Posted by: Norman Brook | October 25, 2010

Sport and the Millenium Goals

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested recently that sport could contribute to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

He referred to the UN’s use of sport at the Millennium Development Goal (MGD) summit stating:

“We use sport in many of our programmes. Some of the world’s greatest athletes are helping us to raise awareness on important issues, such as hunger, HIV-AIDS, gender equality, education and environmental care.”

“Millions of other people are active every day all over the world in grassroots and sport-for-all projects. They are using sport to promote democratic values, keeping our youth safe from sexually transmitted diseases, steering them from drug use, taking care of our environment. Let us support these wonderful people, these powerful initiatives.”

Ban Ki-moon made reference to the United Nations collaboration with the Olympic movement and to the success of this summer’s World Cup in South Africa as evidence of the power of sport for positive change.

Working in the space that is Sport for Social Change, I am very happy to have someone of Ban Ki-moon’s standing support the use of sport as a development tool and welcome the United Nations recognitiion of the power and value of sport.  I understand the power of sport and how it can change peoples lives, but I have to admit I am scepical that sport can contribute to achievement of the majority of the Millenium Development Goals.  Sport does contribute to wider development goals, but when one considers the eight Millenium Development Goals it is difficult to see how sport contributes to more than two of the goals in a small way.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty

Whilst a few individuals might be able to use their sporting talents to rise out of poverty, for the majority it will not matter how much time they spend in sport, its not going to provide them with the social mobility they need to rise out of poverty or the food to feed them.  It could be argued that by teaching life skills, sport can develop self efficacy and that this will help individuals rise out of poverty, but I have not come across any evidence to support that this is happening in any significant way.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Sport has helped raise awareness around this MDG through the 1 Goal campaign which was centred around the 2010 World Cup.  It also contributes to primary education by supporting school programmes and by supporting informal education of young people.  This is however a smal contribution, as sport cannot deliver primary education on its own.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and the empowerment of women

Participation of women in sport will help build the character, confidence and self efficacy that girls and women need to move towards a more equitable position. Through taking part in sport, women can also start to challenge negative gender roles and stereotypes; and thus contribute to more equitable gender relationships.  This is one goal that I believe sport can contribute to.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Child mortality rates can be reduced by better health education and health care.  It is hard to see how sport contributes to this challenge except possibly through well known sports personalities lobbying for better health provision.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Again it is hard to imagine that sport has a role in addressing this issue.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Sport for development programmes have been making a contribution to this MDG by promoting positive prevention of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.  They have also been working to reduce the stigma and discrimination that impacts people living with HIV/AIDS.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Sport has been playing its part to address environmental concerns especially through major events and in the sports programme of developed nations.  In the developing world though it is hard to see how sport for social change programmes have really impacted on this MDG.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

Again this MDG falls outside the scope of sport for development.

The two MDGs that I feel sport for development programmes are helping to address are goals 3 and 6.  Despite making only a small contribution to the wider MDGs, sport continues to be a powerful force for good.  It is promoting positive youth development, addressing social issues such as alchohol and drug abuse, creating safe environments and developing the life skills of orphans and vulnerable children including street children, involving people living with HIV/AIDS, and people living with a disability.  Perhaps when we seek to explain the value of sport for development programmes to beneficiaries and donor/sponsors, we need to look at an impact that extends beyond the eight Millenium Development Goals?



  1. Hey Norman,

    Check out this link from Right to Plays website. In Table 1 they outline the contribution of sport to each MDG. I would be interested to hear what you think.


  2. Hi Shawn

    The Right to Play link is

    I think some of the linkages being made here are tenuous. Take MDG 4 goal on Child Mortality for example. The target is to cut by two-thirds the number of children dying before the age of five.

    Most of the causes of death of children under the age of five are preventable with better health care practice. In South Africa HIV/AIDS, diarrheoa, and a lack of pre and post natal care are the biggest causes of death. Sport and other interventions may contribute to increased awareness around these issues, but they are no replacement for improved medical services.

    I find it hard to belief that sport for development interventions could make any significant impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 4. I also wonder if those of us working in the sport for development sector do our cause any justice in the wider development context by making claims that we can contribute to the achievement of all of the Millennium Development Goals. I think sport for development interventions bring many tangible contributions to wider development goals and that we do not need to make tenuous linkages to all eight MDGs.


  3. Oops. I forgot the link in my comment. I agree with your analysis regarding tenuous linkages to the MDGs.


  4. […] a previous article Norman Brook asked whether sport could really be used to address the Millennium Development Goals. […]


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