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In the last two decades, there has been a concerted effort to re-mobilize sport as a vehicle for broad, sustainable social development, especially in the most disadvantaged communities in the world.
According to WIKIPEDIA, sports include all forms of competitive, physical activity which through casual or organized participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing entertainment for spectators.
The UN system also defines sports in the context of development and peace as all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction, such as play, recreation, organized or competitive sport, indigenous sports and games for the attainment of specific development and peace objectives.
For centuries, the role and impact of sports in the society has been a subject of debate. For some observers, sport is a physical activity always associated with competition among teams or nations for the pride and glory of winning, while for some it is a sort of pure entertainment.
Sports; games and physical activities are present in virtually every society, its popularity transcends political, national and ideological borders. While it remains the most unifying and networking tool for peace in the world, sport is a passion shared by women and men world over. It is a force for physical well-being and social empowerment. Research reveals that since the advent of Olympics in 1896, more athletes have come to agree that sports unite the world.
Football for instance, the most popular game in the world, is estimated by FIFA in 2007 to be played by about 2 billion people, while other games such as cricket, basketball and baseball, attract the interest of millions more worldwide.
2005 saw the establishment of the United Nations Office for Sport, Development and Peace (UNOSDP), with an objective to raise awareness about the use of physical activity, sport and play as powerful development tools in the advancement of development and peace.
UNESCO also indicates that to achieve the goals of peace and development, it is important to recognize the cultural dimensions of sport. Additionally, several agencies within the UN system (UNDP, WHO, ILO, IOM) also use sport as a factor in their projects for peace and development, hence the declaration of 6th April as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, to celebrate the contribution of sports and physical activity to education, human development, healthy lifestyles and a peaceful world.
The international Day of Sport for Development and Peace is a day when some of the world’s sports’ finest work together with community sports with the aim of enriching the lives of children and youth world over.
In more recent years, the use of sport to tackle issues related to equality and social justice emerged as a response from different sectors to even instances of violence and intolerance especially in most disadvantaged communities in the world while promoting good education, quality health-care, development and peace in its wake.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development further reveals and acknowledges sport’s role for social progress: it clearly emphasizes the need for developed countries in aiding developing countries to achieve a “global partnership for development” and sport is definitely one good source of this partnership.
Further studies conducted by The Population Council and Harvard School of Public Health, evidenced the importance of sports through development and its positive effects on children and youth. These studies have also documented grassroots soccer model’s effectiveness in significantly improving students’ knowledge, attitudes, communication and decision-making skills.
This progress so much so influenced FIFA to launch the Football for Hope initiative in 2005 to help improve the lives of youth world over.
Every year, physical inactivity leads to an estimated 3.2 million deaths. This is why UNESCO joined forces with the World Health Organization to combat sedentary lifestyles, starting with quality and inclusive physical education for all youths which has considerable benefited children and youth in several countries.
In many countries, opportunities to participate in sports are limited by significant infrastructural, social and political barriers. For example, people with disabilities are marginalized in many societies, thus preventing their active involvement in sports.
And so as the world stays true to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world must do all to support sport to ensuring no one is left behind. Sport leaders and lovers must be ready to demonstrate commitment to creating a better world, despite shortcomings like geographic and social barriers.
Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, we cannot take away the special love the world has for sports, it is enjoyed by all and sundry, sports build self-esteem, physical and mental health and nurtures positive connections with many.
The rights of every person to engage in sports must be respected and should be enforced worldwide. Government, Corporate Bodies, public and private sectors must all come together to create a world for sports which must not only be considered as a form of entertainment but rather an important investment in our present and our future for a lasting peace and development.