Sports and development policy


Sport has become a global language and is internationally recognised as a way of reducing poverty and boosting development. The Commission has joined forces with FIFA to promote football as a factor for development in the ACP countries and the White Paper on Sport announces a more general use of sport as a tool in the EU development policy.

  • The UNESCO's 'Charter of Physical Education and Sport' (1978) indicates physical education and sport as "a human right for all" and the 'Convention on the Rights of the Child' (1989) guarantees "the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities". 
  • The United Nations, in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set out in 2000, asked an Interagency Task Force on Sport for Development to examine the contribution of sport to the achievement the MDGs. The Task Force's Report on Sport for Development and Peace (2003) recommends that sport and physical activity should be better integrated into various development policies. 
  • Accordingly, the year 2005 was proclaimed the International Year of Sport and Physical Education (IYSPE 2005) and an International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace (SDPIWG) was launched.
  • A European Parliament resolution on development and sport (December 2005) states that sports projects can be a cross-cutting means of building capacity in education, health in general, HIV/Aids prevention and peace-building as well as a means to combat social exclusion, violence, inequalities, racism and xenophobia. The MEPs therefore call on the Commission to consider, for example, supporting sports-based development programmes and projects through a budget earmarked for this purpose. 

The Commission's White Paper on Sport adopted in July 2007 sees a role for sports in the EU's external relations. The Commission is set to promote the use of sport as a tool in its development policy and to share its values with other parts of the world. "Through concrete actions, sport has a considerable potential as a tool to promote education, health, inter-cultural dialogue, development and peace," states the paper. 

In particular, the Commission is set to promote sport and physical education as a means to make schools more attractive and improve attendance and to improve girls' and women's access to physical education and sport, with the aim of promoting women's access to education in general. Other actions targeted through sport are said to include support for health promotion and awareness-raising campaigns, in synergy with existing programmes of the United Nations, member states and local authorities.

Commission - FIFA Memorandum of Understanding

In July 2006, the Commission and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to make football a force for development in Africa, in the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

According to the Commission, around 50 million people across Africa play football regularly and for many of these people football is "an act of survival, a means to restore normality in traumatised communities, to rebuild confidence, and to promote tolerance and solidarity in countries torn apart by natural disasters, war or poverty". 

The aim of the memorandum is to link football with development programmes and to use the power of football to realise projects in the ACP regions. The memorandum covers a number of areas ranging from development co-operation and humanitarian aid to racism, post-conflict reconstruction, nation-building, health and education. The EU financial contribution will be made from the current 9th European Development Fund (EDF) and later on from the 10th EDF.

Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group 

The Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) was created in 2004 to engage and work with national governments on policy recommendations to support the integration of sport and physical activity into their national and international development strategies and programs. The group presented its first results in June 2006. 

United Nations - Sport for Development and Peace

A number of the United Nations' agencies have programmes relating to sport for development and peace. They promote sports' contribution to economic and social development, to the Millennium Development Goals and to improving health and personal growth in people of all ages, particularly those of young people. The aim is also to boost sport-related activities, which can generate employment and economic activity at many levels and to help build a culture of peace and tolerance.  

Toolkit Sport for Development

Toolkit Sport for Development is an international initiative, launched in 2005, involving a variety of stakeholders who work together to share knowledge on sport for development. It offers ready-to-use tools and resources for NGOs, sports clubs and governments who want to use sport to achieve development goals.

International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005

The International Year of Sport and Physical Education (IYSPE 2005) provided, according to the UN, "a unique opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the importance of sport in society and on how sport and physical-education programmes can be used as tools to help combat challenges such as extreme poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS". The aim of IYSPE 2005 was to promote around the world, through a series of conferences, events and research publications, the value of sport and physical education for education, health, development and peace.


Illegal trade of young African footballers 

Initiatives for 'Sports for development' naturally have good intentions. However, recently, the African continent has seen an increasing number of unscrupulous football agents in search of promising talents to be bought and resold to European clubs. Many African players regard playing in Europe as a way to escape poverty and easily leave their local clubs in search of glory in European teams. They are often 'bought' at early age by agents, for as little as 30 euro, to be trained and eventually sold later on for millions, or the families are asked to pay for a plane ticket for them to come to Europe.

Once in Europe, these youngsters, who have signed off their rights, and whose papers are often confiscated by their agents, often find themselves playing in an insignificant team, with a poor pay, or then simply abandoned, if they have not shown good enough talent for playing.

Since 2001, a FIFA regulation forbids the transfer of underaged players from third countries to the EU but the rules are not always respected everywhere. 

The EU White Paper on Sport states that the EU will include, wherever appropriate, sport-related issues such as international players' transfers and exploitation of underaged players in its policy dialogue and co-operation with partner countries. 

  • Culture Foot Solidaire

Culture Foot Solidaire is a French NGO aiming to bring together different actors in African football to fight against the traffic of young African talents in France. This is done by informing directly, at local level, the young, their families and local football coaches about professional football and the realities of expatriation. The first information centre, 'Maison du Jeune Footballeur', was recently opened in Cameroon to pass on the information and to support local sports structures.

  • Sport and Freedom

A Belgian human-rights association called Sport and Freedom (Sport en Vrijheid) was founded in 1992 to protect young sports people from being exploited. The association has conducted a legal battle on behalf of exploited footballers to make their case heard and to help them stay legally in Belgium.

According to the UK-based International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), sport is not a "panacea for development problems" but as it "attracts immense audiences, has great economic influence, power and reach into communities and countries" it can be "a powerful neutraliser with an accepted universal language and rules and can play an important role in achieving global development targets such as the Millennium Development Goals.

Some sports for development organisations, such as the NGO Right to Play, stress the need for deeper government commitment to sport as a tool in the fight against poverty. "Engaging deeper government leadership is essential to ensure that sport and physical activity are incorporated into countries' development policies and agendas, and specifically to use sport as a tool to address the issues of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the challenges of achieving peace."

The Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) believes that the "scale and success in harnessing the power of Sport for Development and Peace internationally depend on engaging and mobilising national governments, as these drive national and international development strategies and investment". 

Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel also believes that sports can be a "motor for development". "Linking football with development programmes, can help make a difference to the lives of millions of children," he said.  

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has identified five development goals it believes it can help advance through sport and with its partners, such as the United Nations. These are: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality and empowering women, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development. 

At the occasion of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the Fédération International de Football Association (FIFA) and the United Nations jointly appealed for peace, tolerance and development, arguing that sport in general and football in particular can play a key role in development all around the world. The World Cup can not put an end to wars, but by bringing a variety of rich and poor countries onto a worldwide stage it can raise awareness of parallel issues.

The United Nations (UN) thinks that sport-related activities can generate employment and economic activity at many levels, and that sport can also help build a culture of peace and tolerance by bringing people together on common ground, crossing national and other boundaries to promote understanding and mutual respect. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, wants to "encourage governments, development agencies and communities to think how sport can be included more systematically in the plans to help children, particularly those living in the midst of poverty, disease and conflict". 

The human rights organisation, Sport and Freedom severely condemns the traffic of young players from Africa, South America and eastern Europe qualifying it as "a modern form of the slave trade".


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

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