Interview: Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO

Questions related to “the international institutions’ commitment to Sport for Development” article for Sport en Commun:

1) Currently, what is the main role of UNESCO in Sport for Development and Peace? Guiding governments’ actions in Kazan Plan framework? Promoting educative tools and sharing good practices on/in SDP? Others?

As the United Nations’ lead agency for sports, integrity in sports and physical education, UNESCO promotes sport as core for well-being and also as a tool for sustainable development, social inclusion and gender equality. We support and advise Member States on effective sports policies and we encourage them to systematically invest into sport and physical education as high impact solutions to build healthier and more resilient societies. This is particularly true after the COVID pandemic with its legacy of mental health problems. But sports is also an empowering tool, that can open the door for women and youth to fulfil their full potential.

UNESCO’s Sport Section, in conjunction with our partners is building the evidence and the tools to set the tone for sport development in the years to come.  It is underscoring that investment in sports has real economic returns, but it is also core for better learning processes, better health and better social interactions. The positive impact of sports for gender equality, peace building and youth empowerement and employment has been demonstrated time and time again.[1]. Grassroots organizations know this, sport ministers are starting to realize this, but development banks and financial sectors of most government have some way to go.  Therefore, UNESCO is putting these dots together. With our intergovernmental platforms (CIGEPS and MINEPS), our outreach, and our ever-growing connections, we are bringing together key stakeholders - Member States, organizations, experts, development banks, among others - to achieve truly amazing development goals, and develop the indicators to prove it.

In alignment with the Kazan Action Plan, our goal is to bring a comprehensive vision to sustainable development through sport. This vision is already manifest in our work with the Sport for Development Coalition, our new sport-based initiative, Fit for Life, and our commitment to providing platforms for a synthesis of perspectives to come together on a new way forward for sport.

One of the most inspiring developments we are working on is the collective promotion of Social Outcomes Contracting (SOC), a relatively new model of funding that measures the power of sports for economic, health, and social outcomes. This model allows a funding provider to see in clear, empirical measurements, the outcomes that will come from investing in sport (including social and educational outcomes), and to invest based on a contract constructed on these metrics. In the coming years, we hope to show the world how convincing these numbers can be. It is going to be a fantastic tool for our bigger mission of encouraging systematic investments in sport and physical education as part of the recovery plans.


2) One of the UNESCO priorities is Africa. Could you briefly feature the UNESCO commitment in SDP on the continent? Is there an SDP flagship project supported by the UNESCO in Africa that we could highlight in the article?

Africa is a global priority for UNESCO, and this is why we are proud to have joined the Sports for Development Coalition promoted by the Development Cooperation agencies of several donor countries, along with a group of development banks. They understand that development is about infrastructure, about skills, and about social cohesion, and all these are promoted by the practicing of sports. We will be working with them with specific activities in Africa.  

UNESCO’s field offices in Africa have also launched various initiatives and partnerships with African sports organizations for this purpose.

For example, the UNESCO’s Office in Abuja launched the initiative "Promoting the Values of Sport through Education, Health and Governance of Sports Federations in Africa" which aims to implement the Kazan Action Plan at the continent level. Moreover, on the occasion of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (6 April) 2020, UNESCO collaborated with PAYNCOP and other organizations to organize the ‘Sports Challenge against COVID-19" event, which has seen the participation of numerous young people across the continent. with the collaboration with PAYNCOP also resulted in the organization of webinars having engaged and  sensitized young Africans on the positive influence of sport on mental health, social inclusion and peacebuilding[2].

This year, UNESCO signed a partnership agreement with AASC-UCSA to organize sports events and campaigns which emphasize the role of sport as tool of peacebuilding and development. Special attention will be given to include young people with disabilities in sports, reduce violence in schools, and combat drug use through sports.


3) The Fit for Life initiative has just been launched. Could you briefly describe this initiative and its main purposes?

Fit for Life aims to address three major contemporary crises: the decline of physical health, the deterioration of mental well-being, and the increase of inequalities, with an impact on social cohesion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decline of 41% in physical activity since the beginning of the pandemic, with the most disadvantaged social groups worst hit. This rapid decline is especially alarming considering that 80% of youth already led sedentary lives pre-pandemic. Furthermore, lockdowns combined with a lack of physical activity have contributed to spikes in anxiety and depression, with 200% increases in mental health conditions reported amongst youth cohorts (OECD). These profound global issues that undermine social and individual resilience, are interconnected by shared structural roots, and have been exacerbated by COVID-19.

In this context, sport is a powerful instrument to promote social inclusion, gender equality and sustainable development. Fit for Life is designed to build the evidence on the impact of sports in all these domains. We will prove that investing in sports is a low hanging fruit when integrating post COVID recovery packages.


The initiative has five main objectives:

1 - Increase grassroots participation in sport and quality Physical Education to reduce inactivity and chronic disease (physical and mental);

2 - Support the development of quality and inclusive sport policies which drive health, education and equality outcomes

3 - Use values education through sport to empower young people, promote equality and build socio-emotional resilience

4 - Support teachers and coaches to promote and deliver quality, student-centred sport education curricula

5 - Build evidence to support targeted investments in sport as an accelerator of COVID-19 recovery


4) What is the UNESCO role within the Sport for Development Coalition? How is this initiative progressing?

Within the Sport for Development Coalition, UNESCO is coordinating one of the Coalition's working groups (WG II) whose objective is to create a safe investment environment for potential partners in sport for development.  The Coalition is made up of  like-minded organizations who have pledged to increase their  financial resources dedicated to the SDG’s and building their investments and expertise to achieve them.

This Coalition is a fantastic platform for UNESCO to bring together partners and realize the potential of sport to fulfil SDG 3 (health and well-being), 4 (education), 5 (gender), 11 (inequalities) and 17 (partnerships) among others. Through this coalition, we are connecting with partners of all kinds; gaining a real opportunity to bring groups together in favour of their development projects. One way we do this is by approaching sport ministries of UNESCO member states. We will organize events and conference, to advance this agenda, including our World Conference on the Ministers of Sports (MINEPS VII) this year. We want to provide ministers of sport a powerful evidence-based toolset to approach financial institution and get the funding they need. The next such event will take place in January 2022 in the context of the Global Goal Week at the Dubai Expo. We are at a point where recent data from partners such as UEFA is measuring the impact of sport projects at valuations of over 30 billion euros per year in the case of amateur football alone.[3] This data model is applicable broadly, and we are bringing it to new funding partners through our involvement in the Coalition. Furthermore, these high valuations not only reflect the economic benefit of sport for development, but the cost savings and gains in education, and other social dimensions.

Thanks to our involvement in the Sport and Development Coalition we are in direct contact with development banks and are bringing these powerful organizations together with partners at all levels; government ministers, NGOs, and most importantly, grassroots programmes, who make the biggest on-the-ground difference in so many people's lives.

In short, for sport to effectively be this vector – this enabler – of sustainable development, social projects based on sport need appropriate funding. We are making this happen in the coalition.


Read more about the role and involvement of UNESCO in the sport for developement sector.

[1] UEFA’s new Grow SROI Model is one of the most convincing evidences/metrics systems that we are using for sport and development financing UEFA Explainer: valuing European football's social return on investment

[2] One example is the webinar on the theme of ‘Harnessing the Power of Sport in a time of Crisis: Engaging African Youth in the Fight against COVID-19 and beyond’ which tackles challenges caused by the pandemic, organized in April 2021.

[3] Referring here to UEFA’s new Grow SROI Model, which is one of the most convincing evidences/metrics systems that we are using for sport and development financing UEFA Explainer: valuing European football's social return on investment