A targeted framework: Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a guide to a brighter future for sport
COVID-19 has forced us all to stop and reflect on our priorities for the future. This “Great Pause” has acted as a catalyst for discussion about broader global issues, including climate change, social inequality and building back a sustainable economy. We must not only rebuild and respond to the crisis, but we have the opportunity to rethink priorities and reinvigorate business models. Sport is no different and there is the chance to build a brighter future for sport addressing current inequalities and issues, while also using the power of sport for all to contribute to global recovery and future sustainable development.
Sport needs a guide to ensure development in the right direction, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can provide this roadmap. Already a universal language, adopted by 193 UN member states as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we can think about the future of sport through this framework, to help align and unite everyone hoping to achieve a brighter future for sport.
Source: Portas Consulting
Using this targeted framework would help sport policy makers, organisations and individuals orientate proposed future projects within their sector so that their vision, values and strategies remained aligned to overarching development goals at all times.
A comprehensive reassessment of the sport landscape would include a review of: ‘Sport for All’, covering opportunities for all to be physically active, regardless of age, background or ability; ‘Elite Sport’, referring to aspects such as national teams, leagues or large-scale events; and, finally, ‘Sports Economy’ looking at areas such as jobs in the sport sector or manufacturing and consumption of sports equipment.
Within each of these areas, we can ask, firstly, how our current approach is impacting each SDG and, secondly, what changes are required to ensure that sport is used to maximise positive impact on the SDGs and that sport develops towards a sustainable future.
To illustrate a few of the questions that the SDGs raise in relation to sport and the opportunity that the framework presents, let me take you through a brief tour of the SDGs. It is clear that sport is directly related to numerous SDGs, while some are only indirectly linked. What all 17 SDGs do provide is a comprehensive and holistic approach to guide the future of sport.
The pandemic has been a wake-up call to the importance of good health and well-being (SDG 3). Not only does physical activity reduce the likelihood of developing diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, which have been shown to be a risk factor for death by COVID-19 but, more broadly, physical activity has long been an established way of reducing the general risk of physical illness and improving mental health and well-being. Again, in the context of the SDGs, individuals cannot find the required income (SDG 1) to support their families (SDG 2) without being healthy. Additionally, the sport sector provides significant employment opportunities (SDG 8) – 2.72% of total EU employment – and in terms of EU GDP sport is comparable to agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries combined. Sport is therefore a key contributor to and driver of economic growth (SDG 8), which will be an essential requirement for post-COVID recovery. Applying the SDG framework, it will be important that organisations and individuals consider and value purpose as well as profit, to ensure responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).
Because children miss out on crucial education during lockdown, future planning of quality education opportunities (SDG 4) should include physical literacy, one of the prerequisites for an active nation. Opportunities, both within sport for all and elite sport, need to address gender inequalities (SDG 5), especially in light of budget cuts from COVID-19 potentially harming women in sport more than men. In addition to gender inequalities, we have the opportunity to address issues such as access to sport for disadvantaged members of society or those with disabilities, and ensure access to all, regardless of background (SDG 10). Within the SDG framework, the clear disparities between developing and developed nations are recognised and these need to be addressed (SDG 10).
Post-COVID lockdown, there will be a rare opportunity to bring together people of all backgrounds through sport (SDG 10), using the power of sport to teach values that contribute to a peaceful society. As seen time and time again, sport can play a pivotal role in rebuilding broken communities and we should prioritise sport development opportunities within communities as part of our post-COVID strategy (SDG 16). Cities can use green space to offer exercise opportunities (SDG 11) with future infrastructure (SDG 9) to promote active travel wherever suitable.
There are also highly significant environmental issues to be addressed when defining the future of sport. From grassroots to elite sport, there are important questions around the use of water (SDG 6) and energy (SDG 7). The natural environment, whether sea (SDG 14) or land (SDG 15) is integral to so many sports, but these key resources must be managed in a sustainable way, and as a sector we need to engage fully in climate action (SDG 13).
In addition to collaboration for a better future (SDG 17), the targeted framework calls for effective communication to drive action and momentum. As business priorities shift, funding and operating models need to be adjusted. Data and insights can create efficiencies and improve processes and systems, while monitoring and evaluation structures will be crucial to showcase results, and learn for the future.
Now is our time to seek out a better future for individuals and the planet as a whole. By embracing the UN’s 2030 Agenda and using the SDGs as a compass for sporting programmes and policy development, all stakeholders have an opportunity to contribute to this positive momentum i.e. ‘dedicate’ - the first step to transformative action. Thereafter, ‘diagnose’ to reflect on current vision and mission and ‘direct’ a better future for sport if required. Identify what actions are necessary to create change (‘design’), while ensuring close consultation (‘discuss’) with all relevant stakeholders. Create an implementation plan to ‘deliver’ a results-based approach by including monitoring and evaluation processes to ‘detect’ and assess impact. Finally communicate and ‘disseminate’ impact both within the sport sector and further afield to ensure the power of sport is realised for all.
Together, across the sector as a whole, the power of sport can be harnessed to help drive a global recovery. By using the internationally recognised SDG framework, the sport development community can unite as one, aligning and thereby magnifying individual efforts so that together we help #buildbackbetter, ensuring a brighter future for everyone concerned.
Sophie Spink is a Business Analyst at Portas Consulting, a global strategy consultancy dedicated to maximising the benefits of sport and physical activity for all, and graduated from Oxford University with a BA in Psychology & Philosophy. She has worked in the UK, Asia and Africa, most recently returning from a project in Mauritius supporting national sport policy and working alongside Active Mauritius, the government funded subsidiary body responsible for ‘Sport for All’ in Mauritius.
Mark Abberley is a Partner at Portas Consulting, leading practices around sport policy and sport federations. He has led National Policy work in Mauritius and worked across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Mark has led Olympic federations in boxing and taekwondo and has a long standing interest in sport for development and impact.