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Commonwealth Debate on the contribution of sport to the Sustainable Development Goals

Tackling “action gap” will boost sport’s role in sustainable development, say debaters

6 April 2019

An all-female team won the 4th Commonwealth Debate on Sport, arguing that “intentional action” is needed to scale sport’s impact on sustainable development.

The debate topic, ‘The contribution of sport to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is limited by a current skills and knowledge gap’, brought out the challenges faced in establishing the role of sport in the global development agenda.

Pointing to the “transformative potential” of sport, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland underlined the need to capture, measure and scale up the many benefits of sport.  

She said: “It is important for us to explore how the potential of this powerful tool for change can be utilised more fully in the Commonwealth - and more widely.  

“That is why the Commonwealth is leading international efforts to develop common approaches to measure the contribution of sport to the Sustainable Development Goals. 

“We are working with a range of governments, United Nations organisations, and some of the foremost specialist sector experts.”

At Marlborough House on Thursday, the winning team - an athlete, an academic and a policy expert, all from different regions of the Commonwealth - made a passionate call for more strategic actions that build on current research.

Associate Professor Emma Sherry of the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia said: “The issue is not that we don’t have the knowledge but we often don’t know how to effectively use it – it’s an action gap, not a knowledge gap.”

Sports policy advisor to the Jamaican Government, Florette Blackwood added that a “lack of adequate evidence based practice and measurement framework” has led to an “undervaluing” sport’s contributions.

Her team mate Joie Leigh, an international hockey player, challenged leaders to act, especially in linking sport and the environment.  

On the other side of the debate, their rivals countered that knowledge and skills – especially those related to the SDGs – are hugely uneven on the ground, both amongst policy makers and practitioners. 

Team members, including Permanent Secretary for Youth and Sports of Mauritius Maubarakahmad Boodhun, Chair of Sport at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) Grant Jarvie and diversity and well-being adviser Hayley Bennett, stressed that unless this expertise is mainstreamed in governments, sports bodies and communities, the sector could not fulfil its wide potential to drive positive global change.

Awarding the debate winners, adjudicator Dame Louise Martin, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) reaffirmed the commitment to ensuring sport was a “catalyst for sustainable development.”

Alongside the event, the Commonwealth held two days of expert meetings on 4-5 April, focused on developing a collaborative global framework to measure the impact of sport on the SDGs. The work delivers on two key global plans - the Kazan Action Plan and United Nations Action Plan on Sport for Development and Peace.

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