Building back better as a team: How can sport enhance social cohesion and resilience? A Capacity4Change (C4C) event

With this event, the GIZ Representation in Brussels aimed to assess the opportunities and challenges of working in the field of Sport for Development (S4D) and elaborate which role it can play in the European external action agenda. It was moderated by Dina Klingmann (GIZ).

Andrea von Rauch (Director, GIZ Representation in Brussels) opened the event by remarking on the multitude of dimensions of development cooperation that sports can support. Sport provides role models and influencers to children and youth. It supports social inclusion and gender equality. It can be a value and publicity booster and has the potential to increase awareness for development policies.

In a video message, Tanja Gönner (Spokesperson of the Board of Directors, GIZ) pointed out that the last months were a summer of sports, and that they demonstrated the hopeful, inclusive, and unifying power of sport. GIZ has been using sport as a tool for years: to promote goals of sustainable development, to teach values of tolerance and respect, to create safe spaces for people from all backgrounds, and to improve social cohesion. Gönner stressed that partnerships at all levels of society and government are key to the success of this work. She was pleased to see that sport has been recognized as valuable tool on the EU level with the European Union Work Plan for Sport 2021-2024. In reference to the Team Europe approach, she said that as the pandemic affected sports (especially for children and youth), it is now time to build back better as team in this area.

In her keynote address, Uschi Schmitz (Member of the Executive Committee, European Olympic Committee) talked about the role of sports organisations for the European agenda. Sport is already recognized by the United Nations (UN) as powerful catalyst for peace with its special capacity to connect, inspire and heal. However, more must be done, especially at the EU level: sports must be a part of EU funding programmes. A good start is the fact that sport is mentioned in the Global Europe Programme. Sports organisations, such as the German Olympic Sports confederation, are already active in development cooperation. Schmitz emphasised that sport is a means of education. When it is implemented at grassroots level, it can have impacts all through society. To do that, sport needs funding and opportunity -thus, cooperation between sports organisations and political institution such as the European Commission is key.

Then, Innocent Asiimwe (National Coordinator Athletics for Development (A4D) in Uganda) and Laëtitia Habchi (Head of the Social Link Unit; Agence Française de Développement (AFD) Coalition “Sustainable Development through Sport”) presented two best practice cases and their challenges of how Sport for Development can be implemented.

Asiimwe described that for A4D, they have partnered with the Ministry for Education, the Olympic Committee and other organisations since 2018. Through the project, they have been able to promote gender equality, include differently abled people, work in refugee contexts, and do outreach during the pandemic. They have reached 8.000 children so far.

Habchi described the motivation for the Coalition “Sustainable Development through Sport” by saying that more can be achieved when one joins together. The building of the coalition was launched in 2020 during the Finance in Common Summit. Since 2017, after the French President Macron gave a speech mentioning sport as a lever for youth, economic and social development, the “sport reflex” has been a part of AFD projects. The aim of working together with other organisations is to increase the projects’ capacity and impact.

During the following panel discussion, people from different governmental and institutional level gave their input on Sport for Development (S4D). Friederike Kärcher (Head of division: Media, culture, creative industries, sport, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)) said that the event was very timely because in the EU, there is a coalition of the willing: EU, France and Germany are willing to cooperate on S4D. She went on to say that under Minister Gerd Müller, sport is high on the BMZ’s agenda and gave several reasons why sport is used for development.

Sports can be used as a grassroots approach and for reaching the disadvantaged through partners.

Sports works very well for the implementation of Agenda 2030 (health, education, gender equality, peace, climate). Kärcher welcomed UNESCO’s efforts to come up with indicators of sport’s impact on societies.

Sport can be a gamechanger in difficult negotiations; it “keeps the door open”.

Sport creates positive images, e.g. in Africa.

New partners for development cooperation can be won through sports. In Germany, that connection is gaining traction, there is e.g. cooperation with Bundesliga Clubs.

Dr. Decius Chipande (Head of the African Union Sport Council (AUSC)) talked about how important S4D is for the African Union (AU), because the Agenda 2063 prioritises, for example, inclusive development, peace and security. The importance of the topic is also signified by the 2016 establishment of the AU coordinating office for sports, i.e. AUSC. Their task, once the AUSC is fully set up, is to coordinate the member states. The goal is to harmonise international, African national, and local S4D efforts, policies and priorities. Local communities must be put center stage. Moreover, the AUSC’s aim is to make AU member states more proactive, and to play a role of advocacy: programmes should be integrated in national policies; conducive environment for collaboration between government and non-governmental actors must be created. Chipande stressed that measuring the impact of S4D is highly important in order to be able to make the case for it on the continent.

Philipp Müller-Wirth (Executive Officer for Sport / Secretary of CIGEPS, UNESCO) said that we are at a turning point for S4D for two reasons: First, the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with an inactivity pandemic, with increasing health issues. Secondly, sports in general are still geared towards high performance and elite sports, which prevents grassroots sports. Müller-Wirth argued that sport must be a staple in development. CIGEPS is working on a global framework for sports in development as a systematic component in government policy. He says that data and measurement of the impact of sports, of the return on investment, is necessary to make people see that sport is more than an add-on. For this data collection, GIZ’s (and other development organisations’) practical experience on the ground is extremely helpful.

Magdalena Spasovska (founder and president of the sport organization TAKT in North Macedonia) described how TAKT is part of a four-year S4D programme in the Western Balkans. She explained that working together on this programme with Bosnians, Serbians, Albanians inter alia makes one aware of similarities and common challenges instead of focusing on differences. They organised regional summer camps which promoted social cohesion and European values. Relationships and support networks were created. Her takeaway is that sport is the fastest and most efficient way to bring people together and the Western Balkans closer to Europe. S4D programmes would make the European Commission a key actor in supporting cohesion and values in the Western Balkans.


Donald Rukare (National Council of Sports of Uganda) asked, how do we move sports from a project-based activity to mainstreamed policy on the national level? Innocent Asiimwe agreed that integrating is vital. He explained that in his project, A4D, it is planned to integrate it into the national physical education policy, which Rev. Can. Duncans Mgumya from the Ugandan government confirmed.

Friederike Kärcher said that the field has been laid out for stronger cooperation within the EU, to strengthen convening power and boost the topic of S4D. She pointed to the French Council presidency and the EU-AU Summit coming up – BMZ supports putting S4D on the agenda for the summit. To Donald Rukare’s question, she said that they want to move away from single projects to a more systemic approach. She pointed out that Namibia has included S4D in its national curricula. Maybe a rollout of such policy is possible in other countries in the future – but to do that, success stories and impact are needed, and thus, the collection of data that is possible through the single projects that are being executed now.

Martin Yauma (Kenya) asked if there has been any study of economic contribution of sports on the African continent, as this could be an incentive to get new participants for programmes. Laëtitia Habchi said that the economy of sport is less than 1% in Africa, compared with 3.5% in other places. One of the Coalition’s goals is to give visibility to the economic impact of sports.

Karen Petry (German Sport University Cologne) pointed out that return on investment research exists, and that the S4D sector does not need to reinvent the wheel. She suggested that there may be a lack of exchange with research and science. Philipp Müller-Wirth said that scaling up investments is necessary, and to do that, data is needed. Some of it exists, but different pieces of research need to be brought together. There is a need for consolidating sources of existing data and identifying gaps. Therefore, the first thing is to do is a global baseline study. In the end, this is to help people make the case to governments and other funders.

Leandro Olvech (International Table Tennis Federation) asked about the Paris Olympic Games and whether they will have an impact socially, and whether they can help bring S4D on the government’s agenda in France. Laëtitia Habchi answered that the social factor is at the core of the agreement on the Paris Games. The AFD plays a role in that. The Games will also be a good moment to talk about sustainable development.