Sport is recognised by the United Nations as a “an important enabler of sustainable development”. As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the inception of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)1 at a United Nations Summit, sport was highlighted as a key contributor to each of the development goals. Here Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace Sport, illustrates sports potential related to a few selected SDGs.
Sport has consistently been proven to be a cost-effective and flexible tool for promoting peace and development objectives. Harnessing the unique potential of sport, my Office, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP)2 has long been bringing people and organizations together through sport, and supporting sport for peace initiatives from mega sport events to the grassroots level.
Sport contributes to the mental and physical well-being of all people regardless of age, gender or ethnicity; its reach is unrivalled. In addition to having a direct impact on physical fitness and combating non-communicable diseases, sport also plays a role in educating communities on sexual and reproductive health, as well as promoting the adoption of active lifestyles. (Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being).
Youth benefit tremendously from the practice of physical activity. Integrated into the school curriculum, sport and physical activities can act as an innovative means to provide comprehensive and quality education (Goal 4: Quality Education). For those living in areas of conflict, sport can also offer a welcome distraction by providing a safe environment in which to play and regain a sense of normalcy.
UNOSDP has been running its Youth Leadership Programme (YLP) since 2012, with the aim of training and empowering young leaders from disadvantaged communities. With more than 600 alumni from more than 100 countries, the YLP harnesses the core values of sport, such as dialogue, respect, inclusion and tolerance. In 2014, the Programme invited youth and officials from the two Koreas to the Camp in Gwangju and welcomed six young refugees to its Hamburg camp this year.
Furthermore, sport in its simplest form encourages balanced participation and has the capacity to promote and achieve gender equality within societies (Goal 5: Gender Equality). Through sport and physical activity, women and girls can be empowered, increase their confidence and benefit from the other positive impacts sport has on health and psychosocial conditions.
For example, I recently visited the Diyar Consortium project in Palestine which effectively illustrates sport’s ability to promote gender equality. The project established a sports center that provides an opportunity for women to safely participate in sport in and learn key transferable skills and knowledge for employment.
Through the initiatives of the UNOSDP and its partners, sport contributes to create more inclusive cities and communities (Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities). In April this year, I went to Nepal for the inauguration of the ‘Table Tennis For NepALL’ project, which promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities. It is a great example of how sport can foster social development by changing perceptions about people with disabilities and providing them with a valuable opportunity to participate in sport.
These kind of initiatives have been made possible thanks to a powerful network of partners and stakeholders, such as Member States, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, international and national sport federations, clubs and the private sector, including sporting goods producers, united with a common commitment to the use of sport for sustainable development (Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals).
Despite the challenges that sport may face today, it will keep bringing people together, promoting a more inclusive and peaceful world through its universal values and principles. It is, and will continue to be, one of the most cost-effective and versatile tools to promote the United Nations’ values and objectives, in particular in achievement of the SDGs.
This article was originally published by our partner, The World Federation of Sporting Goods.