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Special Report
Last Updated: 06/02/2009
Sport as an International Tool for Development and Peacebuilding
Satomi Tsuchiya

Satomi Tsuchiya argues for the greater use of sport in peace and development work, with reference to the great potential of sport to engage youth especially -- of both genders -- in positive social activities that build trust and community.

Sport for Development and Peace?

“Sport has the power to unite people in a way little else can. Sport can create hope where there was once only despair. It breaks down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of discrimination. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.”  – Nelson Mandela

The relation of sport and peace began with the Olympic truce in Ancient Greece. This was the notion of a ceasefire for seven days before and after the Olympic Games in order to permit participants and spectators to travel and return to the events securely (International Olympic Truce Centre, 2004). Unfortunately, sport as a means for development and peace has not become such a prominent notion thus far in history. Even though sport might look irreconcilable with development and peace in general, United Nations (UN) agencies, International federations (IFs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been using sport as a tool for development and peace for the past decade. Sport for Development and Peace is an emerging concept which endorses the fact that well designed sport initiatives can be powerful, practical, and cost-effective tools to aid in development and peace (United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace, 2003). In order to examine activities which utilize sport within the UN system and promote more systematic and constructive use of sport for development and peace, the Secretary-General of the UN assembled the Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace in July 2002. In addition, sport was acknowledged as “a means to promote education, health, development and peace” (UN, 2005) in the UN General Assembly resolution 58/5 in 2003, conceding the importance of sport and physical education for development and peace. The year 2005 was also proclaimed as the International Year of Sport and Physical Education (IYSPE2005) to help accomplish the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). At the same time, The Sports for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) was launched in 2004 as a part of the IYSPE. Currently, numerous governments and NGOs have recognized the value of sport and utilized sport as a tool to achieve MDGs and resolve social affairs in various approaches.

Opportunities and Challenges

Sport in this context is defined as “all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction, such as play, recreation, organized or competitive sport, and indigenous sports and games.” (United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace, 2003. p. v). SDP IWG recognized the strong linkage between sport and MDGs, and identified seven themes with sport in the ‘Toolkit Sport for Development’: Gender, HIV/AIDS, Poverty, Disability, Peace and Reconciliation, Health, and Trauma. According to the UN, sport has been considered as a means to provide benefits in the areas of: individual development, health promotion and disease prevention, gender equality, social integration, peacebuilding and conflict prevention, post-disaster intervention and psycho-social nurture, economic development, and communication and social mobilization. Even though sport alone cannot achieve the objectives of development and peace, it can be a powerful means to contribute in a variety of approaches. Sport can create opportunities for youths to strengthen self-esteem, gain a sense of belonging, and learn responsibility with the constant inclusion of the teams and communities. It has been expressed in a number of reports that participating in sport activities prevents youth from being involved in gangs, drugs and other problems including early pregnancy and HIV/AIDS infection, which is a significant problem in a number of developing countries. Furthermore, sport programs that are combined with health education are efficient at improving health conditions and prevention of disease.

Gender equality is not a simple task to be accomplished due to the diversity of culture and religion in the world. Sport, however, is able to play a significant role in providing the opportunities for that socially excluded population; women and girls. Sport is originally male-dominated and the perception toward women in sport is still problematic in many societies. Girls and women should be exposed to sport in order to improve their well-being and gain equal rights. Not only gender equality, but also inclusion of minority populations such as disabled people, refugees, and indigenous communities can be achieved through sport. These initiatives for social integration are significant to develop and strengthen communities.

Kidd and MacDonnell (2007) stated that “it is essential in peacebuilding that conflicting groups be able to ‘re-humanize’ their vision of each other as part of a reconciliation process that aims for sustainable co-existence” (p. 171). Sport can unite people together and create mutual understanding regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, culture and religion. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (2005) says that “by teaching basic social values such as tolerance, teamwork, fairness and a constructive way of dealing with conflict, it contributes to a culture based on peaceful values and thus also reinforces civil structures” (P. 42). It is clear that sport has a significant ability to connect individuals and groups in the peacebuilding process and transcend segregation and misconception. Moreover, sport allows people to learn important social skills such as conflict management. In the peacebuilding process, sport can be utilized as a healing instrument for the traumatized victims of natural disasters or ex-combatants in post conflict situations. All these elements that are mentioned above are interconnected and sport can have multiple influences in both the individual and community level.

Sport is often seen only as a competition; however, it is vital to take into account that sport can have many more recreational aspects is more than solely a competitive activity. As Kidd and MacDonnell (2007) stated, “sport is full of discrimination; it can be racist, divisive, and can breed intolerance and misunderstanding” (p. 164) and the intrinsic characteristic of sport can cause segregation, disconnection, and escalation of conflict. Although sport as a means for development and peace has been recognized by the UN, a number of governmental agencies, IFs and NGOs, it cannot be denied that sport can be used to promote conflict and stimulate nationalism in a way to mobilize citizens was and has been used to exploit and segregate people in terms of nationality, ethnicity, culture and religion in the past. While sport contains a number of positive aspects, there are also limitations and negative aspects. In order to implement successful sport programs for development and peace, careful and critical consideration of the utilization of sport should be required and we have to understand the complexity of the political, historical and cultural context.

Even though some common sports such as foodball and basketball can contribute a significant effect, they cannot be applied to all communities due to such diversity in the world. Creative games or indigenous sport may be preferred in some cases. What kind of sport is effective in which society? What is the agenda? Is there a need for that program? We have to consider programs from not only our perspective, but through the eyes of the community that is going to benefit from the sport programs. As Galtung (1996) stated, “development is essentially self-development. An Other cannot be the cause of development in self, without harming the autonomy of self. Autonomy is a development goal…” (p.130) in his development theory, the intervention should not be based on outsiders. Spontaneous development will sustain the community and civilians’ well-being, and it enhances the advantage of initiatives through sport. Moreover, cooperation with schools, local community, NGOs and government is required since dialogue and communication with the local community is necessary to seek the needs and conduct successful sport programs’ implementation.

     Due to the diversity of every condition, sport for development and peace cannot be universally applied, but rather, needs to taken in a holistic approach. The ‘Toolkit Sport for Development’ led by UN and other key agencies is essential in this regard so that there is a consistent model for dissemination and implementation of sport for development and peace.


Looking at various values of sport for development and peace, sport is certainly a significant tool in order to achieve MDGs and to tackle social issues in numerous contexts. However, it is indispensable to consider the complexity of sport and implementation in diverse cultural and social contexts while taking into account the negative aspects of sport. As mentioned above, the universal application of sport for peace is not practical; however, the concept of sport for development and peace should be acknowledged more in the international community since it has not been recognized enough and there needs to be a framework which addresses the general principles. Whenever I mentioned my specific field of interest in peace studies, which is sport for peace, it was a very unfamiliar topic for many people and it made me realize that it is incredibly important to disseminate this notion academically and practically so that the efficient utilization of sport in development and peace will be extended. In the field, the collaboration among international organizations, governments, NGOs and local communities is essential to operate sport based initiatives that work towards development and peace and, moreover, further studies to examine cases that have been implemented in the world are needed in order to create a substantial framework of sport for development and peace programs and its evaluation and improvement.


Galtung, J. (1996). Peace by peaceful means: peace and conflict, development and civilization. Oslo: International Peace Research Institute.

International Olympic Truce Centre. (2004). Olympic truce: peace inspired by sport. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from

Kidd, B., & MacDonnell, M. (2007). Literature reviews on Sport for Development and Peace: peace, sport and development. (SDP IWG, Ed.) Retrieved November 18, 2008, from

Lederach, J, P. (1997). Building peace: sustainable reconciliation in divided societies. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group & Right To Play. (2007). Social integration and peace-building. 84-86. Retrieved June 3, 2008, from

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). (2005). Sport for Development and Peace. Bern: Switzerland.

UN. (2005). Final Report International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005. Retrieved June 4, 2008, from'IYSPE final report'

UN. (2007). The millennium development goals report 2007. : United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 6-29. Retrieved June 4, 2008, from

United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace. (2003). Sport for development and peace: towards achieving the millennium development goals. Retrieved November 29, 2008, from

United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace. (2008). Achieving the objectives of the united nations through sport. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from

Satomi Tsuchiya is a master's degree candidate in International Peace Studies between the University for Peace in Costa Rica and Atenao de Manilla University in the Philippines.