A potted history of the key developments in sport and development policy.

Sport has played a role in development policy for a long time. As early as 1922, the International Labour Organization signed an agreement to collaborate with the International Olympic Committee. Within the United Nations, humanitarian aid workers have tapped the potential of sport to improve the conditions of victims of conflict and natural disasters for many years. However, until more recently, sport was largely underestimated as a major tool in humanitarian programmes and was rarely used in a systematic way.

1978 and the international charter 

UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education and Sport is seen as a milestone in sport and development policy. Among other things, it declared physical education and sport an essential element of lifelong learning, while emphasising the protection of ethical and moral values, the need for research and evaluation and the importance of meeting individual and social needs. 

It was also the first policy document to state that “the practice of physical education and sport is a fundamental right for all”. This was later complemented by the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which enshrined children’s right to play and became the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. 

The late ‘90s and the Magglingen years

Recognition of sport’s importance gathered momentum towards the end of the twentieth century. In 1997, the European Commission focused special attention on sport during the Amsterdam treaty negotiations, during which it was stated that "the Conference emphasises the social significance of sport, in particular its role in forging identity and bringing people together".

This was followed, two years later, by a statement by UN General Secretary Kofi Annan at the World Economic Forum. He called on the sporting world to work with those working in politics, economics, science and religious institutions to create a just and more peaceful world. In 2001, Annan appointed Mr. Adolf Ogi as the first Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace to enhance the network of relations between UN organisations and the sports sector. That also paved the way for the creation of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP).

Sport was promoted as a way to support working towards the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations set up a task force on sport for development and peace in 2002. The following year, it passed Resolution 58/5: “Sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace.” The first high level conference on the topic took place in 2003 in Magglingen, Switzerland, bringing together governments with civil society, sports federations, athletes and others. 2005 was then designated the International Year of Sport and Physical Education, with the second Magglingen Conference taking place that year. 

2008-2013: A more prominent role for the International Olympic Committee

In January 2008, the IOC and the UN agreed on an expanded framework for action to use sport to reach the goals of the UN. Adolf Ogi stepped down as Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace that same year, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointing Wilfried Lemke as his replacement. 

The first UN-IOC Forum on Sport for Peace and Development was held in 2009, the same year the International Olympic Committee was given Permanent Observer status at the UN General Assembly. Further Forums were held in 2011 and 2013. 

2014-2017: Two steps forward, one step back?

In August 2013, the United Nations General Assembly announced that there would be an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP). The date chosen was 6 April, marking the anniversary of the start of the first modern Olympic Games, in 1896. The first IDSDP was observed in 2014.

In September 2015, the final version of Agenda 2030, the document containing the Sustainable Development Goals was approved. The preamble referred to sport as an “enabler of development.” Some expressed disappointment that sport had not been mentioned in the goals themselves, but it was nonetheless viewed as a sign that sport’s recognition as a development tool was continuing to grow. 

In May 2017,  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the immediate closure of the UNOSDP. The closure would mark ever closer cooperation between the UN and the IOC, while the United Nations Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (UN DESA) would take over the UNOSDP’s ‘substantive portfolio’ within the UN. Some in sport and development viewed it as a negative signal, an indication of sport’s declining status within the UN; others believed such fears were exaggerated, arguing the UNOSDP had had a limited impact. 

The role of the Commonwealth

During the Millenium Development Goal period, the Commonwealth rose to prominence as one of the leading policy making organisations in sport and development. In 2006, the Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport (CABOS) was created, to provide advice on sport policy issues. That mandate has included providing input to Commonwealth Sports Ministers meetings, which take place every two years. The Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Network (CYSDP) was created in 2013 to promote the use of sport as a tool for achieving development objectives in youth development.

The Commonwealth’s role has become particularly important since 2012, when it held a meeting of experts to develop guidelines on Sport for Development and Peace to be used throughout the Commonwealth. Since then, it has produced guidelines for governments on topics such as human rights, policy coherence and sports integrity. Perhaps most notably, it has also made contributions to the discussion on how to use sport to address the Sustainable Development Goals, providing practical advice on how to create policies and strategies to do so. Its main focus is Commonwealth member governments but its work is relevant to non-Commonwealth countries. It also plays a coordinating role in the sector, incorporating a range of actors into its processes.

The Kazan Action Plan

The Kazan Action Plan is the most important international policy document related to sport and the SDGs. This was ratified by global governments at the Sixth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI) in Kazan, Russia, in July 2017. 

The Kazan Action Plan highlights ten SDGs and 36 related targets as areas where sport can make the biggest contribution. These goals and targets are presented within the context of three policy areas – developing a comprehensive vision of inclusive access for all; maximising the contributions of sport to sustainable development and peace; and protecting the integrity of sport. 

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s policy work on sport and the SDGs, along with contributions from other experts and stakeholders, helped to frame the Kazan Action Plan. It aims to help countries to align sports policy to national development action plans and the SDGs. 

Among the five actions supported by the Kazan Action Plan is to develop common indicators for measuring the contribution of physical education, physical activity and sport to prioritised SDGs and targets. This will support governments in tracking the success of their sport-based programmes, while helping the sport and development community to elaborate evidence-based arguments for investing in sport.

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This section was developed in partnership with The Commonwealth.