Governments face global upgrade of their sports policies

Photo: Anna Armstrong/Flickr

UNESCO headquarter, Paris. Photo: Anna Armstrong/Flickr

How eager are governments around the world to make a national sports policy making people more active and meeting some of the most important global threats to sport? This will be tested over the next year as UNESCO asks all countries to discuss a new “International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport”

“Even when it has spectacular features, competitive sport must always aim, in accordance with the Olympic ideal, to serve the purpose of educational sport, of which it represents the crowning epitome. It must in no way be influenced by profit-seeking commercial interests.”

If this phrase seems a bit out of sync with modern reality, there is no reason to worry. The phrase is copied from a paper that very few people in sport know the existence of, and even fewer have bothered to consult for the past many years:

It is from UNESCO’s “International Charter of Physical Education and Sport”, written in 1978 and slightly amended in 1991.

Even though this paper was really visionary for its time – for instance it established sport as a fundamental right for every human being – sport has changed so much over the past 36 years that UNESCO has decided to revise the charter.

A charter is not a legally binding document, but a kind of joint inspiration and recommendation paper, which must be approved by all member countries of UNESCO.

Among the many things that have changed considerably since 1978 is the fact that governments nowadays are much more engaged in sports politics.

Integrity threats to sport like doping and match-fixing, often involving organised crime, have pushed governments to cooperate globally with each other and with the sports sector.

And while many countries have experienced a welcomed growth in the citizens’ economy and welfare, the downside has been a steep fall in physical activity, leading to exploding health care and social costs.

The new awareness that we are at risk of becoming expensive couch potatoes is reflected already in the title of the draft document, which is now called “International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport.”

Moreover, the new charter deals with a number of challenges that sports ministers, ministerial staff and non-governmental organisations from more than 125 countries agreed to highlight when they met at the big MINEPS V conference in Berlin in May 2013.

Issues like discrimination of women, protection of athletes especially children, more sustainable mega-events, better integrity in sport, increased public investments in facilities and public spaces are all transferred from the Berlin Declaration to the new draft charter.

Still, the right of each human being to practice sport and physical activity is the pivotal point of the charter, which in the first of its 12 articles clearly states:

“Every human being has a fundamental right of access to physical education, physical activity and sport.”

Main points in the revised charter
First and foremost, the revised charter establishes the access to sport as a fundamental human right. The charter further underlines that this goes for women and girls, all age groups and people with impairments. Educational systems should be adapted to establish a link between physical education activities and education.

If managed suitably, sport can benefit both individuals and society at large by improving the physical and psychological well-being, and by reducing health costs and strengthening civic engagement and social cohesion. Sport is also seen as a mean for reconciliation and should be used to support post-conflict and post-disaster objectives.

This management of sport requires strategic visions and all stakeholders should be given opportunities to exercise their responsibility for developing and supporting sport at large. Public authorities should act by developing and implementing legislation and regulations, while also respecting the freedom of association, and keeping activities economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. This demand for sustainability applies to all stakeholders including the sports goods industry and the parties involved in realising major sports events.

During the practice of sports, safety and risk management must be in place to avoid harmful practices, says article 9 in the charter. Harmful practices also include discrimination, homophobia, trafficking and doping, among others.

Integrity and good governance
The most elaborated article in the draft charter concerns the promotion and protection of integrity and ethical values. The charter states that all parties must collaborate to ensure a coordinated response. Addressing the issue of doping, the charter calls for support of the universally adopted anti-doping rules.

The charter encourages principles of good governance, such as transparent and democratic election procedures, clear provision of funds, and ‘rigorous  enforcement’ of accountability.

The cooperation between public authorities and sports organisations is also encouraged and the charter states that public authorities who provide financial support to sport have ‘a right and duty to control the proper use of the resources’.

Finally, the charter states that the integrity of sport can be protected by encouraging independent journalism as a critical observer.

According to the charter, the development of sport relies on solid research, evidence and evaluation. As such, media plays an important role in disseminating research and by creating awareness about the effects of sport, and should increase cooperation with the scientific community and other stakeholders in order to qualify public debate.

Comments before 16th January
Cooperation is a key word throughout the document and the charter underlines that international cooperation between sports organisations, public authorities and non-governmental organisations is necessary in order for sport to achieve its full beneficiary potential.

The preliminary draft of the revised charter has been sent out to all ministers responsible for relations with UNESCO who will have the opportunity to comment on the draft until 16th January. Comments will then be incorporated in the charter and a final draft is expected to be presented at the UNESCO General Conference taking place this autumn.

Editorial note: Play the Game & the Danish Institute for Sports Studies have been involved in editing the draft charter on various occasions during 2014, giving consultancy free of charge, and have been invited to continue to do so in the process ahead.




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