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“Sport has the power to unify, empower and motivate”
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“Sport has the power to unify, empower and motivate”

On 25 July, governments will meet in London to consider how sport can contribute to advancing vital development goals. The 6th Commonwealth Sports Ministers Meeting will review how all types of games – from football to fencing – can address social and economic challenges and promote global public health.

But why is sport so important for national development? According to Alisha Lewis, 20, a Commonwealth Correspondent from New Zealand, it transcends all kinds of national, cultural, socio-economic and political barriers.

For as long as people can remember, sport has played an important role in almost every society. However, in recent years people have begun to place stronger emphasis on the value of sport with regards to national development.

Key to the effectiveness of sport as a tool for helping national development is its universal popularity. As former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan states: “Sport is a universal language. At its best it can bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status.”

This popularity transcends all kinds of national, cultural, socio-economic and political barriers. Being inherently social in nature, it brings all people – players, teams, coaches, volunteers and spectators – together in a way that is particularly conducive to harnessing the power and motivation to address national issues and foster national development. In doing so it also establishes a shared bond between peoples, helping to unify those from diverse backgrounds and break down the barriers of prejudice within nations.

Governments and communities can make use of this unifying bond by initiating ‘sport for development’ programs which combine sport and play with development objectives. These should be executed in an integrated way alongside other local or national development initiatives so as to be mutually reinforcing. Such programs are in place around the world and effectively seek to empower communities by directly involving people in the design and delivery of development initiatives, fostering local capacity and encouraging sustainability through collaboration, partnerships and coordinated action.

The power of sport to unify, empower and motivate has been recognised not only by governments but also by the United Nations who, in 2005, declared an ‘International Year of Physical Education and Sport’ focussed on using sport to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The United Nations stated that well-designed sport based initiatives could help address all eight goals (eradicating extreme poverty/hunger, child mortality, and disease, as well as promoting education, maternal health, gender equality, environmental sustainability and global partnerships).

Whilst these goals are set on an international level, they can be applied specifically to different nations where they would be viewed as national development goals. In its plan for the year, the United Nations outlined the specific ways sports could help achieve such goals and thus help the national development of many countries around the world. For example, in terms of the goal to achieve universal primary education the United Nations stated:

• School sport programs motivate children to enrol in and attend school and can help improve academic achievement.
• Sport-based community education programs provide alternative education opportunities for children who cannot attend school.
• Sport can help erode stigma preventing children with disabilities from attending school.

Similarly, the UN found that sport can help improve maternal health:

• Sport for health programs offer girls and women greater access to reproductive health information and services.
• Increased fitness levels help speed post-natal recovery.

Furthermore, the United Nations cited sport’s role in addressing the issue of environmental sustainability:

• Sport-based public education campaigns can raise awareness of importance of environmental protection and sustainability.
• Sport-based social mobilization initiatives can enhance participation in community action to improve local environment.

Such plans highlight the ability of sport to bring people together in order to achieve common goals and in turn, address key national development issues – whilst having fun.

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About me:

“I’m a journalism student from Auckland, New Zealand. Originally from India, my family moved to New Zealand when I was four years old. I love writing – both creative and transactional – as well as reading, theatre, travelling and dancing.

“Aside from studying, I work as an intern for ONE News – at TVNZ, our national broadcaster – and as sub-editor for my university magazine. I hope to enter into journalism, ultimately working for established editorial publications within New Zealand or overseas.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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