The power of sports and life skills
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Sport is a unique and efficient tool to build resilience and enhance social inclusion of the economically, socially, and politically marginalised youth in today’s age.

Youth in crisis

15% of the world’s population – some 1.2 billion people and counting – are aged between 15 to 29. The COVID-19 lockdown has disproportionately affected people’s lives, especially millions of young people worldwide, with public health restrictions and socio-economic disruptions having a devastating impact on their education, mental health, career prospects, safety, and personal development. The pandemic has further highlighted and exacerbated the existing inequalities in our societies, with respect to access to resources, information, and power dynamics.

This has also exacerbated existing fractures in society that has led to the frightening rise in extremism, isolation, and fear. Added to this is an unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their home. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. COVID-19 is quickly pushing us to a situation where we are losing our commitment to welcome the stranger, provide for the most vulnerable and cross lines of difference to solve shared problems.

As the world’s largest and oldest humanitarian network that is also a member of the world’s six largest youth organisations (the Big 6), collectively reaching 250 million people every year, the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) and its 7.5 miilion youth volunteers and young changemakers are aware of the burning desire for young people to be heard, seen, and engaged in finding solutions to the world's biggest challenges. 

Using sport for development approaches to harness the talent of youth

Young people across the globe have ideas on how to solve the world’s most entrenched problems, but they are too often dismissed as victims or “the future.” Too few youths have access to the tools, mentors, and resources to turn their insights into reality. There are few safe spaces that really enable them to get engaged and co-create their engagement.

Youth engagement and participation is needed in promoting peace and preventing violent extremism. The UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on ‘Youth, Peace and Security’ recognises the important role that young people play in the prevention and resolution of conflict. The resolution creates a framework for the engagement of young people in tackling violent extremism and working for peace through participation, protection, and prevention.

Sport programs are often used as tools of crime prevention or to build social bridges. Consequently, sport programs can be seen as vital to prevent violent extremism or build peace, as it can with nurturing core life skills in young at-risk people – such as confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline and self-control, teamwork, breaking down cultural stereotypes – which are transferable to other contexts such as conflict avoidance, but are more effective when associated with other activities, such as education, training, employment, volunteering, etc. Much more work needs to be done though in this area.

The last two decades have seen a rapid increase in the use of sport for development and peace (SDP). Yet the closure of the UN Office for Sports for Development and Peace in 2017 has created a global vacuum of a reference point that provides thought leadership, raise awareness and developing tools for the use of sports and physical activity in the advancement of peace and development objectives. 

IFRC’s contribution to youth development through S4D

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has long recognised the potential of sport for development and peace – for example in 2011, the IFRC and the IOC proposed a pledge signed by 57 National Societies endorsing the potential of sport for value-based education seeing sports as a key tool for the innovative promotion of values education.

A scoping study done in 2013 by the IFRC has emphasised on the role of sports in bringing values to life and making them accessible for many human beings in a very authentic, and sustainable way whilst offering chances for intergenerational discussions. In addition, IFRC and the Asian Football Federation have signed an MOU to advance work on social development causes whilst the IFRC and Special Olympics have been working together for the last 6 years.  Many National Societies and the ICRC have used sport for different purposes, mostly in a social inclusion context, and some (e.g. Danish Red Cross, supporting Bangladesh RC) in a humanitarian context, again often linked with psycho-social support.

In addressing the current challenges to do with youth isolation, exclusion, and violence prevention, the IFRC is spearheading a new project in partnership with The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy of Qatar 2022 (SC) – Generation Amazing (GA). The project is a unique hybrid of football for development skills (F4D) and Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change (YABC).

F4D is GA’s flagship program that empowers and educates future generations around the globe to address three priority issues-vulnerability, health and wellbeing, and environmental sustainability. YABC is the IFRC’s flagship initiative on the promotion of a culture of non-violence and peace (CNV+P), that empowers young people to take up an ethical leadership role in inspiring a positive transformation of mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors, both within themselves and their communities. It is built on three pillars – empowerment, operating from inner peace, and reaching out to the community.

The new YABC/F4D project – uniting through the power of football – consists of a hybrid curriculum that has been developed to combine the (Y)ABC methodology and F4D approaches to use football as a driver for social change. It focuses on developing youth leadership and a social entrepreneurship spirit to mobilize vulnerable young people and communities in out-of-school activities can help prevent the occurrence of violence, improve their access to education and employment, ensure better social inclusion and build resilience in excluded at-risk communities, leading to healthy lifestyles, greater engagement, fewer problems with peers, and increased pro-social behaviour.

Through the project, young people will not only experience personal transformation, but create an external ripple of change. As they navigate their leadership journey, they will learn powerful skills around discipline, healthy living, teamwork, and engage with their local networks in meaningful ways. By doing so, they will create change in their schools, neighbourhoods and the broader world by implementing solutions to some of the most challenging problems of our time from a community-based lens and with the initiator of this being the F4D methodology, combined with YABC approach and additional basic educational processes. The project will involve thousands of young people in this process and will in turn create thousands of solutions directly implemented by young people.

The project is currently being trialed with Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies in Argentina, Uganda, Myanmar and Iraq, testing outcomes identified in the multi-country project design to assess the effectiveness and impact of combining the IFRC’s (Youth as) Agents of Behavioural Change and GA’s Football for Development (F4D) initiatives. 

With the onset of COVID-19 lockdowns, much of the hybrid curriculum has had to be adopted for the online space with IFRC YABC trainers. As the project unfolds, it expects to have an impact on the improvement in the social inclusion of marginalized and excluded youth, particularly those living in at-risk communities, refugees, and internally displaced young people, as well as in host communities, by recruiting disadvantaged youth to participate in football driven leadership development programmes.

The programme puts forward a community-based model of resilience using team sports to address issues of identity and cultural isolation. It aims to prove that with the provision of life and leadership development skills, as well as learning opportunities to vulnerable and excluded community-based young people through an integrated F4D and (Y)ABC skills training programme, enhancement of local capabilities will help young people drive social change on the ground and take responsibility for those actions. This will ultimately lead to an enhanced well-being and personal resilience of vulnerable youth.

Paving the path to youth leadership

IFRC and GA believe that young people represent the single greatest untapped resource for good across the globe. They are ready to change the world. Through this project, both partners want to show that sport and life skills will equip this generation of young people with the necessary skills and mindset to change the world for the better –not someday in the future –right now. They are hungry to lead and imagine innovative approaches to make their communities healthier, safer, and more inclusive, while writing new narratives of who they are and what they are capable of.  


Amjad Saleem is the Manager of the Inclusion, Protection & Engagement Unit of the IFRC whose team focusses on youth engagement and new football for development work. You can find him on Twitter and Medium.


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