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NGLS interviews the UN Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace

arton3166In October of this year, the UN General Assembly once again acknowledged the importance of using sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace and passedresolution A/65/L.4that calls upon UN Member States, the UN system, sport-related organizations, federations and associations, athletes, the media, civil society and the private sector “to collaborate with the United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) to promote greater awareness and action to foster peace and accelerate the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals through sport-based initiatives and promote the integration of sport for development and peace in the development agenda.”

NGLS interviews Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace.

NGLS: To many, at first sight, sport and development seems an odd combination. How would you explain the benefits of relating sports with development? To what extent can sport bring about social change at the community level? Can you give examples?

The UN has actually been using sport in their development programmes for quite some time to achieve their objectives. In fact, access to sport, physical activity and play is first and foremost considered a fundamental human right mentioned in several international conventions.

The ways in which sport can contribute to social change at the community level are countless. Sport, play and physical activity can be a cost-effective and highly versatile tool to address a wide array of issues such as gender equality, HIV/AIDS prevention, social inclusion, environmental protection, post-conflict healing, and the inclusion and empowerment of people with physical and mental disabilities.

There are thousands of great projects in the field of Sport for Development and Peace which target the above issues. The projects are implemented by a wide range of actors such as UN agencies, NGOs, governmental agencies, sports federations, and Olympic committees.

For example, I recently went to Haiti to observe the post-earthquake reconstruction process. The situation there, as we all know, is very grim and there is a desperate need to have relevant projects which can address a wide array of community issues. The psychosocial benefits of sport, in that context, are mobilized to reinforce the resilience of the Haitians in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. In Rio de Janeiro, various projects use sport to encourage youth to avoid the pitfalls of criminal activity. Across Africa, sport serves as a delivery mechanism in projects dealing with such issues as gender equality, HIV/AIDS prevention and job creation.

These are just a few examples, but the power of sport as a triggering factor for social change is evidenced by thousands of projects around the world.

NGLS: You were appointed as Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace in April 2008. Since your appointment, what would you consider some of the biggest achievements in terms of sport contributing to peace and development? What are some of the biggest challenges?

An encouraging development which I have seen since my appointment almost 3 years ago is that today more actors – including UN Member States – are getting on board to support sport for development. Besides more implementing actors are using sports in their grassroots programmes.

The achievement here is that sport is becoming part of the mainstream language of international development cooperation and national or local social investment. Since it is my role as Special Adviser to make the case for sport as a development instrument and to foster partnerships in that field, it gives me great pleasure to see this.

However we still have much work to do and many challenges still linger. Perhaps the biggest involves the issue of sustainability. Far too often, projects are one-off in nature, meaning they are funded for a year or two, have a short-term impact and then are over with no lasting effect on the local population. We must ensure that projects are sustainable, that they can improve the lives of the people that they target long into the future, while empowering them at the same time.

NGLS: To what extent have NGOs and other civil society organizations contributed to these achievements? How does your office engage with them?

Our office does not directly implement projects. This is not in our mandate. What we do, is help build the Sport for Development and Peace movement. We do this by acting as a facilitator, bringing actors together and providing these actors with the support that they need in order to mobilize resources and properly engage in the field.

For example, right now, we are trying to bring together various actors – including national governments, UN agencies, football associations, and local NGOs – in order to have football pitches constructed and properly used in two UN schools in Gaza.

NGOs and other organizations that are implementing projects in the field of course play a crucial role. Our office therefore diligently examines projects in the field, offers non-financial and technical support to these organizations in order to help them to more effectively and more sustainably help the local communities in which they work.

NGLS: Although sport is increasingly recognized as a tool for peace and development within the UN system and amongst other development stakeholders, in which (international) processes would you like to see the role of sport strengthened and more integrated?

The main area where sport needs to be strengthened is at the government level. It is so important to involve governments at the policy level not just at the grassroots level in order to make sure that there is more policy behind the actions in the field. Governments need to include sport in their overall development strategy.

What we do in our office is to encourage them to take part in the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) in order to share best practices and implement the SDP IWG programme and policy recommendations that were formulated during the first mandate of the Group, from 2004 to 2008.

NGLS: Big international sport events, such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics, are often promoted as catalysts for socio-economic development in the host country/region (through employment creation, investments in infrastructure, community building, etc). However, these events are also criticized for the negative side and after effects (e.g. forced evictions; child labor; job losses after the event; no longer used infrastructure). Do you believe the positive effects of such events outweigh the negative ones? What kind of measures could help prevent these undesired effects in the future?

A positive development is that these major international sporting events are now being bid on and organized with the idea of leaving a lasting social legacy behind. For example a major point of the Qatar bid to host the 2022 World Cup was their plan to use removable parts of their stadiums in order to construct 22 football stadiums in developing countries after the event is over; and to provide sport infrastructures to countries that could not otherwise afford to do so.

These events are also turning the focus of the world on the host nation. Take South Africa, for example. When they were awarded the World Cup for 2010, the world focused on the social ills of the region and this led to hundreds of projects being implemented by the UN, NGOs and governments, aimed at improving the lives of the local populations.

Now of course there have been issues in the past concerning forced evictions and other negative side effects of hosting these events. This is a subject of great concern and I can ensure you that the UN is doing everything in its power to work with organizers to make sure that these events are used as a vehicle to help the poorest levels of society in the host nation.

Events, such as the World Cup, should leave a sustainable legacy; one that goes beyond the 30-day experience of the event. They should support, for example, job creation, knowledge exchange and capacity-building in the host country. New infrastructure, such as stadiums and transport, if managed properly, can continue to employ local populations after the event is over. New infrastructure can also bring state of the art buildings and improved security. This combined with the spotlight that the host nation is under during the event, can lead to an improved international perception and hence should generate positive growth in the tourism sector, which in turn can result in economic development. Further to that, in the years leading up to an event, capacity building and knowledge exchange are acquired.

In conclusion, we need to look at the bigger picture and realize that hosting such an event is more than just a spectacle for the public but also an opportunity to make a real, sustainable and positive change to the living conditions of the host nations.

NGLS: You recently won a “Bobby” award (a German media award) for your engagement and support for people with disabilities worldwide. In many countries in the world, people with disabilities are still very much marginalized. How do you and your office reach out to this group, and how is sport contributing to their empowerment?

A media award like this is important because it is an opportunity to raise public awareness on the power of sport and physical activity to empower people with disabilities.

Supporting people with disabilities is one of my main priorities in my role as Special Adviser. Too often indeed, people with disabilities are marginalized and are not afforded the opportunities to be empowered and feel part of society. Sport and physical activity can be a source of joy, physical health, mental well-being, self-confidence, empowerment and hope for persons living with a disability. It is also a powerful tool in that it changes perceptions of people living with disabilities and shows that they are just as capable as everyone else in society.

Our office reaches out to people with disabilities by collaborating with actors such as national governments, the International Paralympic Committee, and NGOs working with people with disabilities to ensure that this vital issue is duly and properly addressed and that their quality of life improves.

Photo credits
Photo 1: "Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, visits Illeys Primary School in Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, on 23 June 2008"– � UNHCR.JPG
Photo 2: "On 24 January, boys play volleyball in Gaza City, near rubble and buildings that were destroyed or damaged during the recent military incursion" – � UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0120/Brooks
Photo 3: "Disabled Youth Participate in International Peace Day Activities" – � UNMIL Photo/Christopher Herwig

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