The need for evidence and advocacy in sport for development
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Instead of assuming that sport impacts the development at micro and macro levels, there is a need to invest in more robust evidence and advocacy in sport for development, in order to support its growth.

We often speak about the power of sport, a term that became famous due to Nelson Mandela’s speech at the 2000 inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards, where he said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”

These are powerful words and speak to the potential of sport as a powerful development tool, provided it is used intentionally and designed properly to achieve the desired outcomes.

The design of a sport for development programme should include clear outcomes and an effective monitoring and evaluation tool. The aim of the programmes should be not just to encourage participation or to develop sports-related skills, it is important that sport for development modules develop and work on social outcomes like education, mental health, gender, citizenship, etc.

Sport can also be used to empower communities to sustain themselves in the long term. It should be designed in a way that it is community led and community owned. It should create safe spaces and create agency among young people to adapt to this fast changing world.

Coalter argues that we need to think ‘less emotionally’ about sport, because when we think emotionally about sport, it involves winning a medal for the country or the country hosting the international events. We think just by winning or hosting an event, sport can create change, but there is no evidence of that. We are unable to think rationally about the negative effects of sport. As he argues, plus sport – i.e. increasing participation in sport – is good for bringing participants, but sport plus – i.e. sport used as a tool towards development objectives – should be the ultimate objective.

Coalter says that there is an implicit assumption that sport has ‘inherent developmental properties for participants,’ which means that there is an assumption that just by playing sport, they can see development in participants. What Coalter argues here is that sport automatically does not have development properties, it has to be integrated into a well-designed, long-term programme which will help achieve social outcomes.

There is also the concept which he describes as displacement of scope where micro-level impact is generalised to have a macro-level impact. This displacement of scope is also relevant to change in a person’s behaviour. For example, just by playing sport, a participant might not have improved their skills – there might be multiple external factors which can influence the development. Sport would have played some role in it, but may not be the only factor.

Hence, we should always see the ‘power and potential of sport’ in a more objective and rational way, rather than in an emotional way.

While advocacy has coaches, parents, athletes, and sports organizations “act on behalf of the athletes’ rights and responsible practices,” it has assumed greater significance in recent years, with sport becoming a major driver for change and transformation across a number of social parameters. Despite the lack of evidence in sport's influence on development outcomes, it remains a vital part of the UNESCO's International Charter on Physical Education and Sport and in several other international human rights movements, besides the Olympic Charter. After all, sport, like several other aspects of life, is an extension of the society we inhabit.

While there have been attempts made at understanding the kind of impact sport – organised, individual or team-based – can have, the outcomes are usually limited to health and well-being of a society. Physical education, as a result, assumes great significance in the overall health and well-being of various countries. Heil argues that while sport can assume or be steered to suit the interests of the people in charge, sport-minded psychologists need to assume or embrace the role of advocate. "If sport in society is to be the best it can be, it will require sentinels alert to transgressions, willing to act on behalf of athletes' rights and responsible organisational practices, and prepared to subject issues to reasoned public discourse."

Traits such as building self-esteem and confidence, character, social skills through teamwork and activities, leadership, communication skills and so many others are a by-product of sporting activities among young people, while the older generation also stands to gain through these activities to not only delay the process of aging, but also appreciate the time spent in the company of others. It is where elite sport and lifelong sport meet – through advocacy supporting the need for pursuing and continuing healthy practices, which leads to positive reinforcements. Recent sporting movements, particularly in women's sport – the recent Women's Euro football competition is a shining example – are leading to positive influence on millions of young girls around the world who are encouraged to dream.

It is where advocacy would need to stand up, to protect the interests and rights of young children aspiring to become something in their future – and evidence connecting the future generations to these examples of modern movements today will go a long way in supporting it. Ando Kozue, winner of the FIFA Women's World Cup for Japan in 2011 and an Olympic medallist in London 2012, was inspired by the FIFA World Cup being held in her own country in 2002. But there is a need of finding evidence in her journey towards becoming one of her country's top athletes that can support the evidence of impact sport has in the development of newer generations.

Can we better measure the value of sport and development initiatives and potential of sport? A general paucity of high-quality research regarding the efficacy of sport for development, questions of how sport contributes to development (or not) remain at least as important as whether or what sport contributes to development.

Fundraising is an important aspect for every sport for development organisation, and now with an increased focus by funders on the impact of the program along with evaluation methods, it is more than critical for sport for development organisations to showcase their impact. To reshape sport and development, sport for development needs standardised benchmarks which can help showcase collective impact.

A lot of focus goes towards capacity building of programme teams, especially on the design of the program and maintaining the quality of the program, but the funders should also support monitoring and evaluation capacity building for sport for development organisations to improve their access, skills, and/or opportunities for research and publication. Once it is published in peer-reviewed academic journals, we will have more evidence on impact of sport for development organisations and power of sport.


An accidental engineer and an avid believer in power of sports, Anirban Chakraborty has more than 5-year experience working in sport for development sector, having been part of the fundraising team and leading advocacy for ‘sports for good’ at Dream a Dream. He is currently pursuing Master’s in Sports and Olympic Studies from Tsukuba International Academy for Sport Studies (University of Tsukuba). He also has experience in governance, safeguarding, strategy development, International project collaboration, and policy-related research. You can follow his work on Twitter @anirban_speaks.

Tanmoy Mookherjee is a sports writer, editor and media operations professional currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sport and Olympic Studies from the University of Tsukuba, Japan. He tweets at @tanmoym.


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Sustainable Development Goals
16 - Peace, justice and strong institutions.
Target Group

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