development and peace policies and practices.

Gender empowerment

Among these is the promotion of gender equality. Sport can transform gender perceptions – both the way girls see themselves and the way boys and men look at them.  A pioneer in this field is the Zambian NGO, Edusport, whose Go, Sisters! programme we were proud to support during my time as International Development Director at UK Sport.   Early marriage, sexual exploitation, body image anxiety, health inequalities, reduced access to, or failure to complete, education are all issues that young girls deal with, and sport can make a positive difference to all of them.  The Kenyan Moving the Goalposts project engages young out of school girls through football, supporting them back into education or to set up as entrepreneurs. There are scores of other examples overseas, all opening doors that were previously impassable for girls.  What is interesting is that the UK too has now woken up to the importance of sport for the health and confidence of young women. The rebranded Women in Sport is engaging widely and imaginatively, the excellent Sport England This Girl Can campaign has grabbed the public imagination, and last week at the Youth Sport Trust Girls Active camp, ambassador Victoria Pendleton added her voice to the calls for an end to harmful gender stereotyping in a society where only 4% of sports media coverage features women’s sport: "The important thing is that we stop this silly idea that sport isn't for girls."  

Challenging the stigma which keeps people in poverty

Disabled people are often at the sharp end of poverty, in the UK as much as overseas.  The Paralympic movement is perhaps the most high profile global celebration of the achievements of disabled people.  Its increased visibility, first in Beijing and then in London, is to be applauded. Paralympians are exceptional people, and top athletes are not realistic role models for most of us. However, increased awareness of the Paralympics has coincided with, and I believe inspired, a much stronger drive to provide more inclusive access to sport and play, starting in the school playground. I have seen it around the world, from Ethiopia to Egypt and from Trinidad to Tanzania and notably in Azerbaijan, which now has legislation setting out the right of all children, including disabled children, to access physical education and sport.

This is highly significant, not just because it makes childhoods more enjoyable, but also because inclusive sport brings children out of seclusion in their homes, special care or educational settings, and in doing so begins to eradicate the stigma of disability that impacts on millions of families worldwide.  Engagement in sport as players, coaches or volunteers, is iconic and demonstrates the capacity of disabled children and young people to participate productively in society.  That is another message that is just as important, and just as relevant, at home in the UK as it is abroad.

So let’s celebrate the international day of sport for development and peace.  I hope it will bring more influencers and decision-makers worldwide to recognise the power of sport in all its many forms to educate, engage, empower, and will inspire them to join and support the international community already delivering development and peace outcomes through sport.