This journal article examines the key elements necessary to improve SfD contribution to development objectives.
Sport-for-Development (SfD) refers to the intentional use of sport, physical activity and play to attain specific development objectives in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). Therefore, in theory, programming should be aligned with national development priorities in the settings in which it operates. Further to this, since the year 2000, national development priorities have been aligned with overarching global development priorities through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and subsequently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
However, as Iain Lindsey discusses, an enduring challenge in SfD is the commonality of narrow, project-based approaches that continue to contribute to both sector fragmentation and competition between stakeholders, and limits both impact and sustainability. In Zambia, the issues discussed by Lindsey were also investigated by Davies Banda. In this setting, Banda identified a lack of engagement of local sporting federations delivering SfD at the strategic decision-making level of health policy, marginalisation of SfD by other sectors and fragmented implementation patterns amongst SfD implementers. The outcome of these issues is SfD programming only weakly contributing to national and global development priorities.
Complicating matters, a key issue highlighted as a hindrance to solving these critical issues, and in SfD research more broadly, is the mismatch between the majority of available SfD evidence being focused at the project or community level, and the need for guiding evidence for enhancing the role of SfD to national and global development objectives (e.g. the macro level).
Researchers at the University of Sydney have published one of the first studies to examine key factors assisting SfD programming in the Pacific Islands to be aligned with national health and development priorities, and subsequently, the SDGs. The research team spent a combined 10 months in-country undertaking extensive stakeholder consultations spanning two national governments, three government departments, six national sporting federations, six regional sport development bodies, health promotion bodies and programme participants.
The five factors underpinning the integration of SfD with national development priorities included:
- Governance: Investing in the development of strong SfD governance allows the sector to attract supplementary funding and a strong volunteer base, conduct consistent programming, and build confidence and respect towards sport within the international development community
- Alignment: Proactively aligning programme objectives and evaluation outcomes between SfD and development stakeholders through ‘co-creation’ during programme design is key for securing buy-in for SfD in higher-level policy negotiations. Misaligned outcomes contributing to fragmentation in the sector have been noted in other settings
- Communication: Proactively building communication channels and relationships between the SfD sector and national development stakeholders leads to strengthened organisational capacity through knowledge transfer (e.g. increased mutual understanding) and facilitates the inclusion of SfD stakeholders in national and global development policy negotiations
- Capacity: The capacity of the SfD implementation base is a critical factor underpinning integration of programmes with health and development priorities. This included strategies for building the number and quality of staff members, attracting sufficient funding for implementing bodies (usually national sporting federations) to cover the administration, SfD and high-performance programming costs and avoiding the pitfalls of high-staff turnover
- Champions: Champions are local staff members, who through unique personal characteristics, provide a form of human capital crucial to building the capacity of programming. The identification, and subsequent leveraging of development champions within the SfD sector facilitates the enhancement of outcomes as aligned with development priorities
One of the most pressing concerns for global SfD, is how the sector can move away from an individual project-based focus, towards a multi-sectoral approach (e.g. programming integrated with broader international development actors) to increase its contribution to national and global development outcomes. To answer this question, SfD research focus needs to move away from the popularity of project-level evaluations, towards examining the critical factors that enhance the contribution of those projects to national and global development.