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The closure of the UNOSDP: Ethical considerations

Copyrights: Flickr: Susan Lueck

The closure of the UNOSDP: Ethical considerations

How will the mission of the IOC Commission affect the ethical framework of the sport and development sector?

Since the inception of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) in the year 2001 and the First International Conference on Sport & Development in 2003, there has been no looking back for the sport for development sector. Not only has its grown in its reach, but also in the quality and innovative practices used. Several factors have contributed to this. Firstly, the methods used have been fairly similar across interventions, across continents, making collaboration and exchange of information quite convenient. Secondly, the projects have involved mostly the younger population, and this in turn ensured the prevalence of creative energy, inspiration and progress.  It has provided a common platform for an array of sport stars across the world to come together in unique ways, often reaping the benefits of an already existing passion for sport. It also enhanced the image of the development work itself, from being a dull, exhausting exercise of engaging the marginalised to a fun, creative, participative and progressive means of supporting young people.

The UNOSDP had been reasonably successful in providing the political leadership at the global level in this regard. It had brought in a sense of credibility to the sector and enabled sport to play slightly more of a role in international policy making. It is obvious that any medium of development cannot lay completely detached to politics, law and international relations. UNOSDP, through some of its initiatives and conferences had enabled that. In that sense, the closing of the UNOSDP is a setback.

Among the many concerns, the most prominent one is that of loss of an ethical framework. The IOC Commission (called “Public Affairs and Social Development through Sport” Commission) with its newly laid out objectives and mission is considered to be an able replacement for UNOSDP. However there seems to be an inherent problem with the commission taking over the responsibility. This is because the IOC is bound to protect the interests of the Olympic Games and not exactly prioritise social development. Development initiatives, especially in developing countries, are bound to be used as a strategy to strengthen the credentials of sport rather than a genuine means to develop human potential. Actively or passively, the IOC is bound to repair any damage caused to the image of the Olympics through the “good work”. This brings in place a framework based on replicating the appeal of mass sport. It means promoting values of competition, exclusivity and meritocracy as opposed to inclusion and participation - something that sport for development organisations have strived hard against.

For most successful sport for development organisations, sports is the means and not the end itself. Projects have been based on “using” sport and not “playing” sport. Injection of creativity and collaboration has enabled such projects to uphold higher ideals of equality and social justice. The conversation has moved from supporting young people to creating a new social order, enabling new interactions and eventually, creating new channels of political discourse. Even the general public expects much more than just mere “feel-good” pictures of children playing and has begun to show interest in the depth of its scope. It is in this aspect of creating a progressive ethical order that the UNOSDP could have played a much more sincere role than an IOC commission.


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Friday, June 2, 2017 - 11:31