Despite the growing dynamic around sport for development, school sport remains somewhat underexploited. However, it is an effective means of working towards SDG 4 and contributing to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”

Sport: an instrument of transformation for society and sustainable development

In 2015, The United Nations set the 17 sustainable development goals to be reached by 2030. Although sport is not specifically named in this document, it still makes a real contribution. In 2017, UNESCO specifically recognised it in its Kazan Action Plan as an important factor for achieving 10 of the 17 sustainable development goals, in particular SDG 4, concerning education. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) goes further and claims that sport can contribute to 11 of the 17 SDGs.

In 2018, this addition was recognised by the United Nations itself, with the resolution “Sport as an enabler for Sustainable Development”.

Sport does have a power to transform and great potential for positive social change. This can be seen in several ways. The most obvious aspect is probably the magic and the spectacle it can provide for society, an example of which was Algeria’s victory in the Africa Cup of Nations 2019, and the resulting enthusiasm in that country. A large section of society can be touched by sport. The issues of raising awareness and education which stem from this confer on all the stakeholders in sport a big responsibility and exemplarity in the matter of sustainable development.

At the inauguration of the Yunus Sports Hub, created to solve social problems through sport and with a link to the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus stressed sport’s fundamental contribution to social challenges and the importance of the increasing number of young people who want to do something for the world. It is no longer simply a question of performance, money or feeling good, but of an individual contribution to society. A generation that wants to do something it likes. Sport fits in with this, and everybody agrees about one thing: by mobilising pupils in various settings, formal and informal, school is still the best place for promoting the benefits of physical activity and sport from the earliest age, at a stage in life which lends itself to learning and changing.

Sport, a catalyst for educational dynamics

On one hand, sport contributes to greater scholastic assiduity and better results, by favouring the acquisition of skills not directly transmitted in class, such as self-confidence, discipline and empathy. It can reach a wide range of pupils, arouse the curiosity of young people and thus help to eliminate gender inequality from an early age, an important factor for equity which contributes to a quality education.

On the other hand, in line with SDGs 3 and 4, sport contributes to each pupil’s personal development and to better psychological and mental health for young people, particularly those from difficult areas. It helps combat stress, it prevents dropping out of school and can restore self-confidence to the most vulnerable by giving them a sense of belonging (for example, in team sports) and by empowering them.

In addition, since unfortunately not all children in the world go to school, physical activity and sport can give them an alternative education. Team spirit, the rules of society, fair-play, tolerance and discipline are just some of the many essential life skills provided by participating in sport.

Providing tangible elements to inspire political will

Despite these benefits, sport is still all too rarely exploited by cross-cutting policies. This can be partly explained by the lack of available studies and of reliable, consolidated indicators in the field of sport for development/SDG 4. More research is needed in order to evaluate the scholastic performance of pupils who do sport in a club and those who do not, so as to measure the effect or non-effect of doing sport on better school results. In the same way, if doing sport contributes to better psychological and mental health, which is vital for a quality education, it would be interesting to measure the psychological impact on those who take part in sport. Do they feel better in their body and their mind? Do they improve their capacity for concentration and memorising? Are they less stressed than those who do not do sport?

The increasing dynamic around sport for the SDGs opens the way to numerous possible social innovations concerning sport. For this, an essential first step is the identification of reliable indicators allowing an in-depth evaluation of the impact of sport on education and more generally on society. In the long-term this would make it possible to capitalise on knowledge gained from the studies and projects carried out.

Creating a virtuous circle

If sport can contribute directly to SDG 4, it can also be used as a vector for communication and educating young people about the SDGs in general, and thus about sustainable development in a lively, cross-cutting way. Sport thus forms part of a holistic, people-centred, learning experience, a vital part of learning about life in society and working as a team, which allows young people to be aware of urgent social issues such as peace, poverty and reducing inequality.


This strategic note was written by our partner Sport & Citoyenneté



Photo credits : IM Youth Foundation, Serge Besten Academy