This Global Goals Week should be more than a call for action to “recover better ahead of Sustainable Development Goals’ 5th anniversary”. It should also be an opportunity to think differently. We should once and for all, embrace sport for what it can be: a wonderful catalyst for social transformation and individual betterment and growth.
When the “father” of the International Olympic Committee’s Young Leader programme Philippe Furrer met The Champ Camp founder Waleed Abu Nada in 2018, he immediately knew he had one of the finest specimens of social entrepreneurship through sport in front of him! Since this encounter, one of the things that kept Philippe busy was to explore how such young talents as Waleed and wonderful not-for-profit sports for development (S4D) initiatives such as The Champ Camp could be supported to become more sustainable and to be eventually scaled up. He shares some of his observations below, together with a link to his recently published White Paper on Sports and Finance for Development.
The universal, emotional and kinetic power of sport to accelerate the SDGs
We already knew well before the current coronavirus pandemic how late the global community was on its roadmap to the UN Agenda 2030. Today, as we enter the “Decade of Action” and face the dramatic economic and social shockwaves of this sanitary crisis, we must be able to join forces, show more solidarity than ever. Moreover, we must also innovate in order to leverage more financial capital to generate more social capital. The number of vulnerable youth with limited access to the many benefits of sport and physical activity has drastically grown as a result of various lockdowns and school doors closed across the world. In this context and more than ever, sport can play a critical role to recover, to bounce back and to accelerate our shared journey towards a better and more equitable world.
In order to add to the momentum, more advocacy is still required to increase the embracing of sports for development by governments, public and private funders alike, more advocacy is still required. The role sport can play to contribute to a number of SDGs remains largely underestimated. Sport must transcend its common perception as a leisure activity or a business opportunity. The role of inclusive sport, physical activity and active play can indeed be a powerful, universal tool to transform communities and provide vulnerable children with better life prospects.
The world needs a new Sports for Development compass
The strength, alongside being the challenge, of S4D lies essentially in its multidimensional nature: when it is well used, sport can boost education programmes or enhance the impact of health and well-being prevention interventions. It can also bring people, genders and diverse ethnic groups together like little else can. Such wide benefits are often intertwined and hard to isolate, turning the notions of direct causality and intentionality into hard points to make for any researcher or auditor in the S4D sector. However, recent events have shown that even in the field of evidence-based medicine, a large body of weak and questionable research continues to be published, pointing to the wisdom and value of common-sense management and field observations, perhaps even more applicable in a field like sport and social transformation!
Fundamentally, every kid is designed to move and enjoy the excitement and psycho-social benefits of sport. However, contextual barriers all too often deny children their fundamental right to practice sport, be physically active and engage in active play. Such barriers include lack of (safe)access to playgrounds, sports facilities or public streets; lack of economic resources and equipment; lack of qualified coaching or sufficient guidelines; and prevailing cultural norms and social prescriptions. Acknowledging that other (and arguably more vital) fundamental rights for children are being denied, one might wonder why should children’s right to sport be prioritized? Essentially, the universality, cross-sectoral reach as well as the natural physicality and emotionality of sport makes it a powerful tool for actors in the development space. Sport can be a catalyst for unleashing the productive, intellectual and social power of target populations. Consequently, international organizations increasingly promote sport as a key contributor to at least 7, and up to 13, Sustainable Development Goals.
The S4D Compass – in SF4D White Paper: Promoting active living, active playing and active learning for every child and adolescent can deliver considerable social, health and economic benefits to build stronger, more thriving, peaceful, resilient and inclusive communities. Evidence is mounting everywhere, but the journey to leverage sport’s multiplier effect more systematically to accelerate the journey towards the UN 2030 Agenda is still long and challenging.
Towards a paradigm shift in funding Sports for Development
It is fair to say that the S4D sector remains essentially focused on human beings and their related skills, capabilities and emotions. Putting a price tag on the social capital generated by sport, active play and physical activity will remain the central challenge of this industry. While not impossible, this will require a set of solid metrics and evaluation methodologies, with more longitudinal studies, to assess the true financial impact of well-designed S4D interventions. For this to be achieved, a paradigm shift is needed not only in the minds of big donors, development banks, international aid agencies and local governments, but also in the funding mechanisms currently in place. The S4D sector must be ready to consider pay-per results solutions, soft loans and consequently explore ways to generate some reasonable revenues from their activities. It must also consider more diversification in its revenue sources. This will require innovative thinking, transdisciplinary approach and breaking a few silos!
Beyond its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the UN 2030 Agenda adopted a motto: leaving no one behind. It is time today to ensure the sports community, the international development community, and the finance community join forces to ensure that sport is a universal force for good and also leaves no one behind.