Creating independent and sustainable sport for development projects
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To do no harm, establishing a new sporting programme cannot simply be a copy-paste job from one country to another.

In Australia, we pride ourselves on being a ‘sporting nation’. For those of us with non-indigenous heritage, we are largely confused about what exactly the word ‘culture’ means when it comes to our national identity, but there is one thing that most of us can relate to, and that’s our nation’s ingrained love of sport.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade defines sport for development as “using sport as a vehicle to achieve development outcomes in areas such as health, social cohesion, gender equality and disability inclusion”. Due to Oceania’s geographic isolation from the rest of the world, Australia - and to a lesser extent, New Zealand - take on the role of ‘big brother’ when it comes to capacity-building some of the smaller island nations. And to a degree it makes sense; we generally excel on the global sporting stage; we can even take it up to the superpowers of the USA, China and Russia in some instances, and boast a range of well-attended grassroots programmes in a wide range of sports.

However, is taking a sport from one country to another as cutting and pasting a winning formula? Does success in one environment guarantee the same in another?

Australia’s sporting culture can best be defined by the fact that we feel it’s our right to play sport. But in many of the nations in which our sport for development officers work, playing sport is still a privilege for few and a fundamental right that is well out of reach for many.

Before delivering any sport for development programme, safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that the project beneficiaries are protected from the potentially negative impacts of sport. Sport itself is a neutral phenomenon and it is the responsibility of the delivery partners to ensure that the people in targeted communities are safe and protected from harm, and consider any unintended outcomes of the project activities that may potentially cause harm.

For delivery partners in some country contexts, there are a number of safeguards built into funding mechanisms with development partners or other donors. That might include, for example, the need for the delivery partners to have a host of policies in place; such as child protection, fraud prevention, anti-terrorism and inclusion that demonstrate an organisations formal commitment to doing no harm.

Key questions need to be asked in the project design phase with many stakeholders in a particular country context to ensure that sport for development programmes have the greatest chance of creating sustainable change, and doing so in a way that does not create harm for the individuals and communities we work with and for. Tools such as the Logical Framework Approach are used by many international NGOs, partner governments and aid agencies to guide effective planning, evaluation and project management.

Steps to avoid potential pitfalls in sport for development should be taken long before any player takes the court or the field, and should be addressed in close consultation with key stakeholders such as parents, teachers, local field staff and community leaders.

Safeguarding measures need to be adapted to the needs and demands of a particular community context. For example, if children are the target beneficiaries then all partner organisations need to be aware of the child protection and safeguarding policies, procedures, code of conduct and reporting obligations. Regardless of age, consideration needs to be given to safe spaces for play which are often in school and local community or village settings where there are challenges associated with lack of safe and accessible community sport facilities. Protecting the integrity of sport also extends to safeguarding athletes, spectators and workers; protecting children, youth and other vulnerable groups; fostering good governance of sports organisations; and keeping crime and doping out of sport.

Consider a child in a developing country becoming involved in a new sporting group or team in their community. They don’t just love learning the new skills, but the new friends they make and the fact that they aren’t bullied for the fact that they look different to their peers, like they often are at school. It is our responsibility – as those who have introduced this sport or programme – to ensure it becomes independent and sustainable as soon as possible. Many sports rely on government grants to establish sporting federations and grassroots programmes in new member countries, and whilst such forms of funding can be medium to long-term, it is never guaranteed. We do not have the right to provide a community with a social refuge, if we can also not guarantee that it won’t one day be taken away just as quickly as it arrived.

To do no harm, establishing a new sporting programme cannot simply be a copy-paste job from one country to another. For the benefit of all involved, the sooner a new sporting programme or member federation can stand on its own two feet, the better.

Sport Matters is collaborating with the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) in the Pacific region on a new initiative on Sports, Integrity and Diplomacy recognising the need for capacity building in this area to ensure that National Olympic Committees, sport organisations and their delivery partners are aware of the potential pitfalls, taking active measures to protect the integrity of sport for development, and doing no harm. 

Visit the Sport Matters website for more information.


All sports
Sustainable Development Goals
8 - Decent work and economic growth
Target Group

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