An overview of the role of governments, intergovernmental organisations and sports federations in sport and development policy.


National governments play a leading role in implementing sport and development policy. It is the government’s job to understand the role of sport in advancing development goals within their own country, and implementing policies that address this. They can encourage partnerships between actors from different sectors such as health, sport, education and development to ensure sport is incorporated as part of a holistic approach to wellbeing. 

Some donor countries also incorporate sport into their international development work, although the situation tends to fluctuate. Factors such as general elections can change a country’s development strategy. Countries that were once at the forefront of sport and development policy-making are no longer active, whereas others have emerged as leaders in the field. 

Currently, several countries are particularly prominent and worth mentioning as examples, the first being Japan. It has become more active in sport and development since 2013 when Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Its Sport for Tomorrow consortium has the stated aim of promoting sport to over 20 million people in 100 countries. 

The consortium is managed by the Japan Sports Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and consists of a variety of actors involved in sport. Its work has three main pillars: International cooperation and exchange through sport;  an academy for developing leaders in sport; and developing sports integrity through strengthening the global anti-doping activities.

Australia is also very active in sport and development, having run programmes since 2009. Its flagship programme is the Pacific Sports Partnerships, which focuses on Fiji, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. The programme supports activities to address primary risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases, particularly physical inactivity, and address inequalities experienced by women, girls and people living with disabilities.

In 2016, the Australian government expanded its sport and development focus with the launch of the Asian Sports Partnership. Working in multiple countries across Asia, it aims to contribute to improved health-related behaviours, support more inclusive participation and encourage positive social outcomes including peacebuilding.

The country also engages in several international partnerships, including with the International Platform on Sport and Development. The partnership includes membership on the platform’s Steering Board and cooperation on an upcoming online course on sport and development. 

Thirdly, sport for development is seen as a cross-cutting area of German development cooperation, with links to a number of development goals pursued by the German Government. The country works with private sector partners and NGOs to carry out joint projects. 

The German government’s 1,000 Chances for Africa programme works in multiple countries across the continent to promote health, education, violence prevention, inclusion and gender equality. Other countries in which it has worked include Brazil, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories and Colombia. 

In addition to running programmes, the German government focuses on forming strategic partnerships and developing expertise on sport and development, among other things. 

UN agencies 

The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) closed in 2017, but many other UN agencies have projects and programmes using sport. Three are particularly worth mentioning for their work in the field and influence on policy.  

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works with governments to influence education policy and planning, and assist with capacity and technical assistance for policy review. UNESCO includes quality physical education as part of their efforts to ensure overall quality education for all. Its publication, “Promoting Quality Physical Education Policy”, is intended to help governments “develop inclusive, child-centred physical education policy which supports skills acquisition”. UNESCO developed the guidelines in partnership with physical education experts and organisations around the world.  

It also coordinates the Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport (CIGEPS), which was established in 1978 to promote the role and value of sport and its inclusion in public policy. The committee includes experts in physical education and sport from 18 UNESCO Member States, each elected for a four-year term. It also has a Permanent Consultative Council (PCC), comprising key sport federations, UN agencies and NGOs, which provides technical support and advice to the committee. Achievements include the UNESCO Charter on Physical Education and Sport and the Kazan Action Plan. 

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) also support policymaking bodies through norm-setting, data and analysis, and capacity-building. In addition to supporting policymaking, UNDESA organises meetings and conferences to encourage dialogue and take steps toward achieving development goals. Sport is one of the topics of such conferences, in particular for the Division for Inclusive Social Development.

When the UNOSDP closed, the office’s "substantive portfolio" was handed over to UNDESA. It is envisaged that the department will support UN Member States by curating and synthesising information on good practices in policy development and the implementation of sport-based initiatives aimed at development and peace, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders across civil society, the United Nations system, academia and beyond.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is responsible for supporting and protecting the rights of refugees and displaced people around the world. Sports play an important role in its work, as it recognises that organised sports programmes can create better outcomes for displaced people, and can be used to build skills, raise awareness and foster community ties. Every year the UNHCR publishes global strategic priorities to guide policymakers on strengthening the support of refugees. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) also proposes policy implementation to encourage active citizens in every country, but recognises that one single solution does not exist. Rather, governments need to take a systems-based approach that is unique to each country’s situation. Nevertheless, their recent publication, A Global Action Plan on Physical Activity, suggests 20 policy actions that governments can take  to help increase citizens’ physical activity and improve health. The policy propositions target different actions, including changing social norms, creating supportive spaces, engaging all people, and strengthening systems and mechanisms to support physical activity. 

Other intergovernmental organisations

The Commonwealth is one of the leading policymaking organisations in sport and development. In 2006, it created its Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport (CABOS), 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.

A number of regional and continental intergovernmental organisations have also created sport policy frameworks, including the following:  

Sports governing bodies

Sports governing bodies exist on the international level, for example the International Olympic Committee, or the national level, such as the National Football League (NFL). They are responsible for setting and enforcing regulations within the sport. Like intergovernmental organisations, they can work with national governments to ensure sport is implemented into policy. Because of their expertise, they can be particularly helpful in designing sport policy and modelling how sport can contribute to development objectives. 

The International Olympic Committee has been particularly prominent in sport and development, partly because of its close relationship with the United Nations. In 2014, it also published Olympic Agenda 2020, which contains 40 recommendations to promote Olympic values and strengthen sport in society while other federations often have their own plans related to sport and development

In 2015, the Commonwealth Games Federation published a strategic plan, titled Transformation 2022.  It "is segmented into four priority areas that aim to transform the Movement’s predominate focus on hosting the Commonwealth Games to a wider vision to be realised by 2022 that is based on partnership, engagement and value generation." 

On a continental level, UEFA promotes social and environmental development in Europe through its Football Social Responsibility programme. It works with a variety of partners, focusing on racism and discrimination, peacebuilding and reconciliation, refugees, disability, health, the environment and inclusion.  In 2015, it launched its UEFA Foundation for Children, which supports projects in a range of countries. 

Many other federations focus mainly on supporting work through projects or foundations. Examples include the World Taekwondo Federation, the International Basketball Federation and the International Table Tennis Federation.

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This section was developed in partnership with The Commonwealth.