You are here

Does sport and development really make a difference?


Does sport and development really make a difference?

The 2015 sustainable development agenda outcome document emphasises the need for improved data collection for measuring impact. It is time for the sport and development sector to answer critical questions, show where it is and isn’t making a difference and adjust programme implementation based on a solid evidence base.

On 3 August, the 2030 agenda for sustainable development outcome document was launched, publishing goals for global development for the next fifteen years. As highlighted in part one of’s article series, it includes a paragraph recognising the contribution of sport to development and peacebuilding.

The seventeen goals: Where can sport fit in?
Sport also has a role in specifically working towards achieving some of the published goals. In June, participants at the Commonwealth Post-2015 Forum in London emphasised six in particular where sport can make a particularly strong contribution:

  • 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


Some will argue that sport’s role is broader than this, or that there are goals not included here which should be of higher priority than some that are, but the recommendations provide at least a basic framework for the sector to analyse where its strengths are. However, rather than making assumptions, there is a need for evidence which accurately shows the extent to which sport really does contribute in these areas.

The need for improved data
The agenda emphasises measuring progress and collecting data, arguing for deeper, broader and more precise monitoring and evaluation. The sector must be clear on its intended outcomes and rigorous in the evaluation of its actions. Importantly, thorough monitoring and evaluation cannot rely solely on anecdotal evidence, which some have argued dominates the evidence base coming from the sport and development sector.

Some seem to view research and monitoring and evaluation as a way of affirmation – proving the value of a project and then promoting it to the public and funders. This is counterproductive. The aim should be to improve project implementation by finding out answers to critical questions and adjusting the approach accordingly.

Launching a data revolution
In May 2015, the UN launched a report – Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals: Launching a data revolution for the SDGs – which gave specific information on how the progress of post-2015 development should be measured. The document includes some recommendations which are both creative and sensible. However, many large NGOs, such as Water Aid and Christian Aid, have said that the process doesn’t go far enough and have raised concerns about potential gaps in the recommended indicators of progress.

The sport and development community would do well to reflect on the relevance of its own experiences to this discussion, while making solid monitoring and evaluation a priority for the next fifteen years. The best way to improve the evidence base for sport and development is to collect data that leads to programme improvements. Genuine impact sells itself.




Article type



Paul Hunt


Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 23:00