Sport: A global accelerator of peace and sustainable development for all
Sport and physical activity can help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of people. Investing in sport programmes and policies can build global resilience to deal with future global shocks. A recent report from the United Nations Secretary-General details how.
The report reviews progress towards implementation of the United Nations Action Plan on Sport for Development and Peace, and draws on input from UN Member States and others. It starts by acknowledging the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed to the sporting world. These include the economic, social and health impacts on elite sport, and the interference in the physical activity levels of the general public. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and girls, low-income families, the elderly, the disabled and other marginalised people, and the same is true in the realm of sport and play. With financial issues hitting the sporting industry, female athletes and athletes with disabilities will be most affected since these programmes will be the first to be cut.
Further, these same groups are most affected by stay-at-home orders, and they have been severely affected by isolation, social restrictions and issues in accessing appropriate spaces to practice physical activity. Thus, governments and policymakers must focus on consciously including marginalised groups in their recovery plans for the sport sector.
The report also notes that digital technology should be used and applied to make sport more accessible. As the pandemic forces the world to move online, the sporting world needs to adapt and find ways to use digital technology to further sport and physical activity for all.
The report illustrates the potential for sport for development and peace to contribute to a post-COVID-19 world. For example, governments, the private sector and sports organisations have made efforts regarding mental and physical wellbeing, peace education and gender equity. These show how sport can act as a catalyst for socioeconomic health, development and sustained change.
The report also notes how athletes and sports clubs have mobilised their fans and support bases to provide relief and support to the vulnerable members of their communities. As the future of the world remains uncertain, human and financial resources should be made available to sport for development organisations, many of which are small and community-based.
The final part of the report focuses on the ways sport has been used by major international organisations and various governments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. These include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Environment Programme, UNESCO, UN Women, the International Olympic Committee, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Commonwealth.
The report highlights government-supported programmes from Germany and Lesotho to Bangladesh and Italy, most of which emphasise following objectives:
- Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality
- Ensuring that no one is left behind
- Transforming societies to be sustainable and resilient
The report concludes with key findings and recommendations. These include that governments should include sport and physical activity in their COVID-19 recovery plans and their national strategies for sustainable development. UN entities must also continue to provide research and policy guidance to governments and others who are trying to incorporate sport for achieving peace and development. Lastly, the report notes a lack of centralised data and statistics on sport. The United Nations is addressing that in its work with the Commonwealth to develop common indicators to measure how physical education, physical activity and sport can contribute to socioeconomic development.