It is much more than a luxury or a form of entertainment. Sport - whether as a game, as physical activity, or as competition - plays a major role in all societies. It is vital for children’s stability. It provides the ideal framework for developing health and self-confidence; it teaches tolerance, participation, co-operation and respect, both for other people and for established rules. But it also teaches the value of effort and the way to manage winning or losing. All these are building blocks for social relationships.
‘The social role of sport has obviously not just been discovered, explains Jérémie Pellet, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Agence française de développement (AFD, the organisation responsible for implementing French development policy). Coubertin had already identified it as a means rather than an end… But it remains the case that the innovative use of sport encourages social inclusion and helps to solve social or educational problems. There is still great potential for this in many countries! So we are doing our best to press forward in this direction.‘
Building sports grounds or swimming pools in deprived areas, supporting training centres and also educational projects for children... The areas for intervention by development stakeholders are legion. ‘Sport is a tool, says David Blough, from the NGO Play International, which enables us to take action after crises, as well as promoting social development in more normal times. Sport provides a gateway to approach questions in a different way: it is a conduit for engaging the communities which we wish to support.’
The sports economy accounts for almost 2% of global GDP and this figure continues to grow. Hence, for many countries this provides a genuine opportunity in terms of local development and for employment. To help turn these opportunities into reality, France launched a programme of transformation through sport when Liberian President and ex-footballer George Weah was received at the Élysée palace in February 2018. The aims are to create more international partnerships and to support local initiatives encouraging neighbourhood sport and social cohesion.
This is a small-scale cultural revolution: sport moves into the limelight and will henceforth be a key element of France’s foreign policy. ‘Our aim is to strengthen the ties between the world of sport, companies, development stakeholders and organisations to bring forward more development projects’, explains AFD’s Jérémie Pellet. AFD group will play its role of catalyst and facilitator at the heart of this new initiative. It involves using sport to help achieve the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), encouraging local economic sectors through engaging the private sector. Preparations for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, whose main theme is that of ‘Sustainable Games’, will obviously accelerate this momentum.