Interview: "A message of Freedom"
Women' soccer in Palestine: Despite the checkpoints and the war, palestinian soccer players pass a message of freedom.
Throughout the world, sport counts among the most popular leisure activities and professions, captivating people of all ages and backgrounds. Regardless of the geographical, cultural, social, economic and political context, people are often attracted to and united through the universal language of sport.
The field of Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) uses this positive potential and refers to the intentional use of sport, physical activity and play to attain specific development and peace objectives, in particular the eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
An extensive network of stakeholders, including United Nations entities, governments, civil society organizations, development agencies, sports federations, academia, the private sector and the media are active in the field of SDP, not only focusing on sport on an elite and high-performance level but also on grassroots and community levels in the context of sport for all.
While sport has always been recognized as a positive social mechanism, over the past decade there has been growing interest in and commitment to harnessing the power of sport, physical activity and play to implement social and humanitarian work and affect positive change throughout the world.
With the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games on the horizon, the ability of sport to bring people together is even more prominent. Along with building communities and promoting unity, sport also has the capacity to develop individual people's skills, abilities and lives, on both a personal and a professional level.
Given the unique power of sport, the above-mentioned actors have increasingly utilized it as a low-cost and high-impact tool in their humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts.
In September 2000, the UN Millennium Summit brought together the largest gathering of world leaders in history. At the conclusion of the Summit, 189 countries committed to eight objectives known as the MDGs. Since this time, the potential of sport to help achieve these MDGs has become increasingly evident, with the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace publishing a report in 2003 entitled "Sport for Development and Peace: Towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals." In this report, sport was highlighted as "a powerful vehicle that should be increasingly considered by the United Nations as complementary to existing activities." Since then, sport has been repeatedly acknowledged in several key UN documents, resolutions and declarations as well as in the national policies of governments.
Access to sport and physical activity is a fundamental right that must be respected and promoted worldwide. However, at this time, sport cannot be seen as simply a leisure activity or luxury within any society; instead, sport is a critical investment in the present and future of our world, especially in developing countries. Sport has been shown to be an effective mechanism for social transformation and peace-building, including promoting gender equality, integrating persons with disabilities, improving health and reducing trauma in post-conflict and post-disaster settings. The usefulness and flexibility of sport to effect change has been recognized with a continually increasing number of valuable projects, initiatives and organizations in the field of SDP.
So that sport can be strengthened into an even more important and recognized tool for development and peace, my office – the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) – and I focus in our daily work on raising awareness, facilitating dialogue and coordination, sharing best practices, devising policies and assisting in implementation on the ground.
In 2012, in collaboration with Right To Play International, we began implementing a project called the 'UNOSDP Youth Leadership Camp', which brings together young women and men from disadvantaged backgrounds and underserved communities. In camp these young people learn how to become more effective leaders in their own communities through sport. In that framework, UNOSDP is working with numerous partners, including international sports federations, football clubs, universities, NGOs and private companies. The GIZ is actually one of the camp's main partners. Building on their experience with sport (through the 'Youth Development through Football' initiative in particular), the GIZ have agreed to share their valuable expertise and knowledge with the youth participants in the area of project design and development.
Along with projects, initiatives and organizations in the field of SDP in communities throughout the world, there has also been influential government involvement and policy work at the national and international level as well as groundbreaking research that informs both policy and practice.
Despite these positive steps, however, there is still a need for more resources, adequate monitoring and evaluation of all programming and project work, and additional research activities. I therefore applaud the work of Digital Development Debates for taking up SDP in this issue, as I believe it is critical that multiple perspectives from the field of SDP be consolidated and shared.
Since my appointment in 2008 as the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, I have been fortunate to visit a vast number of sport-related development projects in developing countries and communities. During my official travels, I have been impressed with the quality, number and variety of projects that are using sport as a tool for change, including bridging cultural divides, fostering child and youth development, and promoting education and gender equality as well as inclusion.
I commend the GIZ for their engagement and the well-founded projects that they have delivered in this field, particularly in using football as a means for youth development.
I am deeply convinced that sport is an innovative, effective and efficient means of reaching the MDGs and fostering development and peace. Therefore, on behalf of the United Nations, I encourage governments and civil society organizations to promote, use and invest in sport for human development.
I would also like to pay tribute to the efforts of those already involved in the SDP "movement" and I call on them to continue harnessing, studying and maximizing the remarkable power of sport for the achievement of sustainable development and peace-building.