Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sport: a catalyst for development and peace

At the second International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development, held in Geneva from 10-11 May, representatives from the world of sport, including from International Sports Federations, National Olympic Committees, and the International Paralympic Committee, joined hands to strengthen (inter)national efforts to further promote and use sport as an effective tool for development and peace. Together with representatives from national governments, the UN system and other stakeholders, the Sport for Development and Peace movement reviewed existing policies and practices that harness the potential of sport as a humanitarian, social and reconciliation tool. The Forum, co-organised by the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), also developed recommendations for future action.

Sport as a catalyst for development

How can sport catalyze development? Many participants highlighted that sport can contribute to development in many different ways, but maybe the most important contribution of sport is that it can bring about social change. According to David Chikvaidze, Chief Librarian and Chairman of the UNOG Cultural Committee, “sport itself cannot move a country out of poverty. However it can contribute to bringing about social change.” Other participants suggested that sports can trigger mutual respect and understanding among athletes and among supporters. Through role models, sports can promote leadership and reach out to youth. Adding an educational message to sports or sporting events can raise awareness on societal issues, such as HIV/AIDS. Tess Kay, Professor of sport and social sciences at Brunel University (UK), emphasized that sport attracts people that do not respond to mainstream institutions. In other words, sport can reach a much larger audience.

Moreover, well-designed sport policies at the local, national and international level can contribute to achieving international development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). On the practical level, sport can be used as a tool to encourage school attendance, improve people’s health, to create jobs, support the economy, promote gender equality, and raise environmental awareness, to name a few. For example, Dr. Ala Alwan, Assistant-Director General for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that insufficient physical activity is one of the main death causes in the world (the fourth, to be more precise), and leads to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, cancer, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis. According to the Global Status Report on NCDs 2010, 35 per cent of the adult population (20 years and older) is overweight. Among women, this percentage is even higher. However, these health problems are preventable by promoting healthy diets, sport and physical activity, Dr. Alwan underlined.

Having a more healthy population, will also have economic benefits, as medical costs will decrease, and more people will be able to work. At a household level this means that families have a more secure and stable income, which might improve their food intake, or their children’s school attendance. Apart from directly contributing to development, sport also has a much larger multiplier effect in society.

In order to reach the full potential of sport for development, various obstacles need to be addressed, including the lack of qualified teachers/trainers, the lack of good and accessible sports infrastructure; and the issue of “muscle drain.” Furthermore, sport and physical education are too often perceived as non-educational activities. Finally, various concerns also were raised in relation to technological innovation, in particular the Internet, which seems to encourage youth inactivity.

Other challenges, that were discussed in more detail during the Second Plenary Session of the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG), held one day after the Forum, included the issue of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in sports; the ongoing focus on elite sports, rather than on sports for all; as well as the need to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities.

For more information on the Secondary Plenary Session of the SDP-IWG, click here.

Mega sporting events

In the coming years, Brazil will host various mega sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup in 2014 or the Olympic Games in 2016. Ambassador Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo, Permanent Representative of the Brazilian Mission to the UN, said that these events will significantly contribute to the country’s economy in the coming years, as well as to the MDGs. The events will most likely boost tourism; garner investments from large corporations; support investments in small- and medium-sized enterprises; and stimulate job creation. Besides, people will benefit from improved housing conditions, and the creation of leisure and sports facilities. She further explained that access to sport and leisure is a human right in the Brazilian constitution and that these big events allow the country to review and improve its sports policies.

Various participants raised questions in relation to mega sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games. In South Africa, for example, the FIFA World Cup turned the country into a unified front. Are there tools that can move this development forward? How to avoid losing the momentum that was created? How to make sure that long after the event, the positive effects will continue?

See also Playing for a Greener Future which highlights how sports can contribute to a more sustainable future.

Sport as a catalyst for Peace

In the words of Mario Pescante, Permanent Representative of the IOC to the UN, “sport and peace are binomial.” In the modern Olympic Games, sport seems to be able to remove political obstacles that other policies cannot achieve through the dialogue it creates. Sport has, for example, facilitated dialogue among conflicting countries, such as the United States and China; Pakistan and India, or the Koreas. Although sport cannot solve wars, it can unite. “Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the event.

The good thing about sport is that everyone can exercise sports, regardless of political ideologies, ethnicity, or religion. One participant in the room therefore proposed to no longer use national anthems during the Olympic Games, in order to emphasize that the competition in sports is about competing athletes, not about competing nations.

Particularly young people can be ambassadors for bringing tolerance and respect for each other, and become catalysts for social change within their communities. Today, young people are less influenced by ethnic, political or religious differences, which is even more apparent through social media networks and virtual encounters which help to overcome existing physical and social boundaries.

Jaime Alberto Rodriguez Jiménez, Director of the National Institute of Sport in El Salvador, explained the high levels of violence and crime that characterise his country and Central America in general. In his country alone, organized crime and gangs combined with a lack of opportunities result in 10 to 12 young people being killed on a daily basis. He called upon the international community to promote sport as a tool to address the violence and insecurity in Central America and to provide the youth with better opportunities. Today, he said, “the media shows crime and bloodshed, not sports.” This should change.

However, as Fred Tanner, Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, said: “Sport has two faces: a source of violence and a source of peace.” This was also addressed by the UN Secretary-General, who noted: “Sports can also bring out some of the more troubling sides of human beings – intolerance, corruption, mindsets that seek to win at any cost.”

Best practice examples

The event also highlighted various initiatives and best practice examples of projects and programmes that especially focus on the power of sports to promote development and peace. Hugh Robertson MP, Minister for Sport and the Olympics of the United Kingdom, presented “International Inspiration.” This initiative targets children and young people of all abilities, in schools and communities across the world, and promotes the power of high quality and inclusive physical education, sport and play.

Amongst others, it has built partnerships with more than 300 schools within the United Kingdom to inform the children in these schools about the challenges their counterparts are experiencing in other parts of the world. But the initiative does not only focus on awareness raising within its national borders. Instead, it also tries to contribute to improving national policies in less advanced countries to provide good quality sports education. For example, it trains teachers to deliver swimming lessons in Bangladesh (in order to reduce the number of children that unnecessarily drown every year); it provides spaces for children to play sports in Jordan; and it recruits young leaders in Zambia to teach youth about societal issues, such as HIV/AIDS through sports. “Sport is our bait and the messages are hidden within the hook,” a young community leader in Zambia indicated.

Another initiative came from the NGO “Search for Common Ground,” which promotes peace and reconciliation in conflict-prone areas. Although it does not specifically use sport as a tool for peace and development, it does produce a soap opera about sports, entitled “The Team,” in 18 countries around the world. To have the most impact, the soap opera is adapted to the local context, and features local actors. Its main message is that cooperation is the way to overcome conflict. For example, in Kenya the soap opera features soccer players from different tribes with problems. In the end, the team is able to overcome these problems. One result of the soap opera in Kenya, is that it changed a criminal gang in the country into a group that promotes positive change within their community.

Moving forward

The UN Secretary-General urged governments to integrate sport in development assistance programmes and in national development programmes. In addition, he called for stronger cooperation among the UN, the IOC, UN Member States and other stakeholders in order to better seize the opportunities around mega sporting events; to mainstream sport in development, peace-building and peacekeeping activities; to support political and societal transformations such as in North Africa and the Middle East, including through the promotion of reconciliation; and to support the work of the Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace and the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace.

Various speakers at the event emphasized that partnership is crucial. Designing and implementing sports policies with broader societal objectives can only be effective when local and national partners are considered as equal partners. It is about establishing relationships and working with national and local agendas, rather than about imposing western perspectives. It is also about creating local or national ownership and building local support, involving all stakeholders and community members. This can only happen when objectives are realistic and long-term, rather than short term and superficial. “If you look for delivering partners, it means you already made up your mind of what needs to be delivered,” Ms. Key cautioned, highlighting that “You can’t give sport, it has to come from everybody.” In conflict situations, understanding the local context; involving local stakeholders; and building local ownership is even more crucial. Prince Feisal Al Hussein, Founder and Chairman of “Generations for Peace,” argued that it is necessary to embrace the complexity of a conflict situation as conflict does not respect rules or regulations. In his closing remarks, Jacques Rogge, IOC President reiterated that the promotion of sport as a tool for development and peace should at all times be bottom-up, not top-down.

Patrick Baumann, Secretary General of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) highlighted that international federations touch upon a very large part of the world population on a daily basis, which means that they can rather easily reach out to many people around the world and as such contribute to the sport for peace and development movement. However, he underscored that better coordination among international and national federations, as well as other partners, is needed to really start making a difference and to use their capacity better. Addressing himself to the partners at the event, he concluded by noting: “We are ready to do more, we are ready to do it better, but we certainly need your help to understand us and to use us.”

Furthermore, South-South cooperation in sport should be strengthened in the future. Many participants also called for better collaboration with academic institutions in order to build a larger scientific and empirical evidence base that can support the sport for peace and development movement in achieving its objectives.

Ignacio Packer, Thematics Director of Terre des Hommes, urged participants to look beyond the MDG framework. He highlighted that the MDGs in themselves are problematic as they lack a holistic view and bring fragmentation. He stressed that development is more than the MDG framework, which means that sport can achieve more beyond this framework.

The second International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development concluded with the adoption of list of recommendations, which can be accessed here.

For more information, see also

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