Sports as a Vehicle for Development

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Helpdesk Query:

How strong is the evidence that sport can be used as a vehicle for development?  Are there examples of what has worked and why it has worked in some situations and not others?


There is some strong evidence in academic literature linking sport and development.  There is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that sport-based programs improve the learning performance of children and youth, facilitating educational attainment and encouraging them to stay in school, and that sport-based programs in schools aid in the social development of young people.  This report includes details of an article which gathers evidence from over 50 countries and more than 6000 children in an independent evaluation on the role of physical education in education. They conclude that the benefits of a quality physical education and school sport experience are significant.

The Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group has produced material on sport as a vehicle for development. Their report claims that sports capacity to attract and engage, and its communication power is undisputed. It also claims that the benefits of physical activity in relation to non-communicable disease are irrefutable. Some limitations of sport for development are noted.

Important Factors

It is important to have skilled, enthusiastic project coordinators, leaders and core staff. Good quality local staff will be able to design and run programmes to be context specific.

Other lessons learned from projects and programmes in the literature include:

  • Sport that is overly focused on competition and winning at all costs can create negative experiences.
  • Local languages must be used in communications to reach children with information about health.
  • Work within existing local structures.
  • Early childhood is the optimum time to reach children
  • Peer coaching is an effective and sustainable method for encouraging behaviour change.
  • A person with a disability needs professionals to pinpoint appropriate activities.


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