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People boxing for exercise in a stadium in Tonga

BLOG: How a new sporting course can boost health and community spirit during COVID

28 July 2020
A blog by Saurabh Mishra, Assistant Programmes Officer, Commonwealth Sport for Development and Peace

Activity and sport are necessary parts of young people’s daily rhythm. We go to the gym, not just for the exercise, but also for the opportunity to socialise. A run in the park offers a chance to meet-up and perhaps play a game of football.

The importance of sport and exercise

We also know sport and exercise make important contributions to GDP. Investment in the sector has invaluable social and economic returns, including a boost to employment and health. So, being in lockdown and adhering to social distancing rules has been tough for everyone. 

It will take some time before we can really see the full effects of the pandemic and the extreme but essential measures governments were forced to take to save lives. But we already know the sporting sector has been hard hit by the cancellation of major events and community activities, with dire economic consequences, as well as significant impacts on mental and physical health. 

The Secretariat's priority in developing sport sectors 

COVID-19 has demonstrated why the Commonwealth has made it a priority to help countries develop robust sport sectors. Taking part in sport has improved my physical and mental health, positively influenced my social behaviour and cognitive skills, and directly contributed to my employment as a young person.

I believe that, when scaled correctly, these positive impacts can stretch much further. Through well designed, results-oriented policies and programmes, sport can be a vehicle for development and peacebuilding. It can help:

  • deliver quality education
  • amplify social inclusion
  • boost employment
  • make communities sustainable 
  • reduce crime

Rethinking sport for development

So, it is fortuitous that before the pandemic, we had been working on a new programme to help countries leverage the benefits of sport. In collaboration with the Australian Government and sportanddev.org (online platform), we have launched the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) ‘Sport for Sustainable Development: Designing Effective Policies and Programmes’.

Available free-of-cost to everyone in the Commonwealth, the new initiative aims to help address the pre-COVID-19 challenges facing leaders in engaging populations in sport and activity, as well the new issues we face as a result of the pandemic.

Course participants will explore the benefits and limitations of using sport in development strategies and focus on innovations to deal with emerging challenges such as pandemics. They will learn to design, implement, and measure the impact of sport policies and programmes.

The course will fill an important gap, because it will allow learners to apply lessons to specific opportunities and challenges in their communities, addressing issues such as:

  • gender equality 
  • disability
  • human rights
  • social inclusion
  • peacebuilding
  • child safeguarding

 Benefits of sport

The aim is to ensure everyone enjoys the positive benefits of sport. Pre-COVID-19 research indicates only one in 500 children across the globe have access to sport for development programmes. And four out of every five adolescents in school do not engage in levels of physical activity necessary to enjoy the potential health and wellbeing benefits.

Post-COVID-19 research is expected to show a decline in these already worrying figures. Innovatively designed to be people-centred, our MOOC course will ensure more of our populations, from more diverse backgrounds - including women and girls, older people, marginalised and disadvantaged groups - can get involved in sporting activities.

Learn more

The course is made available on FutureLearn from 20 July. Sign up for the Course.

If you have any questions about the course, please contact the Commonwealth Sport for Development and Peace team at [email protected].