OP ED: The sports sector has the chance to influence change, and children can be the ones to benefit

11 Oct 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

Sport has the power to unite, inspire, and influence. But how can we use the power of sport to solve some of the biggest societal issues, especially those facing children? Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how sport, and athletes, can achieve real, tangible change for children and bring communities together.

Frank Lawley, Sports Partnerships Specialist at The UK Committee for UNICEF, writes how the sports sector can influence change with children being at the forefront of it...

Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are two pertinent examples of using athlete platforms for good, with their campaigns around food poverty and the Black Lives Matter movement respectively. Both were successful in rallying support from inside and outside sport, whilst calling for change at government level. Athletes have also shown that by simply speaking out, about issues such as their mental health, it can be a powerful way to inspire others to do the same – Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka both ignited global conversations around the subject.

It’s clear that the sports industry can have a huge impact when addressing some of the biggest barriers facing children.

Coronavirus continues to be the biggest global crisis for children since World War Two - 150 million more children have been pushed into poverty since the beginning of the pandemic, and countless millions more continue to miss out on education, protection, and care. Despite the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on sports, in particular with major sporting events being delayed and cancelled, the sports sector has stepped up in response to the pandemic.

At The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), partners including Manchester United, and The European Tour supported our Covid-19 Vaccines Appeal, which aims to support the delivery of 3 billion Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments for health workers and the most vulnerable people around the world.

The European Tour alone have committed to donating enough to support UNICEF with the logistics and delivery of over 50,000 Covid-19 vaccines in low-income countries, helping to bring an end to the pandemic and allow frontline workers to safely return to work so that children can access vital services. They have also worked to rally the golf community together to help raise additional funds for the vital cause.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just Covid-19 which is a current threat to children. Climate change and environmental degradation undermine the rights of every child and are a direct threat to a child’s ability to survive, grow, and thrive. Sport has a great opportunity to support future generations in the fight against climate change, and partnerships can be a powerful way to do this.  

Earlier this year we launched our partnership with Formula E, who are currently the biggest global corporate supporter of UNICEF’s climate work. The all-electric single-seater racing championship has committed to support UNICEF’s Safe and Healthy Environment Fund, which aims to create a sustainable, safe, and clean environment for children.

The three-year partnership will help deliver programmes and policy actions to improve the wellbeing of over three million children. Projects supported by the Fund include initiatives to provide schools with sustainable energy solutions and reduce child exposure to air pollution through increased monitoring and advocacy.

Whilst we can use sport for good, we must address the fact that sport isn’t always a safe space for children. That’s why putting children’s rights at the heart of sport is so important, and by doing so it can help to ensure children have fun, learn, and are heard.

For over a decade, UNICEF UK has worked to make sport safer for children. In 2012, we established a global coalition of sport and sport for development organisations to help make sure children are safe in sport. The coalition now has more than 100 members who have taken a pledge to make their sport safe for children and to promote the safe sport message. The Army of Survivors, an organisation founded in the wake of abuse in US Gymnastics, is the latest member to join the initiative.

Thanks to the coalition, The International Safeguards for Children in Sport was born. This framework provides a step-by-step guide to help sports organisations understand where children might not be safe in their activities, take steps to manage these risks, and put systems in place to respond effectively if they are worried a child might be in harm’s way. To date, this tool has helped to reach nearly 50 million children around the world.

There are many opportunities for the sports sector to achieve positive change for children. By understanding how your organisation impacts children’s lives, this can help develop your social purpose. By utilising the platform you have, and the fanbase you inspire, sustainable action can be achieved. Sport inspires children all over the world, but it can also help children to achieve their full potential. We see so often that sport has the power to bring people together – we must use this collective to help children around the world to not only survive, but thrive.