Sport is an important team player in the fight against coronavirus

02 April 2020

This year the coronavirus has redefined International Day for Sport for Development and Peace celebrations.

This year the coronavirus has redefined International Day for Sport for Development and Peace celebrations.

With millions across the world under lockdown or restricted by critically important social distancing measures to curb the spread of the disease, images of footballers driving for goal, athletes straining toward the finish line and victory celebrations have been replaced with empty stadiums and silent, deserted streets.

This goliath challenge has affected all aspects of our lives, including robbing us of the social, physical, educational and health benefits that sport has to offer.

During my time keeping wicket in some very talented West Indies Cricket teams, I saw the effectiveness of each member of the team playing their individual roles to the best of their abilities to achieve a collective goal. And as the world grapples with its response to the pandemic, one very important principle that must guide our strategies is the power of teamwork. So, whether your role is on the frontlines of the health system, helping to keep essential services running, or to maintain social distancing, your contributions are an invaluable part of an essential collective effort. This also applies to the collaboration of sectors. In this way, I see sport as a vital team member in the collective assault on coronavirus.

Today I would have attended the Commonwealth’s annual Debate on Sport and Sustainable Development to mark the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. It was due to be held at the University of West Indies Cave Hill Campus in Barbados as part of a Caribbean Regional Forum on Sport and the Sustainable Development Goals, but, unfortunately, it has to be postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Of course, there is no debate that protecting the health and well-being of our families, loved ones and the wider community must be our priority.

But, at a time when so many are unable to participate in their normal activities, it is important to use the opportunity to consider the role of sport and physical activity sector in the midst of this global crisis. Being physically active helps keep us fit and healthy, boosts our mood and helps our cognitive function. As we practice social distancing to help curb the spread of the virus, continuing to exercise in safe ways will be of utmost importance.

In the Commonwealth, we have seen exemplary leadership in ensuring that, alongside the difficult but important decision to cancel sporting events, there is also an emphasis on encouraging people who are well enough to stay physically active. Jamaica’s Move it Monday web cast, the UK’s PE with Joe now viral morning workout and the Special Olympics’ School of Strength online videos are just a few great examples of free resources which are helping millions of young people, and those young at heart, to remain active while staying at home.

It is also heartening to see the Sport Movement mobilise. High profile athletes, teams and leagues have utilised their great potential to promote key messages, communicate en-mass and help influence behaviour. The reach of initiatives like FIFA’s partnership with the World Health Organisation and the National Basketball Association’s ‘Together’ Campaign along with the advocacy of Commonwealth sporting legends such as India’s Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara of the West Indies, and England’s Tom Daley are worthy examples.

The Commonwealth has also analysed the different responses of countries and summarised key lessons for sport Ministries, departments and sporting organisations at different stage of the fight against the virus.

Concrete action by community sport organisations is equally important. These can be simple initiatives such as Basketball Scotland’s #OneMoreBasket campaign which is mobilising the local basketball community to contribute food and other emergency supplies to those in need of assistance; or the work of sport for development organisation, the OSCAR Foundation in raising awareness in India on hygiene and prevention measures. The #sportsolidarity campaign launched by the Centre for Sport and Human Rights is also helping to demonstrate how sport has responded to the pandemic.

Fortunately, lessons learnt in designing sport for development policy and programming over many decades are proving highly relevant as more sport organisations explore ways to contribute to the Coronavirus response. Being clear about the objectives, logic and methodology of any sport-based intervention, ensuring it is complimentary to interventions of health of other community development agencies and effective monitoring and evaluation all stand out as highly applicable.

The Commonwealth usually spends the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace debating how to enhance the contribution of sport to sustainable development. This year, the debates are on hold as we stay home to help our health services, work to bolster the outreach of the sports movement and find the most effective responses to Coronavirus within sport. The value of this work needs little adjudication.