Humanitarianism, sport and the UN: Time for Change
“For as long as we invest in outdated or self-serving models of humanitarian action, we will continue to trade in missed opportunities.” – Dr. Samantha Nutt
It is time for change. In 1978, UNESCO described sport and physical education as a fundamental right for all; this declaration sparked the beginning of a movement to recognise the power and potential of sport. Since then, the sport for development and peace movement has received unprecedented levels of recognition, social acknowledgement and political traction.
While the world acknowledges the power and the potential of sport to act as a form of humanitarian intervention, it does not as yet believe that sport can deliver on the front line. Misconceptions and misunderstandings associated with sport result in sport for development and peace being overlooked and under prioritised as a viable option for humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace remains loud but small in comparison to other UN humanitarian agencies. Serving as an example of the way sport is conceptualised within the international humanitarian community, with significant interest and excitement but lacking in implementation, capacity and practice beyond advocacy. This leaves staff misinformed and unenlightened on the unique ability of sport as a humanitarian tool.
Interviews with officials highlighted three imperative barriers to the inclusion of sport for development and peace into the international humanitarian agenda:
1. Lack of Evidence
2. Lack of Funding
3. Lack of Education
Existing in a cyclical relationship, these barriers are extremely detrimental to the growth and acceptance of sport for peace on the international stage. In propagating one another, they are creating a weighty division between sport and humanitarian agencies. These obstacles have perpetuated misunderstandings, skepticism and superficial support for sport within the humanitarian community, potentially disenfranchising sport as a viable humanitarian approach. This has to change.
The humanitarian sector runs on evidence-based programming, without this sport for development and peace will never become a respected and widely implemented approach to humanitarian intervention. While the sport for development and peace sector continually attempts to provide substantial evidence and create efficient M&E systems, they are faced with a lack of funding and resources. As resources and funding are not available to implement sizeable M&E systems, sport for development and peace organisations are left with their hands tied. On top of these two complications, there is an extensive lack of understanding and informed decision making within prominent humanitarian agencies and organisations on the power of sport as a catalyst for peace and social change. Organisations have not been exposed to the reality of sport for development and peace, they have not been fully informed on the power of sport to promote peaceful reconciliation, enable social integration and provide a sense of community to marginalised peoples. This lack of education results in a reluctance and unwillingness to adopt sport-based humanitarian interventions on a scale that would make a difference.
With the current volatile state of our world, most especially countries experiencing prolonged conflicts and extraordinary refugee burdens, the option to overlook impactful and cost-effective development opportunities is no longer a desirable state of play within the global humanitarian community. There is a need and an obligation to mainstream the use of sport for development and peace into the current humanitarian assistance and development framework. However, the widespread inclusion and positive acknowledgement of sport for development and peace will not be seen until we can solve these three problems; lack of evidence, lack of funding and lack of education.
Real sport for change requires that international humanitarian agencies move beyond a world paved with good intentions to fully harness the social tool box that is provided through sport. Organisations, prominent leaders and academics in this transformative field need to acknowledge these barriers and work together to overcome them. There is a necessity to create meaningful partnerships and collaborations across prominent sport for development and peace organisations, to allow for knowledge sharing, braining storming and innovations to take place.
From this, humanitarian organisations will be convinced of sport and its true potential.
As the international community takes on its most enormous task since the end of World War II, it must explore every option to progress development goals and promote environments of peace. Sport for development and peace, with its many simultaneous contributions in both emergency situations and long-term development contexts, may hold the answer to providing the next generation with the stability, normalcy and respect for difference that is needed to create an environment of nonviolent reconciliation, economic prosperity and peaceful understanding.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Peace and Sport Watch are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Peace and Sport.