Oliver Dudfield
Head of Sport for Development and Peace, Commonwealth Secretariat

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09/07/2015 par Oliver Dudfield

Can sport make a valuable contribution to the post-2015 agenda?

The post-2015 development agenda will set out a new plan for global development with the ambition to ‘transform our world by 2030’. Through the post-2015 process the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) Section has been focused on a key question, “What contribution can sport make to sustainable development during the next fifteen years?”

Our team brought together a group of senior policy makers, expert practitioners and academics to consider this issue. The Commonwealth Sport and Post-2015 Forum took place shortly after the Commonwealth Advisory Body of Sport considered the same question at their annual meeting in June. These two events were useful junctures that provided valuable insights as we work towards publishing guidance for Commonwealth member governments on how to maximise the contribution of sport in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets.

New approaches for evolving development challenges

Experts supporting the Commonwealth’s work on sport and the post-2015 agenda have highlighted the diversity of contributions to this debate, ranging from measured, evidence-based input to exaggerated declarations positioning sport as a panacea for all manner of complex development challenges. A number have argued that exaggerated submissions negatively impact on the credibility of SDP as a valid development tool.

In contrast, more measured contributions that clearly articulate in which circumstances and why sport-based approaches are effective, have been more useful and contributed to wider debate on the efficacy of traditional development strategies and tools. In this sense SDP shares common ground with other emerging concepts in mainstream development discourse. For example, blending public and private financing sources, the emerging concept of communication for development and supporting entrepreneurship in working to stimulate broader participation in the market. The common ground is that these concepts directly respond to areas where many traditional approaches have not sufficiently adapted to today’s complex and increasingly interconnected world. New, innovative approaches and means of implementation are needed. When done well, and with appropriate safeguards, SDP is such an approach.

Engaging those ‘left behind’

While progress has been made in many Millennium Development Goal areas, for communities and individuals on the fringes of society and outside of formal structures progress has been limited. This issue was central to the UN High Level Panel Report in 2013 that that argued ‘leaving no one behind’ should be one of the key transformative shifts of the post-2015 agenda. The ability to engage those ‘left behind’ and provide alternative spaces for development has been a unique value proposition of sport-based projects and programmes championed by the Commonwealth.

Effective evidence

The Commonwealth has also championed the need for continued and robust evaluation of the contribution sport-based approaches make to broader sustainable development efforts. Even the most ardent advocates for SDP concede that there is limited evidence of directly attributable, scaled impact on sustainable development. A clear message from the Commonwealth’s sport and post-2015 work has been that sport-based approaches cannot solve complex development challenges — but they can contribute. The implication is two-fold. First, SDP stakeholders need to establish clear indicators to monitor and evaluate the specific contribution sport-based approaches can make, and ensure claims of the impact made by SDP programmes are equally measured. Secondly, development stakeholders and government, in need of new and innovative approaches that work to ‘leave no-one behind’, should consider integrating innovative implementation tools and methodologies, including SDP.

Getting sport’s own house in order

In making an argument for the role sport can play in the post-2015 agenda, experts who have contributed to the Commonwealth’s work have been unequivocal that the integrity of sport at the professional and elite levels, a $USD145 billion global industry, does impact on the efficacy of employing sport as a development tool. Sport integrity issues are broad and complex; but many correlate with broader societal issues. Limiting violence and harmful practice affecting vulnerable communities and children, reducing inequality, building inclusive communities and strengthening governance are central to the post-2015 agenda and represent high profile issues faced within sport. Given the important role sport plays in many communities and cultures, addressing these issues in sport and around major sport events will, in itself, make a contribution to the broader post-2015 agenda. This includes making safe, quality and inclusive sport a central focus for all stakeholders.

A new framework for policy development and programme design

This returns us to the central question guiding our work, what contribution can sport make to the post-2015 development agenda? At this point, the experts who have contributed to the Commonwealth’s analysis have strongly endorsed that sport can contribute to sustainable development, but underscored that appropriate policy, strategy and programming must be in place.

The zero draft of the outcome document, being prepared for the United Nations Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda, highlights ‘the intrinsic value of diversity, culture and sport as a catalyst for sustainable development’. In many ways this recognition means it is time to ask more complex questions. First, to those charged with leading sustainable development efforts on whether adequate policy frameworks, strategy and funding will be in place to maximise the positive impact sport can have? To the leaders of sport and SDP there is a more direct question. The post-2015 development agenda and SDGs are the result of the most comprehensive consultation process in global history, will this transformative agenda be central to what we do?

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