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Sports and sustainable development Back To Main


No imported coach or state-of-the-art equipment or lofty stadiums can bail us out of the present state of sport crises. We have to go back to basics and invest in school and club sports.

Wilfried Lemke, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on Sport for Development & Peace, in his message on the International Day of Sport for Peace & Development (6th April) said that sport has the capacity to empower individuals and bring one’s moral values to the forefront: it can play a strategic role in transferring life skills and communicating useful and encouraging messages on important issues, thus driving social change.

Mr Vittorio, the UN representative in Pakistan, delivered Mr Lemke’s message during a seminar on Sport for Peace & Development organised in NUST university Islamabad with the collaboration of Higher Education Commission (HEC), UNDP and Pakistan Olympic Association (POA). POA president Lt Gen Arif Hassan (Retd) especially flew in from Lahore and distributed the prizes among the University athletes.

The sixth of April is the day when all members of sporting nations resolve that sports will not only be played for competitive and professional purposes but this powerful universal tool will be effectively used in bringing social change for betterment of marginalised segments of society.

It is a human right to be able to play a sport in a safe and healthy environment. It is embedded in numerous international instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The role of sports as a means to promote education, health, development and peace was emphasised in UN Resolution A/69/L.5 adopted by 193 member states, including Pakistan, on October 16, 2014.

This resolution encouraged all member states to give sports due consideration in the context of the post-2015 development agenda which has unfolded in front of the entire world in the form of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (STGs) and associated 169 targets which is an extension of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the name “Transforming our World: The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development”.

The UNESCO charter of Physical Education and Sport 1978 states that every human being has a fundamental right of access to physical education and sport, which are essential for the full development of his personality. The freedom to develop physical, intellectual and moral powers through physical education and sport must be guaranteed both within the educational system and in the wider society.

While the world is focusing on eradicating poverty which is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, many of our citizens continue to live in abject poverty, denied of education, clean drinking water, quick and transparent justice, and a life of dignity.

The most stunning perhaps is our self-created developmental paradigm fixed in material development that revolves around the construction of motorways, trains and buildings which are visible to everyone. We have hardly thought of any out-of-the-box solution that has the capacity to offer sustainable economic and social development to our fast growing uneducated youth.

The role of Planning Commission is vital as it has to set the national development agenda for coming twenty to twenty-five years in line with national aspirations which should be ambitious but also realistic.

Any international or national agenda of peace and development will remain elusive without fostering peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. It is a fact that there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

Sports without a doubt have proved to be a cost-effective and flexible tool in promoting peace and development objectives.

Since 2000, sports have played a vital role in achieving each of the eight MDGs. In the declaration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sport’s role for social progress is further acknowledged. We have already missed many of our goals mostly due to mismanagement, poor leadership and lack of resources.

By looking carefully at the 17 SDGs, we can easily understand how sports cut across these goals. For example, the first sustainable goal is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

To achieve this goal, sports can be used as a means to teach and practice social, employment and life skills that can lead to wellbeing, economic participation, productivity and resilience.

The second SDG is to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. In this regard sports programmes associated to nutrition can become a suitable complement for food programmes tackling hunger and education.

Another SDG is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Physical education and sport activities can enhance enrolment in formal education systems and school attendance.

The point to pounder is that the positive potential of sports does not develop automatically. It requires a professional and socially responsible intervention which should be tailored to our social and cultural context. Successful Sport for Development and Peace programmes are not about organising a solitary seminar on the sixth of April every year or holding a few isolated sports galas in conflict-ridden areas of FATA. These programmes have to be inclusive and participative in all respects in coordination with local, regional and national development and peace initiatives so that they are mutually reinforcing.

If I am asked to single out one most important component of SDG or MDG from the perspective of youth development in Pakistan, I will vouch for life skill development which is the missing link in our education system.

Quality education is not only about achieving higher grades but it’s about learning cognitive skills and building values that lead to much-needed creativity. Sport is a tool that provides a common ground and a universal framework of values including equality, respect, fairness and inclusion.

For this purpose, UNESCO has introduced its Values Education Through Sport (VETS) initiative that supports active learning, complement cognitive skills and give students increasing amount of responsibility. These VETS programmes are flexible and have strong cross-curricular potential.

Sports and education combined empower students to be responsible, motivated, sensitive, engaged and respectful.

Value-based learning develops happy, healthy, and educated citizens who contribute positively to society.

Through sports and education we can build a tolerant, healthy, inclusive and just society.

The importance of life skills can be arbitrated through the statement of Azhar Mehmood, the bowling coach of Pakistan T20 team who in an interview said that some key players of Pakistan team were only playing for personal objectives. They did not care about the coach and his plan. These players lack self-discipline and are mentally weak with little sense of team work.

The statement of Azhar is of high importance, as the coach hasn’t indicated any technical inadequacy, but all weaknesses indicated relate to life skill development of players.  Unfortunately these weaknesses are not only evident in our players but we as a nation lack life skills which are very much learnable, provided they are included in our syllabus through sports interventions from very early age.

Pakistan is witnessing its worst era of sports performance at all levels. Not only are our performances at the lowest ebb but the conduct of our players and support staff is also questionable. Regaining respect in international sport will be impossible without establishing sports culture at the grassroots. The UN bodies can only show pathways and guidelines but it is only the political will and priorities set by nations that can drive them towards achieving STGs along with excellence in sports.

It is impossible for Pakistan to achieve any respectable position in the world of sports in near future with the present approach of “chance” and “hope” to find some “natural talent” from “somewhere”.

No imported coach or state-of-the-art equipment or lofty stadiums can bail us out of the present state of sport crises. We have to go back to basics and invest in school and club sports.