You are here

What is sport’s role in addressing the sustainable development goals?

What is sport’s role in addressing the sustainable development goals?

It is useful to look at some specific ways in which sport can support Agenda 2030.

In 2015, the Commonwealth Secretariat spoke to a range of sport and development experts to assess how sport can best be used to contribute to the SDGs. Participants in the consultation outlined seven goals in particular - six where they believed sport could have the biggest impact, plus one cross-cutting goal that supports all the others. They also mentioned specific ways in which sport could play a role in addressing those goals.

The first three goals emphasised in the Commonwealth Secretariat’s analysis are highlighted in more detail below. They provide good examples of how sport can contribute to post-2015 development.

SDG 3: Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Wellbeing for All, at all Ages

The Commonwealth analysis mentions the following three benefits in particular of using sport to address SDG 3:

  • Health benefits of sport and physical activity: Levels of physical inactivity are rising worldwide and, with 3.2 million deaths per year, it is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Participation in sport reduces the risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.
  • Economic impact of physical inactivity: The costs are a burden on healthcare, and to employers due to sick leave. It is estimated that physical inactivity will cost India US$7.5 billion and the UK US$26 billion by 2030 if appropriate measures are not taken. Such calculations are likely to be underestimates as they focus mainly on chronic diseases and don’t include, for example, mental health.
  • Health education through sport: Sport events can be used to convey health messages and sports projects can attract people who are not reached by conventional health education.

SDG 4: Ensure Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Promote Lifelong Learning Opportunities for All

SDG 4 recognises that “…all people should have access to lifelong learning opportunities.” The Commonwealth’s report mentions the following as ways sport can contribute:

  • The right to participate in quality sport, physical activity and physical education: Sport and physical activity are enshrined as a fundamental right in documents such as the International Charter of Physical Education and Sport. High-quality physical education is important to children’s physical literacy and can also create other learning outcomes.
  • Improved education outcomes: Physical activity is compulsory in schools in 97% of countries, but has a lower status than other subjects in more than half of them. This contradicts research showing that well-run sport activities and physical education has a positive impact on learners, including improved academic performance.
  • Engaging disenfranchised learners: Sport projects can provide an education for people without access to formal education and those who do not perform well or enjoy more traditional approaches.
  • Prioritising holistic education: The UN’s targets for SDG 4 expand the concept of education, not only focusing on school-aged students or strict definitions of curriculums. Improved health and wellbeing – and the recognition that physical activity is important within that – should be central to any definition of holistic and inclusive education.

SDG 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls

The role of sport within the context of SDG 5 includes the following points, according to the Commonwealth’s work:

  • The role of sport in society: Well-run sports programmes can promote gender equality. However, sport can also reinforce negative stereotypes, less than 20 percent of positions on sports governing bodies are filled by women, professional female athletes are paid less than men and women’s sport gets less global media coverage. Addressing these issues would have a positive impact on SDG 5.
  • Sport as a safe space to address gender issues: Engaging women and girls in sports projects can address issues such as sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence and female leadership. The popularity of sport among men and boys can also make it an effective way to engage them on such topics.
  • Promoting female leadership: High-level leaders and role models with a global reach can be effective in promoting gender equality, while local sport programmes can train and empower women to become role models within their communities.

The goals mentioned above are only intended as a snapshot - in addition to these three, the Commonwealth’s report emphasises the following as goals where sport can have the biggest impact:

  • SDG 8 – Promote Sustained, Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Growth, Full and Productive Employment and Decent Work for All (through contributing to the economy through job creation)
  • SDG 11 – Make Cities and Human Settlements Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable (using the power of sport to unite citizens and creating sports facilities)
  • SDG 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 (through the role sport plays in bringing people together)

Goal 17, focusing on partnerships, is seen as cross-cutting - it supports all other goals. For a more detailed analysis, please refer to the results of the Commonwealth consultation, “Sport for Development and Peace and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Another Commonwealth Secretariat publication, “Enhancing the Contribution of Sport to the Sustainable Development Goals ”, provides further analysis, as well as recommendations for policymakers.

The Kazan Action Plan provides a further approach towards prioritising the SDGs. This was ratified by global governments at the Sixth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI) in Kazan, Russia, in July 2017. 

The Kazan Action Plan highlights ten goals and 36 targets as areas where sport can make the biggest contribution. These goals and targets are presented within the context of three policy areas – developing a comprehensive vision of inclusive access for all, maximising the contributions of sport to sustainable development and peace, and protecting the integrity of sport. In addition to the goals emphasised by the Commonwealth, the Kazan Action Plan mentions SDGs 10 (reducing inequalities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 13 (climate action).

These choices are significant because, among the five actions supported by the Kazan Action Plan is to develop common indicators for measuring the contribution of physical education, physical activity and sport to prioritised SDGs and targets. The framework aims to support governments in tracking the success of their sport-based programmes, while helping the sport and development community to elaborate evidence-based arguments for investing in sport.

It should also be noted that, while the Commonwealth Secretariat’s analysis has emphasised seven of the goals and the Kazan Action Plan has focused on ten, some others have taken different approaches. Before it closed, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace advocated that the sector looks closely at all seventeen goals, for example. The sportanddev.org community includes organisations who are, for example, working on other topics such as food security. Neither the Commonwealth analysis nor the Kazan Action Plan devalue those organisations’ work - it just shows where contributors to those processes believed the clearest links are.

E-Newsletter subscribe