Soccer game. Copyright GIZ

For almost 30 years, German development policy has been promoting sports projects that not only mobilise people – in all senses of the word – but also raise their awareness of the issues and help integrate them both socially and economically. This area first came to global prominence in 2001, when the United Nations appointed a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 58/5, ‘Sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace’. This resolution confirmed the contribution that sport can make to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Then, in 2006, the European Commission and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding on the specific development role football can play in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. In 2007, the Commission produced its White Paper on Sport, which called for greater promotion of sport within international development.

This recognition of sport as a tool for development underlines its impact on social integration: sport can be a major factor in the further development of communities or even entire societies. Team sports, for example, encourage mutual understanding and boost social skills, equipping individuals to deal with failure and teaching fairness and tolerance.

Particularly well suited to this purpose are sports that are widely played and require little in the way of expensive equipment – such as football, running and swimming. But other sports also have a part to play in Sport for Development, including rugby, skateboarding, boxing and volleyball, to name but a few. The selection of a sport for activities in a partner country depends largely on its popularity in that country and the costs associated with it.

Sport for Development is a cross-cutting theme in German development cooperation, with extensive links to a range of Government development goals. In addition to education, Sport for Development can be combined with areas such as health promotion (fitness), prevention of violence, productive health, hygiene, gender equality, good governance, social inclusion and the environment. Sport is often also a driver of change and progress: new sports clubs and associations can become important parts of a vibrant civil society, while facilities for major sporting events help improve regional infrastructure and boost tourism.

However, only a small minority of children and young people around the world have access to sporting activities through the formal education system. Even today, 132 million children – most of them girls – do not attend school at all. Non-formal sports provision is a particularly effective way of reaching this group, not least because sport does not feature in the formal curriculum of most developing countries. Sports activities outside the school context are often the best way to promote children and young people.