Building accountability as we reshape sport and development
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two young boys hold a football and smile
Calls to reshape the sector must address the need to re-build accountability and credibility, by providing clarity to the scope of work, nature of beneficiary involvement and features of programs.

Author edit: In hindsight, the word beneficiary/beneficiaries used in the article is inappropriate as the people are (and always ought to be) equal participants in the process of building and running the organizations.

The emergence of the sport and development sector at the turn of the 21st century brought with it optimism and narratives of inspiration. By offering creative, participative, and progressive platforms for supporting young people, it challenged perceptions of development work being laborious, thankless, and tiresome. Similarity in approach across regions meant that collaboration and innovation was enabled in these kind of opportunities. Overtime, however, the sector has struggled to retain some of its early charm and reputation.

The reasons for stagnation and the erosion of credibility have been manifold. Firstly, international sports bodies like IOC and FIFA have enforced their leadership over the sector with the intention of salvaging the diminishing image of elite sport. Objectives of social development have been routinely mixed with goals related to performance, public profile, and profit. During all this, sport organizations working at the grassroots level haven’t done enough to organize and establish their ideological independence. This has caused  public apprehension about issues in elite sport to transcend into this sector too, despite organizations pursuing entirely different objectives.

Calls to reshape the sector, therefore, must address the need to re-build accountability and credibility. Sport and development cannot just be about utilizing sport in any way that is convenient or suits private interests. There needs to be discussions on bringing clarity to the scope of work, nature of beneficiary involvement and features of programs run by ideal sport and development organizations (iSDOs). A few pointers to initiate such discussion:

  1. Long-term commitment: “Engagement” of young people is terminology that one often encounters within the sector. However, timeframes of such engagement are vague and vary considerably. iSDOs function with a premise of a long-term commitment where support is offered to a child till they gain access to dignified livelihood opportunities. This is critical for children, especially those from vulnerable communities, as it helps them make actual use of the skills learnt through sport to eventually succeed in life. Short term funder-driven programs and scholarships might lead to moments of inspiration or sporting success, but run the risk of isolating the child/youth just when they need an additional push to build life beyond momentary gains.
  2. Evidence-backed programs: A widely prevalent misconception is that any kind of participation in sport automatically helps to achieve social development goals. This often leads to organizations having a narrow focus on sporting success and weaving narratives that are contrary to actual ground experiences. iSDOs create programs where themes related to education, health, gender equality, community participation, etc. are incorporated through curriculums and sessions that are specifically designed to supplement the sport participation. There is a conscious effort to ensure discussion and  learning among the participants, and such programs are continuously evaluated and re-designed based on the impact they have.
  3. Beneficiary participation: iSDOs give abundant importance to participatory methods, as it is the bedrock of positive and meaningful participation in sport. This means that the beneficiaries are actively involved in the conceptualization, delivery, and evaluation of the programs. Their opinion is valued, and their feedback duly considered. In such a scenario, the beneficiaries themselves become narrators of the change that the iSDO claims to enable. On the other hand, organizations whose narratives of change are primarily authored by the founders or employees run the risk of creating programs based on their own limited worldview, providing little or no scope for genuine empowerment.
  4. Safeguarding: iSDOs have a clear child protection and safeguarding policies and invest sufficient efforts in creating awareness regularly among its employees and beneficiaries about the same. The beneficiaries in such organizations are aware of their rights as well as the ways to address issues that might arise during participation in activities. Organizations that ignore this crucial aspect run the risk of enabling negative experiences that are in contradiction with the objectives laid out. This can diminish the value of sport participation among parents and caregivers while damaging the reputation of the sector.
  5. Embracing local culture: The universal appeal of sport is one of the defining factors for the potential that sport and development has. However, organizations receive a fair share of criticism for not making enough efforts to contextualize their programs to suit the local culture. This often leads to the soft imposition of frameworks that do not seamlessly merge (or gently question) the ethics and values of local communities. iSDOs consciously avoid pitching the community against the beneficiaries. They build trust among community members by creating flexible programs that can acknowledge the micro-histories of communities, are sensitive to local ethos and lead to grooming of community leaders. This eventually helps them cement their importance and organize community action towards the change that they desire.
  6. Advocacy and political involvement: The efforts made through sport and development programs on themes such as conflict resolution, peacebuilding and gender equality could sometimes be in direct contradiction to local or global political developments. iSDOs, therefore, work within the intersectionality of social and political change. They bring a perspective to their work that allows their employees and beneficiaries to engage with larger political issues through discussion and advocacy efforts. For example, an organization working on the theme of health may also play an active role in the review and development of the national health policy. This helps them partner more seamlessly with other civil society organizations and better adapt to unexpected events such as civil strife, pandemics, wars, and economic breakdown.
  7. Financial transparency: The methods and opportunities for development organizations to raise funding are becoming diverse. iSDOs keep abreast of these developments and remain open to emerging technologies like blockchain. They also leverage the universal need of physical engagement to constantly explore alternate revenue models. However, funding always remains the means and not the desired outcome itself. Lastly, they maintain utmost transparency in managing accounts and declaring their financial health to the public.


Shreyas Rao is a learning design consultant, driven by a mission to make information and learning more accessible for individuals in grassroot sports. He currently work with sport-for-development organizations, sports federations, educational institutions and elite sport academies on aspects such as curriculum design, learning management, teacher/coach development programmes and digital marketing.


Learning Design Consultant (Freelance)
Bengaluru, India


Does not apply
All regions
All sports
Sustainable Development Goals
16 - Peace, justice and strong institutions.
Target Group

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