AI in sport can help accelerate SDGs - Commonwealth Debate concludes

05 April 2024
Press release
Group photo of speakers at the 8th Commonwealth Debate on Sport and Sustainable Development

If the world is to stay on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, then artificial intelligence (AI) in sports can be harnessed and leveraged to meet those goals faster.

This was the conclusion reached at the 8th Commonwealth Debate on Sport and Sustainable Development held recently in London.

The debate commemorates the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace which is celebrated on the 6th of April annually. This year, a team of experts discussed the motion, 'Artificial Intelligence is the answer to accelerating the power of sport to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030'.

The team advocating for the greater use of AI within ethical frameworks won the debate. Both teams received certificates of participation for their insightful contributions. Speaking on behalf of the winning side, the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Sports TechX, Rohn Malhotra, noted that technology presents both risks and rewards.

He said:

“AI is a powerful tool, but one we must treat very carefully to prevent us from hindering the achievement of the SDG goals”.

The debate was hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, in partnership with the Sports for Development Coalition, on 26 March 2024. The hybrid debate, held at Marlborough House, was broadcast live to 56 member countries. 

It attracted a virtual audience of over 200 people, including high-level athletes, academic experts, sports advocates and young people across the Commonwealth. Over 100 people attended the debate in person, including Commonwealth high commissioners, senior government officials, representatives from Commonwealth accredited organisations, and sports professionals.

Winning team at the 8th Commonwealth Debate on Sport and Sustainable Development
The team arguing against the motion won the 8th Commonwealth Debate on Sport and Sustainable Development. 

Commenting on the power of sport to bring people together, the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General, Dr Arjoon Suddhoo, said in his opening remarks:

“Sport is more than just a game. It is the universal language that can transcend boundaries, cultures and backgrounds. This year’s debate will enable insightful conversations around the opportunities and threats of AI in the world of sport and address how AI-led solutions can impact social development in health, education, and youth engagement.”

He continued:

“The theme perfectly aligns with the Secretary-General’s vision seeking to harness the power of AI for the benefit of our Commonwealth citizens, especially our young people.

"Last September, in the wings of the UN General Assembly, the Secretary-General launched the Commonwealth Artificial Intelligence Consortium (CAIC), which includes global tech firms, world-leading research institutions, non-profit organisations and Commonwealth member countries who have stepped forward to champion AI innovation across the Commonwealth.”

Sprinting towards or away from SDG2030?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, set by the United Nations, recognises sport as an important enabler of sustainable development and peace.  However, the spirited debate raised questions about whether AI keeps the world on track or drives it further away from achieving the SDGs by 2030. 

Director of Research Programs at the Barcelona School of Management and Philosophy of Law at the Pompeu Fabra University, Prof Alberto Carrio, buttressed his argument against the motion by citing instances of how biased algorithms have affected women’s sport and increased inequalities among players and clubs.

In a rebuttal, Preeti Shetty, the Founder and CEO of Upshot, spoke about how AI closes the gender disparity gap even faster because it can use data to identify inequality and highlight disparities, which would enhance fairness in sports and foster peace. 

Reactions from sports enthusiasts

In her comments on how Commonwealth countries can harness the potential industry that can be achieved through sport, the former Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Heritage and Culture in Kenya and the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sport, Enterprise and Development, Ambassador Amina Mohammed, said:

"We project that intra-Commonwealth exports will grow steadily over the next five years, surpassing US$1 trillion by 2026. Facilitating intra-Commonwealth trade, especially by small and medium enterprises, will be important.

"Platforms such as the Intra-Commonwealth SME Association – or ICSA – could enable us to support key Commonwealth events such as the Commonwealth Games and CHOGM."

In addition to the points made by the debaters, vibrant contributions were also made by members of the audience gathered in the room and over 400 on ‘X’ online. They ranged from the unprecedented opportunities AI presents for the sports industry to operate at scale, to threats to sports integrity stemming from the unintended consequences of embracing AI-led solutions without robust legal and ethical frameworks.

Ambassador Amina Mohammed
Former Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Heritage and Culture in Kenya and the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sport, Enterprise and Development, Ambassador Amina Mohammed

In addition, other audience members suggested that data be leveraged to close the gap between larger and smaller nations. Participants also echoed the need to build smart tools to collect, analyse, and prove that sports positively impact social development. Some of the young people in the audience called on sports and technology companies to embrace AI for good by focusing on social development in education, health and youth engagement.

AI is also the focus of much of the Commonwealth’s work. This month will feature the launch of the AI Academy, which will include free online learning options to help Commonwealth citizens leverage the power of AI. One of the first courses, AI for Youth, was curated by technology giant Intel in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat. The course offers six short and information-packed modules to help upskill the 2.5 billion citizens throughout the Commonwealth.

Watch the full debate

Media contact

  • Ijeoma Onyeator  Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat

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