Sports and Sustainable Development Goals

June 5, 2022

Successive governments in Pakistan have failed to realise the importance of a powerful tool like sports. It’s time that they start capitalising on it

Sports and Sustainable Development Goals

COVID 19 was a tipping point for the entire human race that influenced every sphere of life including sports and outdoor activities. The developed world with all its resources and leadership is committed to achieve the 2030 global agenda and its 17 Sustainable Goals with an overarching aspiration of bringing people and the planet together, thus leaving no one behind in the delivery of quality education, good health and wellbeing, decent work and economic growth, reduction of inequalities and ensure peace and justice for development of strong and sustainable societies that offer equal opportunities of growth for rich and poor.

Pakistan over the past three decades badly suffered from institutional decay and leadership crisis that affected almost every aspect of national growth. Though individual assets and lifestyle of common urban residents improved in terms of cars, wealth and real estate development based on borrowed economy, there is hardly any investment by successive governments in development of national human capital and improvement in systems and institutions.

Pakistan is not only a victim of global recession but its poor and corrupt leadership, coupled with its unique political and sectarian landscape complicates the issues further. Our slow progress on achievement of eight MDGs is a testimony that our institutions lack capacity and capability to grapple with global demands and requirements of human development. This lack of capacity restricts our ability to think out of the box and use cost effective measures like sports and games that can help serious governments in developing sustainably developed communities with equal growth opportunities.

Harnessing the tremendous potential of sports beyond competitive and elite sports development, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development (UNOSDP) had been bringing people together through sport for peace initiatives, from mega sports to grass roots activities. It's worth mentioning that UNOSDP and Sports Development Foundation in Pakistan (SDF) collaborated in this unique programme by providing opportunities for Pakistani youth to undertake this unique experience through Youth Leadership Program (YLP) before it was formally closed and handed over to IOC in May 2017.

In order to educate the readers, I must elucidate that Sports for development programmes are quite different from competitive and elite sports, that falls in the ambit of sports development, thus it offers no threat to well entrenched sports mafia which enjoys complete hegemony over elite sports programmes and sports bodies in the country.

Sports for development offers inimitable training programmes and opportunities for youth leadership in disadvantaged communities to develop and enhance the much needed life skills through skillfully designed Sports Education (SE) and Olympic Education programmes. Here I must clarify the misunderstood myth that sports for development programmes may require elaborate infrastructure and large resources like elite sports programmes but in fact such programmes can be easily managed in limited space, time and resources through specialised programmes and training of teachers and community leaders.Just to give readers and policy makers an insight that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG NO 4) i:e to Enhance Inclusive & Quality Education For All and promoting lifelong learning, sport is combined with school curriculum under Sports Education (SE) programmes as its integral component. As sports for development practitioners, we strongly believe that sports provide lifelong learning and alternative education for children who even cannot attend school. By taking part in sport and physical activity which may not necessarily be hockey or Cricket that requires large space and expensive equipment, children are

exposed to tailor made sports and games which are organised in limited space with defined out comes so that life skills like teamwork, leadership, fair play, respect of rules, cooperation, discipline and tolerance are learnt.

These skills later help individuals in group activities and professional life and even help in developing educated elite athletes who later decide to adopt sports as a full time profession because such athletes are the true brand ambassadors of a country at international forums.

Similarly, it's an established fact that female participation in sports challenges the stereotypes. Sports not only help young girls and women to demonstrate their talents and achievements to society but also boost their self-esteem and confidence. It helps them raise awareness about gender roles among male counterparts and convey social and psychological benefits, thus helping in achieving goal 5 of SDG, which is to achieve gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls. The Diyar consortium implemented in Palestine under the Diyar women sports unit is an excellent example to develop understanding of how women empowerment is carried out through sports.

Goal No 16 of SDG is to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. From Pakistan's perspective this goal along with quality education and health for all holds the key for human development. In the absence of institutional effort on part of the government, NGOs like Legal Aid Society (LAS) are doing a wonderful job to bridge the gaps and simplify the judicial system for the common man.

As a common denominator and shared passion sports helps in building bridges between communities regardless of their political divisions. In times of conflicts or extreme polarization and extremism as of today, sports can provide participants with a sense of normalcy. For detailed understanding of the subject readers may refer to my article "How sports can help combat extremism in polarised society" published on 08 May 2022.

The fact remains that the 2030 global agenda for sustainable development sets out an ambitious transformational vision with its 169 targets of 17 MDGs by targeting young people on priority for pursuing inclusive and sustainable growth. The agenda explicitly states that the growing contribution of sports to the realization of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contribution it makes to the empowerment of women and young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives is of tremendous value.

This statement extends previous key international declarations that recognize and advocate the use of sports as a catalyst for human and social development for which much has not been done at our end.

It's worth mentioning that nine such resolutions were passed by the UN General Assembly between 2003 and 2014. The Commonwealth governments also provided consistent endorsement for the role of sport in contributing to the development and peace but successive governments remained confused on the subject of sport and education in particular.With 18th amendment in place and sports and education being devolved the provinces lack capacity and knowledge to execute such productive initiative which has international recognition and support. Pakistan today stands at 134 among 177 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) thus there is a need to formulate all-inclusive development policies where sports for development should also be incorporated in short, medium and long term national policies. Unfortunately, the PTI government despite having the services of a leader with a sports background failed to capitalise on the low hanging fruits of sports for development initiatives that could have opened many new doors of development for youth in the country.

We understand that Sports for Development is a specialised area but it's not a rocket science that cannot be understood or is so resource heavy that it can't be integrated in national policies. In our series of articles on Sports and STGs we would make an endeavor to bring all stakeholders on one page so that this cost effective and out of the box solution may be put to use for contribution in sustainable national growth.

– Aamir Bilal is an eminent sports analyst with expertise in sports management and sports for development

Sports and Sustainable Development Goals