Opinion

Nada Al-Nashif
Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO

See all opinions
13/02/2017 par Nada Al-Nashif

Quality sport means uniting efforts

Sport is a universal language. I think we all understand its potential. To harness this potential, we need the interface of social science research, young people and government – this is not just about engaging ministers of sport but also education, health, labour, interior, culture and finance. We are talking about creating connective tissue between sectors and social groups.

At UNESCO, we work with governments to ensure decision-making grounded in evidence-based research to support agendas for action. We are trying to make social science research accessible to decision-makers and promote its role in identifying pathways to tackling contemporary challenges, in order to generate real impact. We believe that social sciences can help to provide solutions.

Sport is a powerful platform in this process: both as a convener and as an innovative vehicle to change perspectives and question assumptions.

The key to moving forward with any ambitious agenda is collaboration. Ministers of Sport the world over have set themselves concrete obligations in the Declaration of Berlin. The question is now how we break down these objectives into bite-size actions, and how we cooperate in their implementation. We need to create a continuum between the grassroots and ministerial fora.

UNESCO’s Charter for Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport is a case in point. It advocates more investment in teacher training. To tap the potential of sport, we need teachers to understand that sport is so much more than kids playing around with a ball and we need governments to understand the return on their investment. Sport creates a space for social, emotional and physical development. Foundational experiences in sport can inform future life choices; be it team work, fair play or perseverance. We need to understand how we can better connect these positive experiences to health policies, to benchmarks on physical activity and to evidence-based research.

Integrated inter-ministerial efforts are key. Success is dependent on this. Whether it be in the provision of well-lit public spaces; the roll-out of education programmes to prevent exploitation, doping and abuse; skills-development to support the delicate transition from adolescence to adulthood; or healthy behaviours which transcend beyond the sport field and into home and school nutrition. Each minister has a responsibility to engage.

The future of sport is encouraging as a means of bringing together national and international efforts. Some of the most burning questions of the day can be seen through a positive lens with sport. We all saw the refugee team at the Olympics, realizing their aspirations. It was sport that provided them with the opportunity for this transformation.

Sport is an area where the transformational power of young people becomes evident. In our work it is very easy to become disappointed because things just do not go the way you want, there is never enough money and there are political priorities that define outcomes more than technical or evidence-based priorities. This is all a big challenge. But since when have societies balked at a challenge? Our work has given us insight in the proactive engagement of young people. Young people who take initiatives, change the formula and impose a new way of doing and living. We have seen many young Olympians and Champions for Peace animate discussions, instigate new norms and refuse to stand down. We work a lot with football clubs and young players to condemn racism in sport, challenge prejudices and promote tolerant practices.

Whether we think of building peace in the minds of people, integrating immigrants or engaging young people through values education –  sport holds much hope for the future. However, translating hope into tangible change requires engagement at local, national and international levels. Young people can only go so far on their own. Perhaps they can change an immediate reality, and if they are lucky there will be a domino effect and spillover, but we need to also understand how that transformational power can be vested in other power centres.

This is why bringing all the voices to the decision-making process is very important. Making it inclusive—not leaving it to ministers, mayors, heads of sport federations or associations—but bringing everyone together. Ministers across all disciplines, social scientists, community members, active young people. Bringing every stakeholder into the room is how we move forward.

Share this opinion