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Time to reimagine and reshape the role of sport in development

Copyrights: Barça Foundation

Time to reimagine and reshape the role of sport in development

An excerpt from sportanddev’s contribution to a recent event on sport and the SDGs.

The Barça Foundation recently hosted a live chat event on Winning in Development: Sport and the 2030 Agenda. The event explored the relevance of sport to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and included the launch of a report on this topic by the Barcelona Foundation.

sportanddev senior consultant Ben Sanders was part of a panel, which included Michael Armstrong from the Commonwealth Secretariat, and Blanca de la Quintana from the Barça Foundation. A video of the event, which was moderated by Kely Nascimento-Deluca, is available here.

Below is an excerpt of sportanddev’s contribution to this event related to reimagining and reshaping the future of sport and development. We also feature another excerpt on the relevance of the SDGs for sport and development.

How do you imagine the future of the sport for development sector?

“Firstly, I think it is important to step back and see how far we have come as a sport for development sector, if indeed we can be categorized as a sector – perhaps a discussion for another day. The use of sport to promote development and peace has been used widely and effectively at times, and there is growing interest in this work across the world both within and beyond sport itself.

“There are some excellent projects and organisations achieving real impact, and progress in improving the measurement of sport’s contribution. Despite this, we also face a range of challenges, many of which existed before COVID and have been further exacerbated, while the pandemic has also presented new challenges to our work.”

Reimagining sport and development

“So, how can we reimagine sport and development? This is the million-dollar question, I think. At sportanddev, we launched a call for articles on the future of sport and development earlier this year, linked to the future of sport itself. We encouraged submissions on a range of questions, such as:

  • Does sport need to change to better serve society? If so, how and why?
  • What can sport and development actors do better in the future?
  • How can sport play a greater role in contributing to development and peace?
  • Can we reimagine the role of sport? Do other realistic utopias exist for sport?
  • Can we resolve the conflict and contradictions inherent within sport? If so, how?

“This generated great debate and we received 55 articles from 68 individuals across all six continents. This included contributions from practitioners, academics, students, policymakers, consultants and others, spanning the public, private, non-profit and academic sectors.

“The articles and debate, including an online webinar, reflected many themes, with one overarching consensus – sport needs to change to better contribute to people and planet, and the SDGs. As one author said: “Sport must change. This was true before coronavirus and will still be true well after.”

Ten key themes to reform sport in society

“So what can we reimagine? The following 10 themes emerged.

1) Build a more equitable and inclusive sport for development and sport sector

“We need to challenge the current inequities within the sport for development and sport sectors. The sector is still too: North driven; too white; too male-dominated; too Anglo-centric; too elitist; too exclusive and continues to discriminate based on level of ability, socio-economic status and more.

Imagine a future where everyone can fulfil their right to play, in a safe sporting environment. We are not there yet, and we need to ensure previous gains, such as in women’s sport, are not reversed.

2) Invest in grassroots sport and sport for development

“Writers emphasised the need for sport to go ‘back to its roots.’ This includes investing more funding in grassroots sport and sport for development initiatives that provide access and opportunities for all, paying special attention to marginalised groups such as women and girls, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees, and gender non-conforming individuals.

3) Elite sport needs to change

“Responses critiqued an excessive focus on elite sport and performance, which receive a disproportionate share of resources, even though elite sport does not adequately serve the needs of society and may reinforce inequities. Further, sport bodies need to do more to rebuild trust in sport.

4) Focus on people and communities – not the sport itself

“A common theme was the need to prioritise policies and programmes that focus on developing individuals and communities through sport rather than the sport itself. It is time to change the way we view and celebrate sport. Sport should not only be taken seriously when the sport itself is serious. Grassroots sport and sport for development are just as important, reminding us that sport is human.

5) Unite different approaches and actors

“As indicated earlier, the SDGs and Kazan Action Plan provide a common framework to unite actors using sport for development, including those within and beyond the sport sector.

6) Prioritise gender equality

“The COVID pandemic has exacerbated gender inequities. Sport actors must work harder for gender equity and play a transformative role in tackling gender stereotypes and underlying systems.

7) Adapt and innovate new delivery models

“The pandemic presents an opportunity to adapt new delivery approaches, including technology while bearing in mind the digital divide and need to be inclusive.

8) Use sport to tackle mental health

“Sport needs to play a greater role in tackling mental health issues which are aggravated by COVID-19. This includes the use of sport for healing, psychosocial support and trauma-informed approaches.

9) Invest in teaching, learning and research

“Teaching, learning and research are vital to educate and sustain the sport for development movement and create a new generation of leaders who can truly reshape the role of sport itself.

10) Turning challenges into opportunities

“The current crisis presents challenges and opportunities. A global economic recession will mean even more limited resources, including among sport bodies and funders. Things may well get worse for the sport for development sector and the future of many projects and organisations is at stake. However, this also presents an opportunity to evidence the value of sport in development and in contributing to the SDGs as well as the COVID-19 response efforts, helping to make a robust case for sport. It is clear that we cannot, and should not, go back to business as usual. It is time for change.

The time for change is now

It is not only time to reimagine the role of sport in society. That is necessary but not sufficient. If we are truly serious about creating an equal playing field and ensuring sport plays a pivotal role in advancing the SDGs and other priorities, it is time for us to reshape, reform and I would add ultimately revolutionise, the role of sport in society. The time is now – and it will require a team effort.


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Wednesday, December 9, 2020 - 13:59

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