Development from early childhood happens not only inside the classroom, but outside as well. In the school yard, and on playing fields, playgrounds, alleys and back streets around the globe, sport has played a key role in the healthy development of children, and has become an increasingly important tool for reaching out to children - and inculcating their development through engagement in sports.
Sport, recreation and play strengthen the health, minds and bodies of children. Sport possesses a special power and the capacity to change a life by improving psychological and physical well-being. It offers a sense of belonging and connectedness to orphans, street children and former child combatants, and teaches teamwork, sharing, discipline and respect for playing by the rules.
Playing for peace
Since July 2002 - when UNICEF co-chaired a United Nations inter-agency task force with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with the aim of promoting a more systematic and coherent use of sport in development and peace activities - UNICEF has been mobilizing governments to develop comprehensive strategies ensuring the right of every child to play, as called for in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This means encouraging ministries to mobilize resources towards building new playgrounds, fields and stadiums, and developing sports programmes that help to rehabilitate children afflicted by war, poverty, epidemics and other problems.
Playing for peace is an integral part of sport for development. In line with this year’s theme for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE FOR PEACE, the partnership between UNICEF and FIFA supports the idea that in times of conflict, post-conflict and emergencies, sport can provide children with a sense of hope and normalcy. It can help traumatized children integrate the experience of pain, fear and loss.
Sport is a universal language that can help bridge the divides and promote core values necessary for lasting peace. On the playing field, cultural differences and political agendas dissolve.
“One of the benefits of sport is that it brings youth together. Some players who used to be in gangs and militia, and used to loot and rape, have now become sportsmen and are active members in society,” said Salah Hussein, a member of a sports club in Jowhar, Somalia.
A sense of normalcy
Sport for development is also recognized as playing a significant role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In particular, the eighth MDG calls for “concerted action to cultivate a global partnership for development.” Sports programmes can serve as an effective tool for social mobilization and can provide a venue to educate children on health issues such as HIV/AIDS and immunization. Sport also can act as an economic force, providing employment and contributing to local development. It can be a natural draw for volunteer involvement.
UNICEF has worked with countries around the world to build peace through sport by creating a sense of normalcy for children in post-conflict environments and rebuilding their self-esteem and trust in others.
These are just a few of the numerous initiatives supported by UNICEF, using sport, and football in particular, to promote peace, child protection, health and education. UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE FOR PEACE reflects these same objectives, upholding a child’s right to play and furthering child development worldwide.
Written by Jonathan Schienberg.