Right To Play

Celebrating a Historic Occasion
02/24/2014 10:19

The late Nelson Mandela once said “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair...” (Mandela, 2000, para. 1). On April 6th, Right To Play will be joining partners and supporters across the globe to celebrate this very notion on the first ever International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. As a significant milestone in the Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) movement, this day will provide the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the vast and powerful benefits of well-designed sport and play programs, and the many ways they enrich the lives of children and youth the world over. While SDP policies and programs are endorsed and implemented by many national governments, the United Nations, and Non-Governmental Organizations, much work remains to achieve greater acceptance and of  the use of sport and play as effective development tools.


Growing Momentum of the Sport for Development and Peace Movement

While still relatively new, the field of SDP has gained considerable momentum over the past decade. Much of the initial momentum of the SDP movement emerged from the work of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace between 2002 and 2004, and the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) between 2004 and 2008. As Secretariat of these groups, Right To Play worked diligently with partners in government and civil society to research, articulate, and promote recommendations on how to integrate sport and play into national and international development policies and programs. In 2005, the UN International Year of Sport and Physical Education provided the first ever sustained global platform to advocate for the benefits of sport to promote development and peace. National activities in 70 countries, in addition to several international conferences over the course of that year, increased government recognition of sport’s role in supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)*, and enhanced their support for sport and physical education projects (UNGA, 2005). On December 11th 2008, a UN General Assembly Resolution on Sport for Development and Peace not only recognized the work of the SDP IWG, but also encouraged governments to implement its recommendations and stressed the need to develop indicators to monitor progress.

The SDP movement has continued to grow over the years and has welcomed a number of new organizations and supporters. As a steadfast advocate for an International Day for Sport for Development and Peace, Right To Play welcomes this permanent platform for celebrating and driving the movement forward, and is excited to join its SDP partners and supporters around the world to celebrate this historic occasion.


Leveraging the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

By drawing international attention to the benefits of sport and play for positive social change, this day can be leveraged in many ways. First and foremost, this day can be used to play. As partners in this movement, SDP practitioners worldwide can collectively celebrate by engaging children, youth, and communities in educational and empowering sport and play activities. This day can also help to gain support from national and donor governments to develop policies and fund programs designed to enhance access to quality sport and play based programs. By engaging various actors in dialogue, cooperation, and activities, this day can be used to share ideas and research, and promote best practises. Additionally, the SDP community can use this day as a platform to celebrate the contributions of sport and play to global development goals, such as the MDGs, and to discuss how SDP can be positioned in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.


Highlighting the Role of Sport for Development and Peace in achieving Global Development Goals

There are many ways that SDP programs contribute to addressing critical issues in global development agendas, such as the MDGs. For example, well-planned SDP programs have contributed to MDG 1, Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger, by helping foster the social capital needed to break the cycle of poverty.  SDP programs can do this by supporting participants and leaders to acquire transferable life skills, while connecting them to community services and supports. SDP programs have also provided a powerful platform to challenge harmful social norms by including people of all genders and abilities, and removing barriers to their participation in sport and play activities. When it comes to MDG 5, Combating HIV, AIDS, Malaria, and other Diseases, SDP programs have proven to be effective in breaking down social barriers and encouraging open communication about prevention methods. SDP programs have also contributed significantly to MDG 2, Achieving Universal Education, by motivating children to enroll and stay in school. In addition to attendance and retention, well designed and implemented SDP programs can provide alternative education opportunities for children who cannot attend school.

Since 2000, Right To Play has been tapping into the best values of sport and play, and has seen the benefits of SDP programs first-hand. By designing programs to intentionally prioritize development objectives and ensure inclusion, Right To Play is able to change ordinary games into extraordinary learning experiences. A 2008 evaluation in Thailand found that increased motivation and participation in school were the most commonly reported outcomes among children after six months of participation in Right To Play activities (RTP, 2008). One primary school teacher trained in Right To Play’s methodology in Rwanda claims, “Since Right To Play started the play program in our school, student enrolment has increased from 637 in 2010 to 841 in 2012 and students are coming to school more often” (RTP, 2013). Right To Play programs have also helped enhance learning outcomes around health issues. In Uganda, a 2011 evaluation discovered that 92% of participating children knew ways of preventing HIV from sexual transmission vs. 50% of children not in Right To Play programs (RTP, 2011). Contributing to peaceful communities is another area where Right To Play has seen results. A 2010 evaluation in Liberia found that children were demonstrating higher levels of conflict resolution two years after the implementation of Right To Play activities. Parents and leaders in Liberia reported a considerable reduction in the incidence of violence among children and attributed this to children’s increased ability to manage conflict with non-violent approaches such as dialogue, reasoning, and avoidance (MSA, 2010).


These are just a few of the many contributions that sport and play can make towards achieving global development goals. With increased research and rigorous evaluation of sport and play programs, the SDP community will be able to further understand and highlight the diverse and unique contribution of sport and play to global development moving forward.


Positioning Sport and Play in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

As the 2015 deadline to reach the MDGs approaches, policy discussions around the architecture of the Post-2015 Development Agenda have been top of mind for many. In 2014, dialogue and consultation on the Post-2015 framework will kick into high gear. A report released in May of 2013 from the UN’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda highlights the need for innovation and an overhaul of the ‘business-as-usual’ approach to development (UN HLP, 2013). Unfortunately, innovative tools for development, such as SDP, have largely been left out of Post-2015 discussions thus far. It is vitally important that the SDP community engages in the Post-215 dialogue in order draw attention and awareness to sport and play as effective tools for achieving global development goals.

When looking at development goals related to education, significant gains have been made in increasing access to primary education over that last decade. However, currently an estimated 250 million children globally can’t read, write, or count well regardless of their access to school (EFA, 2013). This necessitates a focus on good quality learning experiences and outcomes, a dominant theme in the Post-2015 dialogue. Danish ambassador to the UN, H.E. Mr. Cartsen Staur, stated during the Global Education First Initiative on June 11, 2013, “The aim of education has to be wider…we need to look at creative approaches and critical thinking” (UNESCO, 2013, para. 13). Using alternative tools for learning, such as sport and play, are innovative ways to support quality learning experiences and outcomes. Growing research over the last decade has begun to highlight how sport and play based learning allows children and youth to better enjoy and engage with the learning process, while enhancing social connectedness among participants. This creates an environment more conducive to open communication and encourages a love of learning (Colucci, 2012; Crabbe, 2009; Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2008; Jeans, 2010; Kay, 2009; McCune, 1998). Furthermore, additional research states that incorporating sport and play in teaching methodologies can enhance cognitive functioning in a variety of ways, ranging from enhancing neurological development and cerebral growth, to optimizing the mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation by providing a break in cognitive tasks (Bjorklund & Douglas-Brown, 1998; Pellegrini & Smith, 1998; Ratey, 2008; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2010).   


Despite strong and growing results, sport and play’s role in achieving positive social change is often left out of the global development discussion. Having seen the positive results sport and play can have, it is clear the SDP community must make concerted efforts to exemplify the vast contribution that well designed SDP programs can have towards positive social change. The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace provides the quintessential platform to highlight and celebrate SDP as an innovative approach to development, and in particular, advance quality education globally in the Post-2015 Development Agenda discussions and beyond.


Please join Right To Play and the SDP community in celebrating this momentous occasion!



Kathryn McCracken (Manager, Policy) | kmccrackenrighttoplay.com

Emma Colucci (Policy Officer) | ecoluccirighttoplay.com

www.kmccrackenrighttoplay.com (righttoplay.com)


* The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of eight international benchmarks with supporting targets. They aim to focus world attention and resources on the eradication of global poverty.


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