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Sport and sustainable development: The next 10 years

A Cambodian girl holds a soccer ball with her team behind her
Copyrights: ConnectSport

Sport and sustainable development: The next 10 years

From the Sustainable Development Goals to purpose-led business and tech: ConnectSport interviews Adam Fraser from Laureus Sport for Good on the opportunities for sport and development in the coming decade.

Each month ConnectSport works with the Sport for Development Coalition to create a 'call for articles' around a particular theme. Here Adam Fraser, chief executive of Laureus Sport for Good, opens the new decade by focusing on ‘Sport and sustainable development: The next 10 years’. Join ConnectSport for a Twitter takeover on this theme with Laureus at the end of January – date to be confirmed.

ConnectSport: The year 2020 marks 20 years since Nelson Mandela told us “Sport has the power to change the world” at the Laureus World Sports Awards. This phrase is often used, but what did he mean in structural terms?

Adam: We have all heard those words many times and it has inspired an entire movement – not just at Laureus, where we are directly delivering on the challenge he put to us in that room, but all around the world. People quote that speech to me all the time without ever knowing it was delivered at a Laureus event, and organisationally we are incredibly proud that it has inspired a sector. It’s amazing to think it was delivered 20 years ago.

It sounds so obvious now, and especially to those of us in the bubble of the sport for development sector, but this really was not an established idea at the time he delivered that speech. It was an entirely new way of thinking for many of the people in that room and for many people who have heard it since. I still don't think it is established in all quarters by any means – we have a long way to go – but to see sport now referred to around the Sustainable Development Goals, in the Kazan Action Plan, as a recognised tool by multiple governments, it almost feels like the world has looked at Mandela’s speech and said: yes, this is another thing he was right about.

And as you say, that is happening more and more at a structural level. We continue to see more sport for development programmes being established than ever before, each making a difference in their local communities – which is vital – but we also see more and more of them looking at their role in the idea of genuine systems change. For that to happen, of course, we need to ensure the data and the research is rigorous – at a standard of academic rigour that most of the evidence collected in this sector is yet to reach – but it still needs to be designed and focused in the right way.

I am always conscious that we as a funder shouldn't be demanding top-down evidence purely to suit our criteria and our own social biases if we really want to think of ourselves as community led. Even in this short answer I've spoken about everything from individual community programmes to the UN's global goals. That shows what a broad scope of work we have to deliver, from micro to macro, from practice to policy.

And alongside that, there is the power of sport to inspire. I spoke at the UN in December - on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - about Xia Boyu, the Chinese double amputee who summited Everest in 2018, and how he can change perceptions of disability in his home country. Or, if we want to stick with the Mandela theme, we can talk about the journey over 24 years from that moment in the stadium in 1995, to seeing Siya Kholisi lift the Rugby World Cup as a black captain of South Africa. Change does happen if you put the work in. Sometimes it might seem slow, and there is a long way to go. Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice,” but it only does that through people’s hard work and commitment to a vision. Every day we are trying to deliver Mandela’s vision – not just Laureus, but this whole sector.


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Wednesday, January 8, 2020 - 16:02