International policies have influenced the delivery of physical education and sport across the world. While these policies may not always turn into action, they have helped national-level policy to develop in many parts of the world.

In 1959, the Declaration on the Rights of the Child was one of the first international instruments linking physical activity and education for children stating that “the child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education.”

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the UN’s lead agency for physical education and sport, introduced the first landmark policy related to physical education in 1978. Titled, the International Charter of Physical Education and Sport introduced by UNESCO in 1978, it declares that “every human being has a fundamental right of access to physical education and sport, which are essential for the full development of his personality.”

Read more about the International Charter's consideration of people with disabilities' access to sport and physical activities.

A serious decline in the presence of physical education during the 1990’s led to the development of two World Summits on Physical Education. These initiatives highlight the level of international policy interest, awareness of governments around the world and subsequent calls for action to promote and develop physical education world-wide.

World Summits

The first World Summit was held in Berlin, Germany in 1999 and the second in Magglingen, Switzerland in 2005. A major outcome of each World Summit was an Action Agenda presented to Ministers responsible for Physical Education and Sport. 

United Nations and International Policy

The United Nations Inter-Agency Taskforce on Sport for Development and Peace advocates the use of sport to achieve each of the Millennium Development Goals, not only the second MDG that aims for universal primary education. The taskforce recognises that education is central to the achievement of all of the MDGs and sport is a key component of quality education.

Access the UN Inter-Agency Taskforce on Sport for Development and Peace report

A large number of countries have introduced national policies related to the provision of physical education in schools and yet even with these international activities and national instruments in place, there is a large gap between policies and the actual realities of physical education practices in schools worldwide.

Sport and physical activity as an entitlement

Many international and domestic policies highlight the role of sport as a key component of child development along with the associated aspects related to sport, play and recreation, such as the right to participate, to freedom of expression and a right to be involved ‘freely in cultural life and the arts’ (as stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). This allows for sport, recreation and play to be considered not only as a necessary component of child and youth development (a ‘needs’ based perspective) but also one in which sport, recreation and play are considered as entitlements (a ‘rights-based’ perspective).

Action that incorporates sport in education and child & youth development should be aware of how sport, recreation and play can be considered as both a necessity and as an entitlement.

Scott Graham