Getting the ‘development’ right in sport for development (S4D) means that on the pitch, disabilities are dissolved into strengths. It means that traditional ‘no girls allowed’ attitudes are torn away. It means that children’s voices are valued in both the planning and the playing, and real efforts are made to protect children from violence. Because when S4D gets the ‘development’ right, sport is more than just a game.
Approximately 1 in every 500 children around the world take part in S4D initiatives. These children face risks that include poverty, violence, poor health, learning disabilities and ethnic discrimination. It is universally known that sport is a fun and engaging way for children to be active and develop skills, so it is no surprise that they are drawn to S4D by the appeal of sport activities. However, once they are hooked, children are involved in programming that develops soft skills, promotes social inclusion, empowers young people and aims to reduce negative behavior. In other words, these children come for the sport and stay for the support.
Children come for the sport and stay for the support.
When sport’s potential is harnessed, it can also play a critical role in achieving development outcomes for children and society. For S4D programming to be effective, however, it is crucial for policy makers and practitioners to understand the development component of S4D. Thus, the UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti, generously supported by the Barça Foundation, conducted a first-of-its-kind study to comprehensively map the global evidence on S4D for children. The aim is strengthening the evidence base on the implementation and impact of S4D policy and programming for children. Through an integrative literature review, systematic mapping of available evidence, and global surveys of S4D programmes, the study: Getting Into the Game: Understanding the evidence for child-focused sport for development, analyzed programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation systems to understand what works in S4D.
Findings from the research revealed that football was the most common sport found in S4D, used by 42 per cent of surveyed programmes around the world. By striking the right balance between sport and non-sport activities, S4D initiatives can have an important impact on children’s education, social inclusion, protection, and empowerment. They can increase children’s engagement in learning, improve their attainment of life skills and support their access to and participation in initiatives and services.
However, the research also suggests that achieving development goals through sport cannot be taken for granted. Children’s engagement with sport does not always translate into skills development, better relationships with adults and greater self-esteem and efficacy. It is not a given that by playing together, children with different abilities or from different backgrounds will build bonds that promote social inclusion. Nor are sports settings always the safest places for children to be.
To become more than just sport, S4D programmes must be designed well. The report’s key recommendations include that in order for S4D to achieve complementarities at the community and system levels S4D practitioners should:
- Focus on linking activities with development outcomes through specific strategies and objectives;
- Design programmes that include an adequate balance of sport and non-sport activities;
- Facilitate multisectoral collaboration;
- Tie sports into existing social programmes;
- Establish settings where negative societal views and family disapproval do not become barriers to initial and continued participation;
- Purposefully facilitate greater family and community engagement, such as through consultation forums and festivals that share knowledge;
- Balance coaches and staff in terms of gender and diversity of experience; and
- Provide training for and monitoring of child safeguarding procedures for all interacting with children and young people.
To continue getting the ‘development’ right in S4D, a second phase of research will test current findings from this first phase and develop primary data collection tools to further understand the common characteristics and practices in S4D.
To further promote the translation of the research into practicable action, UNICEF—in partnership with the Barça Foundation and in collaboration with an international S4D for Children Working Group—is developing an S4D for Children Framework and accompanying toolkit for policy and programming by 2021. The Working Group members met in March in Barcelona to share their expertise and experience from the field and were subsequently joined at the report launch an auditorium full of S4D stakeholders who voiced their enthusiasm for the same message: that when S4D gets the development right, sport is more than just a game!
Sarah Fuller is an education research assistant for the S4D project at UNICEF Innocenti. Juliana Zapata is an education research associate and coordinating the S4D project at UNICEF Innocenti. Read our report: Getting into the Game: Understanding the evidence for child-focused sport for development Watch the launch event partnership with UNICEF and the Barça Foundation.