Women Win: Call to action for sport and development
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a young woman sprits towards the camera
Six calls to action that explore opportunities for an improved and enhanced S4D reality that is equitable, inclusive and led by local communities themselves.

It’s the end of May, 2020. Schools have been closed for months and sport programs around the world have come to a halt. As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, we are only beginning to understand the cyclical health, economic and social impacts that this virus (and any future global pandemics) will have on the Sport for Development (S4D) sector and more broadly, on sport itself. The good news is that sport and play are essential tools for a post-COVID reality. In a recent article in the Guardian, Sam Cartwright-Hatton, professor of clinical child psychology at the University of Sussex, said: “All the research indicates that children’s emotional health is suffering in the lockdown and it seems likely that this suffering will, in many cases, continue into the long term. We are urging ministers and policymakers to ensure that children are afforded substantial, and if possible enhanced, access to high-quality play opportunities as soon as possible.”

No doubt COVID-19 has further exposed existing cracks in the S4D sector. And, at the same time, has presented us a tangible opportunity to deliver on the promise defined by health experts as “ high quality play opportunities.”

Below are six calls to action that explore opportunities for an improved and enhanced S4D reality that is equitable, inclusive and led by local communities themselves.

  1. Hold the line – focus on the most vulnerable to ensure social gains made are not reversed

The past couple of years have seen incredible advancements in sport participation and engagement for girls, non-gender conforming youth and other marginalized young people. However, evidence points to the fact that the effects of the pandemic(s) will disproportionately affect these marginalized and vulnerable young people. What are ways that we can safeguard any gains made and ensure we don’t go backwards in the post-COVID-19 phase? How can we put their leadership in the forefront?

  1. Act local, feed the global

COVID-19 has highlighted the nuanced contexts of every village, city, country and region and the importance of local knowledge, local expertise and local decision making. How can we ensure sport programs are part of the fabric of communities and serve their needs beyond just sport and play? How can we as a sector use this opportunity to create virtual networks across the global north and south that foster deep sharing of best practices, staff and resources?

  1. Leapfrog - leverage technology to our advantage

Digital tools, online spaces and technology have allowed us as humans to connect in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. How can we as a sector, so reliant on in-person collaboration, and physical play, use technology in ways that support the empowerment of young people and in particular, the most marginalized among them? How can technology help us create rapid feedback loops within local communities, gather information at an unprecedented scale and bring localized knowledge to the forefront?

  1. Create unusual alliances and plan for multiple new realities

Working across sectors within communities and globally is essential in a post-COVID-19 world, requiring a systems wide approach. COVID-19 is not a temporary disruption to business as usual. How can we engage in meaningful scenario planning that requires our sector to consider different versions of reality? How can we establish intersectoral work as a norm by bringing together top sport, S4D, development (in Women Win’s case, the women’s rights organizations) and serve young people in a more efficient and effective way?

  1. Prepare for the predictable – focus on economic resilience and trauma

The catastrophic short, medium and long-term mental health and economic impacts of Covid-19 will require the S4D sector to emphasize and prioritize programs focused on livelihoods and deep trauma. How can a trauma-informed approach ensure sport is a safe space that young people, particularly the most marginalized, can come back to and heal? The risk of losing talented coaches and other key program staff is highly likely and will have an impact on the quality of programming. How do we create localized strategies to mitigate this risk?

  1. Advocate, advocate, advocate for healthy S4D ecosystem

S4D won’t survive if everyone is only thinking about their own backyards. How can we work in collaboration to ensure collective movement forward as a sector that includes global diverse perspectives? How do we leverage existing or create new networks to influence those who will influence investments and the construction of a world post this first wave of Covid-19?



Photo: Josephine Nanmu, Girl Determined

Right now, as a sector, the conversation is around gradual recovery. But recovery to what? This pandemic will linger. We can either continue to engage in forecast-based planning, predicting how things will gradually return to ‘normal’ and setting a course toward that future. Or, we can start planning possible scenarios in which our future will be very unlike our past. We need courage to expand our perspectives, take no-regrets moves and be flexible so that we can make sense of events as they unfold and rapidly adjust. If not, we may find ourselves left out of the recovery efforts of Covid-19 and be looking at the end of May, 2021. Schools and other places to play may be open, but our programs will be missing.

Maria Bobenrieth is the Executive Director of Women Win, overseeing the global operations, programs, partnerships, and strategic development from the Amsterdam headquarters.


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Sustainable Development Goals
4 – Quality education
5 - Gender equality
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