UN expert: EU can boost sport for development

The EU can greatly contribute to the success of a UN platform on sport for development thanks to its experience in carving out sport policy, Wilfried Lemke, special adviser to the UN secretary-general on sport for development and peace, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Wilfried Lemke is special advisor to the UN secretary-general on sport for development and peace.

He was speaking to Outi Alapekkala.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

Many UN agencies have already integrated sport into their programmes. Which agencies could still do the same and through what kind of actions/partnerships?

Indeed, there are many United Nations entities that mobilise the power of sport in order to help achieve some of their objectives. They use sport mainly in two ways: in a direct manner, by integrating sport as a component of their field projects (the UN Refugee Agency, for instance, which uses sport as an educational tool for children in their camps); or in an indirect one, as a communications and outreach instrument, for campaigns for instance.

As early as 2003, twelve UN agencies came together and published a joint report on the potential contribution that sport can make towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. My role is to encourage UN actors and others (NGOs, governments, sports federations, private companies, etc.) to envisage and use sport as an efficient tool for sustainable peace and development.

How does sport contribute to economic development and how is this addressed in different UN programmes?

The sports industry generates billions of dollars from which countries, cities and communities can benefit, directly and indirectly. Sport, including sports events, can act as a catalyst for economic development. It creates employment, opportunities to learn new skills, to renovate infrastructures.

Several UN entities, at headquarters and at country level, build on this by designing and implementing programmes that use the mobilising and convening power of sport to foster economic and social development.

Have the UN's guidance and recommendations on sport for development been taken up by different actors? What is your assessment? Is the UN planning to draft any further advice/specific guidelines on the matter?

The recommendations included in the 2003 report I mentioned earlier led to an increased recognition of the value of sport by the UN system and outside actors, no doubt about that.

More recently, the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) – which is mainly composed of governments – has developed recommendations on how to integrate sport and physical activity in general into their social and development policies and programmes.

My office has been tasked with hosting the secretariat of the Group and is now providing a platform for it to take place. At the moment we are entering into the second phase of the working group, which consists of implementing the recommendations formulated during the first phase.

What role do you see for the EU in using sports for development, and how should it do this, both in its sport policy (in the making) and through its development policies?

I believe that there is a clear role for the EU on several levels in the area of sport for development and peace.

First, on a policy level, it is obvious that with the newly adopted articles of the Lisbon Treaty relating to sport, the EU now has real power in this area. I believe this will lead to a more proactive and coordinated policy, which in my view is beneficial.

I would hope that the EU and its member states would take a leading role in the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group, with a view to having a one-stop policy-sharing platform and to assisting in applying many of the good practices that have been developed.

Countries that do not have as robust a regulatory framework in the field of sport can significantly benefit from the experience of EU member states. This naturally spills over into the practical implementation of sports policies. The thematic areas of the SDP IWG – such as Gender, Children and Youth Development, and Disability – are very much in line with the Union's policy goals set out in the treaty.

I also hope that on a more practical level, it will be possible for the EU and its member states to cooperate and support projects of the UN family in the field of sport. I believe that there is great potential for cooperation between the UN family and the EU.

What role can major sports events such as the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa or the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016 play in sport and development?

Major international sports events such as the Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Olympic Games, or the football World Cup, have the potential to create social, economic and environmental development. They are often a catalyst for important changes that would not be made otherwise. In terms of transport, for instance, host countries often seize the opportunity to improve their infrastructures and systems by implementing ambitious plans. That is what is happening right now in South Africa and what will most likely happen in Brazil in the years to come, particularly in Rio de Janeiro.

Also, such events present a unique opportunity for outreach activities, advocacy and fund-raising to take place. As the eyes of the world are watching, sport events become a powerful communication platform that can be used to encourage development objectives such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Major sports events have also strengthened athletes' profiles, making them important role models and spokespeople, and raising awareness about the objectives of the UN.

The 2010 World Cup is to start soon. Do you think the preparations have delivered the momentum to trigger economic development and social change?

Hosting the World Cup presents a fantastic opportunity for positive social change in South Africa and the whole of Africa. I have visited South Africa several times in the run-up to the event and been to the townships of Khayelitsha and Mufuleni, in the Cape Town area. I have visited many grassroots projects that have already largely benefited from the momentum created by the World Cup.

The impact of football in Africa is enormous. The aspirations and hope generated by the sport among youth is very high. The World Cup is an opportunity to create a synergy between the different actors in development through football and sport in general. I am convinced that the 2010 World Cup, the first ever to take place on African soil, will be a great success and will cast some very positive light on the country and the continent as a whole. My hope is that it leaves a true legacy and that the transformation lasts, with no turning back.

What role can/should the private sector play in sport for development and peace?

An increasing number of companies have realised the power of sport and are gearing their corporate social responsibility around sport. Some agencies – like the UN Refugee Agency and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) – are collaborating with private companies in the delivery of their sports programmes.

This trend is very positive of course, and I invite the private sector to engage further with the UN in this respect. Sport can be a natural bridge between the private sector and the United Nations. The private sector, with its expertise and financial means, can play an important role in maximising the transformative potential of sport. Our common objectives will only be achieved if international agencies and governments as well as the private sector all work together.


Life Tackle

Life Programme

LIFE TACKLE is co-funded by the LIFE Environmental Governance and Information Programme of the European Union - Project Number LIFE17 GIE/IT/000611

Subscribe to our newsletters