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Sport and development in 2018: The year in review

Copyrights: Flickr: Gustave Deghilage (Fans in Lausanne watching the 2018 FIFA World Cup)

Sport and development in 2018: The year in review

From surges of xenophobia to historic achievements in sport equality, 2018 was an interesting year for sport and development.

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang kicked off 2018, and featured an important moment in sport diplomacy. Among much controversy, North Korea and South Korea unified the women’s ice hockey team and entered the opening ceremony under a Korean unification flag. Another major sport event, the FIFA World Cup, took place last summer in Russia. However, concerns about discrimination and potential human rights violations persisted. During the World Cup, the Institute for Human Rights and Business announced the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, created by a diverse coalition of sports federations, governments, civil society representatives, and national human rights institutions.

As in recent years, 2018 marked an upsurge in racist violence and extreme right politics, signalling a dangerous trend in many countries. Elite sport often overlaps with politics, as we saw at beginning of the year, with controversy surrounding American football players silently protesting racial injustice during the national anthem. Racist and antisemitic incidents in sport have also been increasing. Kick It Out noted that the number of reports of racism in English football increased 22 per cent from the previous year. The group aims to educate fans, and urges people to report such incidents, online or in the stadium. Other campaigns to target discrimination in sport include the Fare network’s Football People Action Weeks and UEFA’s #EqualGame campaign.

Sexism has also been a noteworthy topic this year, with the #MeToo movement continuing to grow, and cases of abuse in sport coming to light. While female athletes celebrated a number of victories, including Ada Hegerberg becoming the first woman to win the Ballon d’Or, there is still a long way to go to create an equal playing field for women and girls. This was an important theme at the IWG Conference on Women and Sport which took place in Botswana last May. The conference legacy, called the Botswana Big Five, lays out five strategic actions for gender mainstreaming within the next four years.

An important component of achieving gender equality is ensuring safe environments for children in sport. One group working to make sport safe for all is the International Safeguarding Children in Sport Initiative. Their #BeAChampionForChildren campaign launched in November, and encourages coaches, parents, teachers and sports organisations to implement the International Safeguards for Children in Sport into their programmes.

The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) garnered much support this year, with its theme focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals and sport’s role in achieving them. sportanddev expanded on this theme by launching a new section dedicated to sport and the SDGs.

A number of publications in sport and development stood out this year. That includes two by Laureus: “The State of Sport for Good Report” and “Empowering Young Girls and Women through Sport for Development”. A further research report, a collaboration between the Commonwealth and the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, called “Sport for Development: The Road to Evidence”, looked at multiple interventions in sport and development and evaluated best practices.

By the end of 2017, the UNHCR reported around 68.5 million people worldwide were displaced, a record high. The highest number of refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. This remains a pressing issue going into 2019, and there is a need for more programmes supporting refugees. This year’s RESPONSIBALL Forum focused on this topic. The forum launched a Call to Action on sport and refugees which all members of the sport community are invited to sign.

2018 saw the sport and development sector move forward. In the post-United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace landscape, the International Olympic Committee and United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs are playing a more central role, alongside many other stakeholders. Questions still remain as to how sport can be mainstreamed globally and who is leading the charge, given all the changes. A positive development was the latest UN resolution, recognising sport’s importance in development. It is vital that such policy translates into practice - sportanddev will continue to lead and coordinate efforts to advocate for the role of sport in development at the global, national and local levels.

What achievements do you hope to see in sport and development in 2019? Let us know on sportanddev’s Twitter and Facebook pages or write to us at  


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Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 15:36