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Why Sport Should Be Rooted in National Policy and Planning

By Patricia Scotland
Published April 25, 2020

Patricia Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, says the wide appeal and reach of sport can be used to accelerate progress in areas such as gender equity and political inclusivity.Public parks have been gated shut, beaches emptied and stadia deserted, as an unprecedented 2.5 billion people across the world are forced to sit at home.

As the Coronavirus spreads its tentacles across the globe it is taking its toll on the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere. Measures such as closing gyms, shutting sports facilities and staying at home put a limit on a person’s mobility and exercise.

Enforced inactivity can contribute to periods of intense stress, leading to long-term negative health impacts.

There are several online series, virtual classes and resources,to help people stay active, improve mental health and reduce the risks of developing non-infectious diseases.

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So even when competitions are postponed and venues closed, sport and physical activity can be a powerful influence for good in these troubling times. It is a common denominator and a universal language, one that can unite people from different backgrounds, empower communities and contribute to rebuilding nations.

Recognising this beneficial potential, the UN six years ago declared 6 April as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. The international community identified sport as an important enabler of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and highlighted its impact on health, education, social inclusion, women’s empowerment and youth development.

The reach of sport can and should be rooted in national policy and planning so that sport and physical activity can truly reach everyone, including the poor, marginalised, refugees and victims of natural disasters and violence. But how?

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The Commonwealth has worked with Mauritius to develop and implement a new policy which considers the impact of sport on the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and injects it into the national vision 2018-2028. The policy is designed to make people fitter and healthier to reduce the risks of non-infectious diseases and lessen the burden on hospitals.

This holistic approach is crucial because about four in five adolescents do not get enough physical activity – and around a quarter of adults – due to infrastructural, economic and cultural obstacles. This leaves them unable to reap the potential economic, social and health benefits that can come from sport and being physically active.

The Commonwealth urges governments to invest more to address this gap. It is not only the right thing to do but is good value for money. Typically, less than 1% of the national budget is allocated to sport but its contribution to GDP is in multiples of that. In 2016, Fiji spent about 0.5% of its annual budget on sport but in return, revenues from sport contributed 1.7% to GDP – more than the country’s mining, quarrying and forestry sectors.

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In the same year, the size of Canada’s sport economy grew by 3.2% while jobs creation in the sector rose by 4.9%. This potential to create jobs will be even more important as we move to recover from the current health crisis and to rebuild shattered income streams.

The benefits are not just economic. In 2016, research found that every £1 England spent on sport generated £1.91 in social returns through contributions to a reduced risk of disease, improved wellbeing, low crime and improved educational performance.

While the gains are clear, expertise and capacity to robustly measure the impact of sport on the development targets pledged in the SDGs remain limited.

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In order to assess the value of public investments in the sector and enhance evidence-based policymaking, the Commonwealth is creating the world’s first common measurement approach working in partnership with UN agencies. This initiative will help countries and international bodies count and assess the contribution sport, exercise and physical education makes to the specific SDGs identified in the Kazan Action Plan.

Patricia Scotland is the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, a political association of 54 member states, nearly all former territories of the British Empire.


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