United Nations Development Programme

Sport and the Millenium Development Goals
02/24/2014 10:07

UNDP welcomes the resolution adopted by the 67th General Assembly proclaiming April 06 as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. The decision marks a new step in the UN’s advocacy efforts to highlight the benefits of sport and healthy lifestyles on broader social development. Sport is seen as an important development tool. It builds self-confidence; it provides an alternative to conflict and delinquency; it improves health; it can bring hope to refugees, impoverished communities and disadvantaged youth. Sport plays an important role in the global effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and combat non-communicable diseases. Sport belongs to everyone and has a common international language. Sport is indeed a world’s universal language. It has the power to bring people together from all walks of life. Sport is also a strong unifying factor in the process of conflict transformation and peace building.


In recent years, UN bodies – along with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, development agencies and sports organizations have increasingly recognized and systematically harnessed the power of sport to achieve their objectives and to use sport  as an effective tool to promote development. Many of UNDP’s goals and objectives can be supported through sport, including poverty reduction, building democratic societies, preventing crisis and facilitating recovery, protecting the environment, fighting HIV/AIDS, and empowering women.


UNDP has implemented several initiatives using sport as a major tool for development. Sports for development projects ranging from the creation of a sport community center in the municipality of Gugulethu in Cape Town, South Africa, to the rehabilitation of sports centers and sports facilities for marginalized and disadvantaged youth in Brazil, have been implemented in many countries, among which are Belarus, Burundi, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Russia, Sri Lanka and Zambia.


Some of these initiatives have been funded through income generated from the UNDP’s annual Match Against Poverty supported by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and direct contributions resulting from UNDP’s long partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).


The convening power of sport makes it additionally compelling as a tool for advocacy and communication. Sport is a powerful communication medium through which important messages can be disseminated to mass audiences, and those publics engaged in important causes, such as raising awareness of health risks to reduce communicable diseases, getting out the vote, promotion of human rights, etc.


In this regard, UNDP has appointed sporting personalities as Goodwill Ambassadors  with the objective of creating public awareness about  development issues, and promoting tolerance and peace. Among the nine UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors, six are sports champions: Ronaldo Nazario, Zinédine Zidane, Didier Drogba, Iker Casillas Marta Viera  da Silva and Maria Sharapova  have all agreed to give their time and their images to promote sustainable development through sports. 


A concrete example of one of the most highly-visible activities of the Ambassadors is the annual Match Against Poverty. Held each year since 2003 at  the initiative of star footballers  Zinédine Zidane and Ronaldo, the event serves to raise awareness of the challenges of poverty and to advocate for concerted action to support sustainable development.  More than US$ 4 million has been raised and made available through these matches for selected projects in developing countries and more  than 30 countries have benefited from these funds for poverty alleviating and development projects. The celebration of the 11th anniversary of the Match Against Poverty this year is proof of the important link between sports and development.


Many concrete examples of sport being used to promote positive social change, development, and conflict resolution  have been presented during the two Forums on Sport   for Development and Peace co-hosted by the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee as well as during many other International Forums created on this specific issue. With the introduction of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, the good  initiatives implemented  can be extended and the UN along with the IOC, the Governments, the non-governmental organizations, the sports organizations  and the private sector can build closer ties and multiply partnerships to implement community tailored programmes that use sport for development and peace.


UNDP acknowledges the important work of the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSPD), and the Special Advisor of the UN Secretary General on Sport for Development and Peace, for bringing the worlds of sport and development closer together. The observance of the day will definitely help spread awareness about the importance of  sport as a tool to build a peaceful and better world  and to recognize the potential of sport to create positive social change across the globe. It is also an opportunity for all who believe that sport can be instrumental in the efforts of personal and societal development to unite and celebrate together.



Aziyade Poltier | Aziyade.poltierundp.org