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Popularising sport for promoting peace and well-being

| Updated: November 18, 2017 00:26:58

Popularising sport for promoting peace and well-being

National and international sports bodies and organisations from Albania to Zimbabwe joined in the global celebrations of the first-ever International Day of Sport for Development and Peace in 2014. Launched by the un in 2013, and with the support of the International Olympic Committee (ioc), this new annual event is celebrated each year on  April 06, marking the opening of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.


Sport has been used as a means of bringing about social change and cultural transformation since time immemorial - more so, since the advent of modern Olympics in 1896. In 2003, the United Nations acknowledged the importance of sport with the adoption of Resolution 58/5, which recognises 'Sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace'.

Actors in sports, academia, private sector, non-profit and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government bodies, the UN and international agencies, the media, the general public as well as young people often evince keen interest in the potential of sports as a tool to achieve personal, community, social, national and international development objectives. They are also interested in utilising sports as a tool for addressing some of the challenges that arise from humanitarian crises as well as conflict and post-conflict scenarios. According to the report 'Harnessing the Power of Sport for Development and Peace: Recommendations to Governments' by the International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace (an initiative of the United Nations, 2008), "Sport for Development and Peace refers to the intentional use of sport, physical activity and play to attain specific development and peace objectives".

Definitions of the term "sport" vary. In the context of development, the definition usually includes a broad and inclusive spectrum of activities suitable for people of all ages and abilities, with an emphasis on the positive values and virtues of sport. In 2003, the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace defined sport, for the purposes of development, as "All forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction, such as play, recreation, organised or competitive sport, and indigenous sport and games" (IWG-SDP, 2008). Sport possesses unique traits that enable it to bring particular utility to development and peace processes. These include: Sport's universal popularity; ability to connect peoples and communities; use of sport as a communication platform; sport's cross-cutting nature; and sport's potential to empower, motivate and inspire people. 

Sport, in its broadest sense, can be linked to the following human rights as set out in various international treaties and conventions:

* Right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;

* Right to education directed at the fullest development of human personality;

* Right to take part in cultural life;

* Right to rest and leisure;

* Right for children to engage in play and recreational activities;

* Women's right to participate in recreational activities and sports;

* Right of persons with disabilities to participate in sport on an equal basis with others.

In the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNESCO's International Charter of Physical Education and Sport states: "Access to physical education and sport should be assured and guaranteed for all human beings." The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, advises governments to consider the development of a child's "physical abilities to their fullest potential". The international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires State Parties to encourage and promote the participation of persons with disabilities "to the fullest extent possible" in mainstream sporting activities at all levels and to ensure that they have access, on an equal basis with others, to training, resources, and venues (IWG-SDP, 2008).

Sport for Development and Peace has now emerged as an international movement that encompasses a broad cross-section of stakeholders from governments, local and international NGOs, the sport communities, multilateral institutions, businesses and academia. Through the combined efforts of all these actors, sport is poised to become a significant new development field that demonstrates growing momentum across the globe. However, to fully harness its potential, appropriate government policies, investments, and capacities are required to support programmes, and where appropriate, to scale-up programmes on a countrywide basis.

The United Nations emergency fund for children or UNICEF has recognised through its programme 'Team UNICEF', launched in 2014, that there is a force around the globe that can attract billions of people to a single event and motivate billions of others in collective or individual active participation - young and old, rich and poor, girls and boys alike - this is the unique power of sport (UNICEF, 2014).

Team UNICEF has been an attempt to unite UNICEF's sport-related activities and partnerships to drive and enhance change for children. The initiative is built around the idea that sport can change children's lives by helping break down barriers, promote participation, alter attitudes and include the excluded. The goal is to amplify existing sport-related programmes and partnerships to improve the lives of children globally.

UNICEF points out, "Play in all its forms is the right of every child. Safe and inclusive play and sport are tools for improving children's lives. Sport contributes to healthy child development; it builds self-esteem and life skills. Sport can mobilise communities; foster peace and tolerance; and teach important life lessons about respect, cooperation and leadership. Above all, play and sport help all children, even the poorest and most marginalised, to have fun and enjoy their childhood! UNICEF's Sport for Development (S4D) work is rooted in its commitment to ensure every child's right to play and recreation, as stated in Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the right to sport, which is specifically contained in other international treaties."

DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVE OF CHILDREN AND YOUTHS: Children and youths today represent the single largest group of young people. There were about 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 - the largest youth population ever, in 2015. In fact, children or adolescents make up a majority of the population in the world's 48 least developed countries (UN, 2015). Together, these young people represent an unprecedented demographic opportunity to reduce global poverty and advance development. In most developing nations today, young people make up the largest segment of the population - in many cases more than 50 per cent. In many instances, the number of young people has already peaked, and in some cases it will peak within the next 10 years. The large number of young people also offers an historic opportunity. To maximise this rare opportunity, it is very important to invest in and support today's children and youths. This should ensure that they are healthy and well-equipped to manage the critical transitions in their future lives.

Physical education and sport activities should be integrated in schools to make those accessible to all school-going children. This integration can contribute towards (IWG-SDP, 2008):

* Developing physical and motor capacities of children in order to enable them to lead active, healthy lives - a major protective factor in preventing non-communicable diseases;

* Motivating children to have fun and be active, in order to reinforce their desire to make physical activity a lifelong habit;

* Helping children understand and overcome barriers to physical activities;

* Informing, equipping and motivating children to make healthy lifestyle choices;

* Improving children's psychological state, especially relaxation, concentration and mood levels in schools - by helping them focus and learn;

* Helping nurture vital life-skills and positive values like team-building and communication skills, decision making and problem solving skills, sense of community, self-esteem, personal responsibility, empathy, moral growth and resilience.

* Attracting more children to enroll and stay in schools to take advantage of opportunities for sport and play that may not be otherwise available.

However, many children and youths do not get an optimal start in life, and may not have the opportunity to attend school. Community sport programmes may provide these children, marginalised by poverty, gender, disability, family dissolution, ethno-cultural frictions and other conflicts, with:

* Exposure to positive adult role models to inform and guide their choices;

* Opportunities for learning and skill-building that foster self-esteem and self-confidence necessary for mental health;

* Help for flourishing effective social and communication skills, building positive relationships, making friends, and finding social support;

* Opportunities for expressing their needs and interests and playing leadership role in sport-fields and communities;

* Scope for nurturing life-skills that increase employability and chances of successfully transitioning in the labour market with opportunities for progression;

* Chances for those engaged in delinquency, criminal gangs and armed conflicts through offering a path to a positive alternative lifestyle;

* Critical help in recovering from trauma due to various adversities in life by addressing social and psychological health.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GOVERNMENTS: The following recommendations can be made to governments around the globe, including the Government of Bangladesh, for harnessing the power of sport among children and youths for achieving development and peace based on the recommendations put forward by the UN-sponsored International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace (2008):

* Make children's and youths' access to physical education and sport universal and maintain explicit policy objectives in the context of national education, health and sport policy frameworks.

* Extend physical education facilities to all children and youths by deploying strategies that include mandatory, comprehensive, daily physical education and sport for students starting from the kindergartens up to the secondary and tertiary levels of education.

* Enhance the capacity of educational institutions and teachers to effectively deliver physical education programmes.

* Adopt national physical sport guidelines for children and youths by duly considering and actively promoting those through multi-sector approaches that target educational institutions, families, sports clubs, community organisations and municipal authorities.

* Invest in research to determine the most important factors influencing physical activities among different child and youth target groups, and design national strategies and programmes to address these factors.

* Recognise various developmental stages of children and youths to ensure that physical education and sport policies, implementation guidelines, training resources, programmes, and curricula are age-appropriate.

* Make child and youth development initiatives an integral component of all training programmes for physical education teachers and sport coaches.

* Formulate policies with specific provisions and implementation plans to prevent the exploitation and abuse of children and youths in the domain of sport and games.

* Address implementation challenges with regard to disadvantaged communities and groups when formulating physical activity and sport policies for children and youths.

* Provide children and youths with a direct voice and decision making opportunities in the formulation of physical education and sport policies and action plans that concern them.

* Deliver health education courses in schools to help students acquire the knowledge, attitude, behaviour and confidence required to maintain a physically active lifestyle.

* Work with institutional and community sport partners to offer extra-curricular physical activity programmes that address the needs and interests of all students, children and youths.

* Ensure that a satisfactory range of developmentally appropriate community-based sport and physical activity programs are available for children and youths.

* Work with partners to ensure that all communities have physical sport and play environments that are accessible and safe.

* Design 'Sport for Development' programmes to include all children and youths, with strategies to ensure the participation of girls, children with intellectual and physical disabilities, out-of-school children and youths, as well as those from impoverished and/or minority ethno-cultural communities.

* Focus sport programmes on education and development (not merely on winning), emphasising skills improvement, tactical knowledge, success for all participants, enhanced confidence, positive social relationships, diverse choices, and real enjoyment.

* Create opportunities for children and youths to participate in dialogue and decision-making process with regard to the day-to-day activities of sport and physical activity programmes.

* Build mechanisms with scope for effective planning and reflective actions in all programs.

* Ensure that programme managers properly screen prospective coaches and physical education teachers and help them to improve the teaching and coaching skills they would need to become positive and effective role models.

* Design programmes to engage parents in physical education instruction as well as in extracurricular or community sport and physical activity events.

* Develop simple, clear and practical resource materials on sport for child and youth development, together with age-appropriate guidelines, for use by parents and community volunteers who may not have access to training programmes or processes.

* Monitor and evaluate institutional and community physical activity instructions, sport programmes, and facilities on a regular basis.

A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TOOL: Sport's unique and universal power to attract, motivate and inspire makes it a highly effective tool for engaging and empowering individuals, communities and even countries and nations for taking actions to improve the health of their populations, especially children and youths. It can also be a powerful means of mobilising additional resources in the global fight against diseases. Scientific evidences demonstrate that regular participation in appropriate physical activities and sport benefits people of all ages and conditions, including persons with disabilities, in terms of physical, social and mental well-being. Physical activities and sport support the strategies to improve diet and discourage the use of addictive substances like tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and promotes healthy attitude and behaviour. Besides, they help reduce violence, enhance functional capacity, reduce healthcare costs, improve workplace productivity, and promote social interaction cum integration. Sport generates health benefits by two basic means - through direct participation, and through the use of participatory and spectator sport as a platform for communication, education and social mobilization. Well-designed sport for health initiatives mainly directed towards children and youths can work at both levels, thereby aiding in positive social change and transformation, peace and development across the globe.

Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed PhD is a retired Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration and a former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly. Email: [email protected]


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