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What happened to the special adviser?

Copyrights: Smash the Iron Cage (Wikimedia Commons)

What happened to the special adviser?

The appointment of a new head for the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) would help raise the profile of the sector.

In 2015, the sport and development sector celebrated a big success resulting from the joint advocacy and lobbying efforts of S&D professionals: sport is officially mentioned as a tool for development in Agenda 2030, legitimising the efforts of more than 800 organisations worldwide and raising their profile. It was a lengthy and intensive process getting voices from the sector to speak at the right time, with the right voice: IOC President Thomas Bach was given the stage at the UN-GASS on 25-27 September 2015 in New York and former UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon fully backed the idea of strengthening the UN’s links with the world of sport to create social benefits for youth worldwide.

This was a step in the right direction – political acknowledgement and validation of the work the sport and development sector has done on a global scale for the past 15 years. It raised the profile of small and medium sized organisations that use sport for development and provides backing for the few remaining governmental funding streams that support sport and development programmes through their foreign aid, health or sport promotion grants.

But what has happened since this significant moment in late September 2015? Governments turn to military spending and cut their foreign aid, doing so without much justification but using the argument “my own nation first”. Countries retreat into protectionism and nationalism. The idea of using the massively popular tool of movement and play, sport and joyful competition, for development and peace seems almost abstract again, needs explanation and again triggers ideological debate. Ideas like Olympism, interethnic understanding, and gender and diversity advanced through sport seem to have been silenced, almost back to the starting point.

In the fight for dwindling funds and the deconstructed reputation of international aid, little visibility remains for the sport and development sector. The prolonged lack of a spokesperson for the sector working from within the international development system seems to manifest this lack of voice for this young but still growing sector.

Even if most of us agree that the UN and all other fora of international negotiation, such as the EU, the Commonwealth, the development banks, etc. could and should be reformed, the S&D sector should join forces to make our voices heard. The best and most effective way seems to be to finally re-staff the seat of the special adviser for sport, development and peace with a young, energetic and insightful person who is up to the challenge of claiming the well-deserved space for sport as a tool for development. After months of vacancy, it is high time that governments back the mandate and that a new resourceful, cosmopolitan and energetic person claims the seat which – well-staffed – can tip the scale towards more visibility, more funding and thus also more impact for social development through sport.

The new special adviser herself should not only rely on her political background knowledge of how the UN system works, but should also make sure that the sport and development sector is fully represented and can – through staff at the UNOSDP – pass the appropriate message which has become more profound than the simple pledge for sport as a tool for development. There is evidence that well-planned sport interventions foster understanding, that they can be efficient and effective. In other words, the special adviser and her team should make visible that S&D has a right to exist, that the sector delivers the necessary practical work on the ground, and that sport-based interventions contribute to social development, peaceful co-existence and better interethnic understanding.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 12:59

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