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Sport Policy in Canada

Lucie Thibault
Jean Harvey

Section I. An overview of sport policy in Canada

Chapter III. Canada and Sport for Development and Peace

Bruce Kidd

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  • 1 The best source for policies, programs, research, and resources is the International Platform on S (...)

1Canadian policy makers, sport leaders and athletes eager to tackle the most pressing developmental challenges of our times have been at the forefront of the growing international effort to recruit sport and physical activity to the cause, the movement known as sport for development and peace (SDP). The idea is to use sport as an explicit strategy to help realize the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals with respect to basic education, gender equality, the treatment and prevention of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), infant and maternal health and the creation of sustainable global partnerships and similar ambitions such as the Commonwealth’s goals of development and democracy and la Francophonie’s goals of peace, democracy and human rights (Black, 2010; International Platform on Sport and Development, n.d.; Kidd, 2008; Levermore & Beacom 2009).1 To this end, Canadians have helped apply the best Canadian technical knowledge, such as the coaching development curricula of the National Coaching Certification Program, to other countries and cultures, and created innovative new programs such as the Commonwealth Sport Development Program (CSDP) and the Canadian Sport Leadership Corps. They have successfully lobbied diplomats and bureaucrats at the United Nations, in the Commonwealth and the Francophonie to insert SDP into their agendas, have contributed research, monitoring and evaluation and provided some of the resources to bring about implementation. They have created enabling legislative, policy and administrative support for these initiatives in the federal government in an effort to integrate SDP into the network of state and sport organizations known as the Canadian sport system.

  • 2 In April 2010, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added women’s ski jumping to the Olympic (...)

2SDP is not the only international Canadian initiative of recent years. As other chapters in this collection illustrate, Canadians continue to successfully bid for, and stage, major games and championships. Canadians have been in the forefront of the creation and leadership of the World Anti-Doping Agency, especially its testing protocols and educational programs. Sport Canada has negotiated bilateral agreements with nine other countries, primarily for the purpose of giving Canadian athletes and coaches privileged access to opportunities abroad. Canadians have also contributed significantly to the ongoing advocacy and policy development on women’s issues, through their support of the International Working Group on Women and Sport and of other feminist organizations and women’s causes. Not all of these interventions have been fruitful. Despite the opposition of Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee imposed a male-only ski jumping event and reinstituted the sexist gender verification test at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver (e.g., Vertinsky, Jette, & Hoffman, 2009).2 It is unclear whether Canadian efforts to abolish the femininity protocols recently reinstituted by the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletic Federations will be successful (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, 2012; Dreger, 2011). Nevertheless, these efforts contribute to the portrait of Canada as a progressive, fair-minded sport nation.

3While Canadian successes in, and contributions to, international sport have their greatest impact upon “the image Canadians have of themselves,” as former prime minister Pierre Trudeau noted during the 1968 federal election, they also open doors for Canadian diplomacy, trade agreements, immigration, and tourism (Kidd, 2001, p. 4). Canadian efforts in international sport are continual and multifaceted (Kidd, 2001). For the purposes of this chapter, the focus will be upon SDP.

  • 3 Gopalan spoke at the media conference organized by the Australian Sport Outreach Program, Australi (...)

4SDP contributes in much the same way to the image of Canada both at home and abroad. Canadian-based non-government organizations (NGOs) such as Commonwealth Games Canada’s International Development through Sport (CGC IDS) and Right to Play (RTP) have inspired hundreds of athletes, physical educators and coaches to volunteer and work in the least developed countries and thousands in the general public to contribute money, sport equipment, books and technology. Canadian policy makers have kept Canada’s name before decision makers at the United Nations, Commonwealth and Francophonie, while passionate athletes and sport leaders in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East show children and youth in impoverished and war-torn communities that ‘Canada cares’ on the ground. Arguably, SDP reaches further beyond the traditional sport communities than any international effort other than the staging of major games. Prior to the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, 12 Commonwealth prime ministers wrote Prime Minister Chrétien extolling the CSDP and urging that it be renewed. After a series of panels and demonstrations brought SDP to the attention of economists, agriculturalists, epidemiologists, health workers and social workers at the 2006 World AIDS conference in Toronto, Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, wrote that “sport is not instinctively seen as a vehicle for social development but used creatively, it can involve, educate, protect and mobilize the young people who participate” (as cited in Commonwealth Games Canada, 2002, p. 2). Anjali Gopalan, founder and director of the Naz Foundation, an NGO that combats HIV/AIDS in India, claimed much the same at a media conference directed at foreign aid professionals during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. “I never thought sport would be appropriate to our work, but it can have a transformative effect upon marginalized people, especially young women in rural areas,” she explained. “You can see it in the way that they carry themselves after they pick up a sport, the way that they want to go back to school, the way that they look beyond traditional expectations. It’s very powerful” (CSDP, 1998, p. 12; Gopalan, 2010, personal communication3).

5This chapter examines the origins, initiatives, achievements and shortcomings of Canadian contributions to SDP. In addition, policy lessons for Canadian involvement in SDP are also presented. I will argue that despite many innovative programs, the actual investment in SDP leaves much to be desired and the results uncertain. Like other areas of sport policy, SDP remains isolated within the sport sector, with few effective links to the major instruments of development in education, health and youth policy. Moreover, at the very time when international organizations like the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations and the Commonwealth are stepping up their efforts to make SDP more effective, the Canadian government is pulling back. I write as a committed but critical insider. I have been a participant in many of the decisions affecting this movement in Canada from its origins in the early 1990s, served for a time as the volunteer chair of CGC IDS, and currently chair the Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport. I am proud of what has been attempted and confident that good programs can contribute significantly. At the same time, I believe that many of the claims outdistance the evidence, and fear that some programs reinforce the unequal power relations they are intended to overcome. I will conclude with recommendations for effective interventions.


  • 4 The term ‘sport for good’ was coined by Donnelly (1993). For early examples, see Cavallo (1981), K (...)
  • 5 See Kidd (1996), Chapter II, “The making of men” pages 44–93.

6SDP is a renewed expression of the ambition of ‘sport for good’ that dates back to the nineteenth century. ‘Sport for good’ can be distinguished from ‘sport for sport’s sake’ in that it employs sport explicitly as a means to a social end. It has been pursued by evangelists, educators, and ‘moral entrepreneurs’ of many different backgrounds and ideologies, including Christians in the YMCA and Catholic Youth Organizations, reforming Jews in the Young Hebrew Associations, secular urban reformers in the playground movement, socialists and trade unionists in the Worker Sport Associations, and immigrant sport associations in the burgeoning cities of Canada and the United States.4 Probably the best known advocate was the Christian Socialist Thomas Hughes. His nineteenth-century runaway best-seller, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, so successfully publicized the belief that sport has educational and civilizing power that ‘sport for good’ has remained an aspiration of school, college and university sport virtually around the globe ever since (MacAloon, 2010). His ideals had particular resonance with the early leaders of Canadian amateur and Olympic sport, who intended their activities to teach the values and habits of citizenship while inspiring Canadian nationalism5 (Kidd, 1996, 2010). Many advocates of ‘sport for good’ took their programs to other countries and communities. Early in the twentieth century, for example, the YMCA and the amateur sport movement introduced sport into many parts of the then colonized world, and prominent Canadians contributed. John Howard Crocker, the manager of the 1908 Canadian Olympic Team and later the first director of physical education at The University of Western Ontario, helped the YMCA introduce several Western sports into China, and served as the manager of the 1915 Chinese team that participated in the third Far Eastern Athletic Games, the precursor to today’s Asian Games. In 1959, at a time when the British Caribbean colonies were in the final stages of their long struggles for independence, Olympic leader Jim Worrall took a team of track and field athletes to British Guyana and Trinidad for a series of coaching clinics and demonstrations (International Centre for Olympic Studies, n.d.; Torres, 2006; Worrall, 2000). There are strong parallels between these earlier efforts and those of today.

7The first Canadian programs in what has become SDP were created by men and women imbued with these values. The context was the radically transformed international landscape opened up by the end of the Cold War (the worldwide political, economic, and military competition between capitalist and communist countries), the rise of neo-liberal globalization and the fall of apartheid (South Africa’s system of compulsory racial classification that brutally subordinated the non-white majority) in the early 1990s, and the spirit of optimism and innovation that these changes inspired. The challenges and opportunities presented by the aftermath of apartheid were particularly significant. During the 40-year struggle to contain and eradicate such legalized racism, South Africans opposed to apartheid had asked their counterparts in other countries to ‘say no,’ to isolate the white apartheid establishment through sanctions and boycotts. In sport, this meant the systematic refusal to play against South African athletes, the suspension and expulsion of South African teams from the international federations in every sport and public protests against them whenever they managed (through complicit governments, dual passports, or forged identities) to appear in international competitions. The strategy was to show the supporters of apartheid the world’s moral revulsion and to express solidarity with the oppressed majority through the symbolic denial of politics inherent in sport. Led by the South African exiles in the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee and the Supreme Council of Sport in Africa, it became an internationally co-ordinated campaign (Ramsamy, 1982). With the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the clear end of apartheid in sight, the African leaders of the international campaign began to ask their allies to ‘say yes,’ to help them build a non-racial and democratic South Africa and rebuild the adjoining states of southern Africa that had suffered economic and social damage during the long struggle (Kidd, 1991).

8The Commonwealth, the 54-government body that grew out of the British Empire, had long been an important site of the campaign against apartheid. South Africa was once a British colony, and its strongest economic and sport relations were with Commonwealth countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Moreover, the presence of a repressive, white supremacist government at the foot of the continent was a bitter affront to the newly independent Commonwealth nations of Africa. The Commonwealth became the first international body to expel South Africa, in 1961, and in 1977, in the Gleneagles Agreement, the Commonwealth prime ministers made opposition to apartheid sport a condition of participation in the Commonwealth Games. In 1991, the prime ministers committed themselves to bringing the fight against apartheid to a successful conclusion and establishing a free, democratic, non-racial, and prosperous South Africa. In their declaration, they stressed the unique role that sport could play in fostering development and established the Commonwealth Committee on Cooperation through Sport to oversee this work (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, 1991). The Committee was to be chaired by Roy McMurtry, the distinguished Canadian politician and jurist who had served as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom during the last stormy years of apartheid, and staffed by Canadian foreign affairs sport officer Ann Hillmer. As a university student, McMurtry spent his summers as a volunteer for Frontier College, teaching English to immigrant workers in mining and lumber camps, using sports to give them a sense of community and life skills. The experience made him a lifelong advocate of ‘sport for good.’

9There were enabling forces at play within Canadian sport as well. The public hearings held by the Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance (i.e., Dubin inquiry), appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s disqualification for steroids at the 1988 Olympic Games, unleashed an outpouring of ‘sport for good’ sentiment and proposals for reform. Justice Dubin (1990) reflected this spirit in his final report, arguing that while “the pursuit of excellence is worthwhile and should be encouraged” (p. 526), the ultimate purpose of sport should be “a means of unifying Canadians, preserving our identity, redressing gender inequalities and discrimination against the disabled and minorities, and improving the health of our citizenry and the vitality of our society” (p. 524). He concluded that unless these “worthy social and national objectives” are realized, “then there is no justification for government support and funding of sport” (Dubin, 1990, pp. 524–525). Dubin’s report led to a new regime of anti-doping education and testing, and reinvigorated campaigns for equity, fair play, and athletes’ rights at every level of Canadian sport. Many provincial, municipal, and university gender equity policies stem from this period. Another important achievement of the period was the creation by national team athletes of a new organization, the Canadian Athletes Association (later renamed AthletesCAN), to collectively bargain for national team athletes with Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Association, and the Commonwealth Games Association, and to give them voice and vote on decision-making bodies. The leaders of the Canadian Athletes Association became influential supporters of sport for development. At the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, for example, Canadian Athletes Association president, Ann Peel, obtained signatures from athletes from all participating countries on a petition calling for member governments to invest in sport for development. The petition, known as ‘the Victoria Declaration,’ noted:

Because of the extraordinary opportunity we have enjoyed to represent our countries and achieve personal goals, we believe that all citizens should enjoy the benefits of development through sport. But as we look around our societies, only a minority of young people has access to quality programs of sports and physical activity. In disadvantaged communities, opportunities are rare. Many social ills facing our brothers and sisters today—drug dependency, senseless violence, despondency and defeatism—stem from the lack of opportunities to develop themselves. Sport can help.
We would like to give something back for what we have received. But there is little opportunity to do so. We therefore call upon the Commonwealth Heads of Government to enable us to make our contribution to education, social development and intercultural understanding. We ask you to improve opportunities for all citizens to participate in sports and physical activity. In particular, we ask you to create programs in which athletes, coaches, officials and teachers contribute to the urgent task of development through sport in the disadvantaged countries and communities of the Commonwealth.

10Similar forces were at work in other countries. In Scandinavia, SDP grew out of the region’s longstanding commitment to international development, and a history of youth volunteering. In the UK, it was prompted by the ambition of the ‘New Labour’ government of Tony Blair to forge ‘active citizenship’ and strengthen social capital. In the European Union, as Donnelly, Atkinson, Boyle, and Szto (2011) have written:

as national sport policies in Europe during the 1990s began to revive this view of sport—claiming that participation in sport could assist in, for example, the reduction of delinquent behaviour, improved health, and social inclusion/community building/immigrant integration—it became a straightforward proposition to apply these views to a new wave of international development initiatives. (p. 595)

11During the spring and summer of 1992, McMurtry and Hillmer convened a group of Canadian sport leaders to plan the creation of a Canadian program. They included Ann Peel, Canadian Athletes Association; Judy Kent, Commonwealth Games Association of Canada; Geoff Gowan, Coaching Association of Canada; Richard Pound, International Olympic Committee; and Lyle Makosky, Ministry of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport. It was quickly agreed that the program should focus on the Commonwealth countries, especially those in southern Africa, be undertaken in collaboration with partners in those countries employing the needs-based, consultative approaches developed in Canadian adult education and community development, and where appropriate, draw upon the experience of well-established Canadian programs. While some of us hoped that the new international program would be conducted by government, Sport Canada did not see itself in this role, preferring instead to pursue its objectives through a subsidized armslength organization in the same way it pursues domestic objectives through the subsidized national sport organizations (NSOs). After considerable discussion, the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada (now Commonwealth Games Canada) agreed to house what became the Commonwealth Sport Development Program, on the understanding that the costs would come entirely from government and other external sources.

12At times, this relationship has caused distrust, with partners and participants wondering whether the program was in the right place. But what began as a ‘location of convenience’ has generally worked satisfactorily, and in the eyes of this contributor, has given Commonwealth Games Canada a new lease on life. The CSDP began as a five-year pilot in 1993, with CA$ 3.375M in total funding from the Canadian International Development Agency and Sport Canada. It was renewed in 1998 (CA$ 3.432M for five years), 2003 (CA$ 3M for three years) and 2006 (CA$ 4.523M for five years). The federal government also began to support sport development on a project-by-project basis in Francophone Africa; to provide multi-year block funding to the Toronto-based, international NGO Right to Play; and to support peace-building NGOs in the Middle East and the Americas. But the CSDP always held pride of place as the child of the Canadian sport system.

From Sport Development to Development through Sport

13Initially the CSDP sought to enhance the capacity of the sport systems in African, Asian, and Caribbean Commonwealth countries by assisting with strategic planning and the training of coaches, referees, administrators, and athletes. For example, in Zimbabwe, it worked closely with the National Sport and Recreation Commission, the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee, and other donors such as UK Sport, the Australian Sports Commission, and the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports to develop a comprehensive, multi-year strategic plan that could drive and co-ordinate investment and programming. It helped sport leaders in recipient countries adapt the National Coaching Certification Program to local conditions, in some cases translating materials into indigenous languages (e.g., Tamil and Sinhala in Sri Lanka), and to recruit and train coaches. In the Caribbean, it worked with the National Olympic Committees and other partners to create the Caribbean Coaching Certification Program, with theory and sport-specific components in cricket, netball, and soccer, a sport management module, and a workshop to combat the use of performance-enhancing and recreational drugs. The focus was ‘train the trainers,’ with the preparation of local course instructors in master classes and scholarships for outstanding leaders at the National Coaching Institute in Victoria, BC. The metrics were impressive. In 1997–1998, for example, 653 women and men (346 and 307, respectively) from nine Caribbean islands completed at least one of the modules (CSDP, 1998, p. 38). The CSDP also worked with regional governments to strengthen school-based physical education, and with colleges and universities to introduce courses in sport management. By 2000, it had regional offices in Barbados and Zimbabwe (a third in Sri Lanka was abandoned in 1999 when the civil war made activities too dangerous), and conducted programs in 13 African and Caribbean countries. By 2008, that number had increased to 23.

14From the beginning, the CSDP sought to broaden the base of participation, focusing on girls and women, persons with disabilities, and children and youth ‘at risk.’ In Zimbabwe, for example, it helped establish Aerobics for Mothers, an intervention designed to address maternal and infant health in rural areas, preparing an instructor’s manual, training instructors, and supplying audiotapes and portable radio/cassette players. The program became a runaway success. By 2002, 111,300 women had participated. The CSDP assisted the Zimbabwe Association of Sport for People with a Disability develop the sports of goalball, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair track and field, sponsoring clinics and competitions. It financially supported African and Caribbean NGOs devoted to disadvantaged people, such as the Mathare Youth Sports Association, which has used soccer in imaginative ways to improve the education, environment, and safety of children in a Nairobi slum (Brady & Banu Khan, 2002; Mathare Youth Sports Association, n.d.; Willis, 2000), and Project Strong, a St. Kitts program that combines sport, life skills, and apprenticeships in an effort to help teenage school drop-outs become employable.

15These relationships, and the changing landscape of international development, pushed the CSDP well beyond the sport sector and the familiar challenges of preparing facilities, coaches, and athletes for organized competition. It quickly became evident that the sport systems in the least developed countries and the ‘small states’ of the Caribbean and southern Africa could not be strengthened without simultaneously strengthening the education, health, economic well-being and human rights of these societies. In Africa in particular, the terrifying epidemic of HIV/AIDS and the widespread scourge of poverty made organized sport difficult for all but a very few. Moreover, the message from the Canadian International Development Agency and other aid organizations was that simply strengthening the capacity for sport for sport’s sake was not a priority, and that the CSDP needed to contribute in a more broadly based way to the priorities of social and economic development.

16The consensus forged at the United Nations around the eight Millennium Development Goals (approved in 2000) heightened the urgency of this approach. So did the example of the remarkable athlete-led organization, Olympic Aid, created at the time of the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer by four-time gold medalist Johann Olav Koss and other Norwegian champions. Seeking to give something back, they began a program of sportfocused humanitarian assistance. At first, they donated their own prize money for vaccinations and emergency food and clothing to children in war-torn Sarajevo and Afghanistan. But slowly, they applied what they knew best—sport—and initiated a range of programs in refugee camps in some 23 countries around the world, raising money by auctioning other Olympic athletes’ equipment and energetically pursuing public and private donors. In 2003, they broke away from the Olympic Movement and formed their own NGO, Right to Play (RTP). Although RTP has sometimes struggled to align its activities with locally-identified priorities, its programs have always been directed at those outside the established sport sector.

17In this changing climate, the CSDP gradually broadened its focus to ‘international development through sport.’ This ‘natural evolution’ was first articulated in a ‘framework paper’ published in the fall of 2000:

During its first three years, the CSDP focused on development of sport. It has strengthened sport systems and institutions, increased individual capacities, and established successful sport and physical activity programs. ... A major outcome of these efforts has been the realization that, in addition to inherent value (development of leaders, team building, perseverance, goal setting, self-esteem, and healthy lifestyles), sport has the added value of reaching further into the lives of individuals and communities to address basic human and societal needs. This realization has led to the development through sport concept. Now sport is also used to
• Alleviate the negative effects of poverty;
• Help individuals achieve basic health and education;
• Reach out to youth, particularly youth at risk;
• Raise awareness of women’s rights and issues;
• Reach out to people with a disability;
• Build communities and instill local pride and peace.
The development through sport concept enables sport and physical activity to have a broader reach and a more powerful impact upon the lives of individuals and communities. (CSDP, 2000, pp. 1–2, emphasis in original)

18The shift was accompanied by a new program, the Commonwealth Sport Leadership Corps, which sent active and retired national team athletes and recent graduates from Canadian university programs of physical education and kinesiology to internships in Africa and the Caribbean, and eventually (in 2002) a new name, Commonwealth Games Canada International Development through Sport. CGC IDS strengthened the focus on needs- and asset-based strategic planning as a first step in intervention, and gradually shifted its partnering from the sport community to government departments and NGOs working in development. Aerobics for Mothers became the human face of this shift (until the Canadian government forced CGC IDS to withdraw from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in 2002). The trainers were public health nurses, not master coaches; none of the intended recipients were ever expected to participate in organized sport competition. Another major focus of CGC IDS in southern Africa became the battle against HIV/AIDS. It was felt that the popular messages of sport could be marshaled against stigmatization, and help children and youth navigate the difficult shoals of adolescent sexuality without becoming infected. In Zambia, for example, there was a desperate need for preventive education: while 29% of the adult population 15 years of age and older was considered to be infected with the virus in 2000, only 7% of those younger than 15 were infected. The challenge was to keep the 93% uninfected. In co-operation with other international and Zambian donors and NGOs, CGC IDS contributed to the Kicking AIDS Out Network, which developed and conducted a sport-based program about healthy lifestyles, including healthy sexuality. It also contributed to the lobbying that led the Government of Zambia to make physical education, with a focus on preventive education about HIV/AIDS, a compulsory and examinable subject in Zambian state schools. In Botswana, it brought the Kicking AIDS Out approach to a partnership designed to engage unemployed youth through soccer, in co-operation with the South East District, the City of Toronto, and the Mathare Youth Sports Association. In Namibia, it provided a steady stream of interns to Physically Active Youth, a sport-based after-school academic enrichment and health education program designed to reverse an alarmingly high school drop-out rate in the slum of Katatura, while combating the growth of HIV/AIDS (City of Toronto, n.d.; Kicking AIDS Out Network, n.d.; Njelesani, 2011; Physically Active Youth (P.A.Y.) Namibia, n.d.). The CGS IDS never completely abandoned sport development. Moreover, as Canadian cities bid for Olympic and Commonwealth Games, sport development programs were used with effect with voters from the African and Caribbean countries. But for the ensuing decade, the overarching focus became development through sport (e.g., Commonwealth Games Canada, 2004).

Establishing the Policy Framework

  • 6 G7 or Group of 7 countries consisting of a meeting of finance ministers from seven industrialized (...)

19The early success of sport for development raised hopes that CGC IDS could be rapidly expanded. Yet it proved difficult to win significant additional financial support from either the Canadian sport community or the major national and international agencies that funded development. With the gutting of Sport Canada in the financial cuts of the Paul Martin budgets of the 1990s, there was little appetite for new ventures in other countries. When some funding was restored after 2000, the overarching focus was domestic sport. In 2002, Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps proposed that the Canadian Sport Leadership Corps be grown to 100 interns but she was unable to win support from the Treasury Board. Among the development community, the elitist image presented by middleclass Olympic and highly paid professional athletes and the long history of ‘white elephant’ facilities from major games gave funders little confidence that sport could actually improve the lives of ordinary people, let alone those struggling with poverty, conflict and disease. Moreover, official development assistance was being cut back dramatically at the very time the first programs of sport for development were being tested. Between 1992 and 1997, the G7 countries reduced their contributions by US$ 13B or 20%, with devastating impacts upon the countries affected.6 Few donor countries came close to attaining the target of 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product agreed upon by member-countries of the United Nations in 1970. Although the target had been championed by a former Canadian prime minister, Lester ‘Mike’ Pearson, Canada was no exception, contributing less than 0.4% of GDP. It meant fierce competition for funding for every dollar of aid (Fabre & Hillmer, 1998; Pound, 1992).

20One strategic response has been to win endorsement in the pronouncements and policies of major international organizations. While there is always risk that such efforts will become bogged down in endless meetings and platitudinous communiqués, it was hoped that international legitimacy could be leveraged for domestic advantage. One avenue has been the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Committee on Coordination through Sport and its successor, the Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport, have taken the case for sport to the meetings of education, health, youth and prime ministers, arguing that sport can contribute to the highest priorities of governments and the Commonwealth as a whole (Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport, 2008; Kidd, 2010). In 2010, the Commonwealth sports ministers agreed to accelerate this strategy, directing the Commonwealth Secretariat to ‘mainstream’ sport for development in education, health, gender affairs and human rights, and to work with member governments to establish “priorities, targets, strategies and mechanisms for Measurement and Evaluation” by 2012 in the manner of the Millennium Development Goals (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2011, paragraph 8). In 2011, the Commonwealth prime ministers endorsed it (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, 2011), and as a result, in 2012 the Commonwealth Secretariat initiated four pilot projects designed to strengthen the capacity of member governments to integrate SDP into national policies.

  • 7 The most recent General Assembly resolution (65/4) was passed on October 18, 2010; see http://www. (...)
  • 8 The most recent update on the working groups is at (...)

21Another avenue has been the United Nations. In 2001, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed former Swiss president Adolf Ogi Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace. The following year, Johann Olav Koss and Right to Play persuaded Annan to commission and publish a report on sport for development and peace, drawing upon the expertise of all United Nations agencies (United Nations Interagency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace, 2003). That report, which solidified the use of the term SDP, led the General Assembly to a series of resolutions endorsing sport as a tool of development and post-conflict reconciliation.7 It declared 2005 as the International Year of Sport and Physical Education, and during that year, sponsored a series of conferences and other activities highlighting different aspects of this work (United Nations, 2006). An international working group was established to advise member governments on five areas of intervention—sport and gender, sport and child and youth development, sport and persons with a disabilities, sport and health, and sport and peace. Its massive report, Harnessing the Power of Sport for Development and Peace: Recommendations for Governments, endorsed at the time of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, led to the consolidation of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) in Geneva, and the decision to implement the recommendations with five target-specific working groups. The first of these, on sport and children and youth development, was established in May 2010. Working groups on sport and gender, sport and peace, sport for persons with disabilities, and sport and health were established in May 2011. The working groups are intended to raise the profile of SDP, to more effectively co-ordinate the work of the United Nations agencies and to help establish international standards (Sport for Development and Peace. International Working Group, 2008).8

22Throughout the ‘long march through the international organizations,’ senior civil servants in sport have assisted these efforts with expertise and financial support. Canada was one of four governments to underwrite the initial costs of the international working group—the others were Austria, Norway, and Switzerland—and until 2012, it contributed to the upkeep of the UNOSDP in Geneva and the International Platform on Sport and Development administered by the Swiss Academy for Development, a comprehensive web resource. These contributions strengthened the reputation of Canada as a progressive, altruistic sport nation. In turn, the growing international profile of sport for development ensured the inclusion of legislative support for these efforts in the Physical Activity and Sport Act of 2003, and until 2011, the operation of the International Policy and Programs Directorate of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Towards Confident Effectiveness

23A key component of Canadian efforts in sport for development has been the commitment to rigorous monitoring and evaluation (M&E). What began as a necessity to convince skeptical decision makers that sport can actually make a difference has grown in step with the push towards results-based planning and accountability across all forms of development. In education, health, agricultural and rural development, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and other areas of intervention, governments, NGOs and university research centres have sought to measure and report, in reliable ways, the means by which social objectives are pursued and what has been achieved. The extensive use of M&E is the result of the decadeslong effort to strengthen public and business administration, major advances in the related social sciences, and the democratic expectation that governments, corporations and NGOs be transparent, accountable and effective in their expenditures (e.g., International Platform on Sport and Development, 2009; Sport England, 2005; World Bank, 2004).

24The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the poverty reduction strategies employed by the World Bank, and the global fight against the pandemic of HIV/AIDS have all provided recent stimuli. To be sure, the requirements for M&E have engendered their own debates. Since they have been intertwined with the ascendency of globalizing neo-liberal capitalism, some fear that the focus (and in some cases, insistence) upon the end results diverts attention from the provision of education, health, sport and physical activity to all people as basic human rights and contributes to the downsizing and/or circumvention of the democratic state. Others fear that M&E reinforces the unequal status quo, privileging the outcomes sought by first-world donors and agencies while marginalizing the determinations of the people actually on the ground (e.g., Francovits, 1998; Giulianotti, 2004). Canadian policy makers and practitioners have maintained their commitment to M&E while wrestling with these concerns. From the outset, Commonwealth Games Canada carried out extensive reporting of inputs, activities and mid-term outcomes and struggled to develop an effective way to measure long-term impacts. At the conclusion of each multi-year grant, the Canadian International Development Agency commissioned independent evaluations. Between 2003 and 2006, CGC IDS conducted needs- and asset-based strategic planning exercises in the five countries it targeted in southern Africa so that the goals and metrics of future programs could be significantly shaped by local leaders. At the same time, Canadian Heritage officials have encouraged critical research through the SDP International Working Group, the International Development Research Centre, the Sport Canada Research Initiative and Canadian universities. I am struck as I review the materials I have kept from my involvement in the program by how much time and effort has been invested in M&E.

25Evaluation and research suggest cautious optimism, and much more sensitivity to complexity and nuance than impassioned and idealistic advocates have been prepared to accept. The scholarship confirms that sport can contribute to enhanced individual and community health, better intercultural understanding, the inclusion and affirmation of girls and women and many of the other beneficial outcomes claimed for SDP. But it also counsels that opportunities for sport and physical activity are not universal, nor are the benefits automatic. For example, while there is clear indication that participation is significantly linked to the reduction of non-communicable diseases such as cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and osteoporosis and can slow the progress of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, most of the evidence for these links has been drawn from studies of physical activity, not competitive sport. The health benefits—and risks—of sport is a contested topic (Zakus, Njelesani, & Darnell, 2007). The same can be argued about sport as a medium of conflict resolution and peace building. International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, has explained that “sport fosters understanding between individuals, facilitates dialogue between divergent communities and breeds tolerance between nations” and certainly that has been demonstrated (Rogge, 2007, paragraph 1). But the opposite has also been true: sport has been racist, sexist and homophobic, has contributed to intolerance and misunderstanding and has had to be cancelled in the presence of open conflict (Kidd & MacDonnell, 2007). In the case of girls and women, regular participation has been shown to enhance their physical health and decrease the likelihood of unhealthy practices, such as illegal drug use.

26The research also suggests that sport and physical activity positively influences social integration and inclusion; it can affect self-esteem and self-worth and may offer a vehicle to empowerment, particularly during the vulnerable period of adolescence. However, the mechanism by which these outcomes occur is unclear, and researchers have questioned whether high self-esteem is beneficial. The participation of girls and women in sport and physical activity offers an opportunity for successful challenges to traditional and oppressive gender relations and important opportunities for leadership development, personal and professional growth. Yet many of the common theoretical assumptions regarding the use of sport to advance gender equity have not been tested empirically or consistently in low- and middle-income countries with different social systems. Moreover, many girls and women are active as a result of heavy, domestic labour and, lacking transport, they may spend several hours walking long distances each day. Unlike Western countries, where increased physical fitness and reduced obesity are the primary rationale for engaging in physical activity, the use of sport for these purposes in developing countries may have less relevance (Larkin, Moola, & Razak, 2007).

27The literature reviews Peter Donnelly and I conducted for the international working group by a team at the University of Toronto led us to emphasize the limits and the contextual factors for sport as a social intervention:

The physiological effects of participation in sport and physical activity are widely known, and one of the best established findings in the research literature. It is important to note that the effects are not a result of sport, as defined in this project, but of physical activity more generally—including both sport and manual labour. With regard to all of the other benefits of participation in sport identified in the research literature (i.e., psychological and social benefits and improved mental health), the evident benefits appear to be an indirect outcome of the context and social interaction that is possible in sport rather than a direct outcome of participating in sport. (Kidd & Donnelly, 2007, p. 4)

28We drew several lessons from this review:

• Participants must feel that programs meet their needs (i.e., that it is ‘their program,’ and have genuine access, including equipment and transportation);
• Participants must feel physically safe, personally valued, socially connected, morally and economically supported, personally and politically empowered; and hopeful about the future;
• The nature and quality of the sport experience are crucial (i.e., it must be good sport, with competent, ethical leadership). There must be a research-based ‘logic model’ that is understood and agreed upon by programmers and participants;
• The benefits of sport participation and sport initiatives cannot be understood in isolation from other social and material conditions—sport is not sufficient. To be successful, sport programs should be part of multi-purpose intervention, linked to education, community affirmation, employment and other opportunities;
• Programs must be sustained to have a lasting impact.

29These findings argue for much more sophisticated policy and funding frameworks, co-ordinated among funding partners and agencies in recipient countries. Yet despite calls for ‘joined-up government,’ ‘common frameworks,’ ‘mainstreaming’ and other co-ordination efforts, SDP has yet to be significantly embraced by the major development agencies, other federal ministries, or the sport NGOs, let alone linked to pan-Canadian sport for development. Moreover, it is plagued by a proliferation of volunteer organizations which compete with each other (and with the old ‘sport for good’ organizations) for donors, branding, and beneficiaries on the ground with uncritical claims for the ‘power of sport,’ circumvent and even compete with government agencies and generally eschew the co-ordinated regulation of youth sport that has been such an important advance in the Western world. “Do It Yourself Foreign Aid” (Kristof, 2010, paragraph 7) has often been extremely innovative and helpful, but at best it implements a patchwork quilt. It falls far short of the universal provision of sport and physical activity that Canada and the international community has proclaimed.

30Recent research also argues for much more critical awareness of the unequal power dynamics inherent in SDP, and the role that aid workers, especially young volunteers, can unwittingly play in perpetuating the inequalities that necessitate development in the first place (Hayhurst, 2009; Darnell, 2011; Lindsey & Grattan, 2012; Darnell & Hayhurst, 2012; Levermore & Beacom, 2012). Recent international conferences have also reported an alarming increase in gender-based violence in programs for girls and women where interventions failed to take the existing context of gender relations into account (e.g., Commonwealth Games Canada, 2011).

The Way Ahead

31In the last two years, both CGC IDS and the international sport policy unit in the federal government have undergone significant changes. Commonwealth Games Canada has shifted its focus back to sport development, partnering with the Commonwealth Games Federation to help strengthen the administrative capacity of Commonwealth Games Associations in Africa and the Caribbean with a new internship program called Capacity Support. Seven interns assisted with the preparation of teams for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and then with the electronic management and distribution of the results of all teams while at the Games in Delhi. At the same time, the Canadian Sport Leadership Corps, which placed interns in more broadly based development projects, has been refashioned as Sport Leaders Abroad to put experienced leaders (administrators, coaches and officials) on the ground to assist their counterparts in developing Commonwealth countries. As a result of this turn, the Canadian International Development Agency did not renew the CGC’s funding when it came up for renewal in 2011.

32In 2011, the federal government moved the International Policy and Programs Directorate from Canadian Heritage to Sport Canada. SDP is not a priority for Sport Canada. While domestic sport for development is a policy goal of the renewed Canadian Sport Policy, an effort to have international SDP inserted into the Policy was unsuccessful (Sport Canada, 2012). As a result, all financial support of SDP has been phased out, including the contributions Canada once made to the UNOSDP and the International Platform. When the Commonwealth requested contributions to the pilot projects that have been initiated to strengthen developing countries’ capacity for SDP, Sport Minister Bal Gosal replied that Canada was not interested. Sport Canada does continue to support the CGC’s efforts in sport development, albeit at a significantly reduced level, contributing CA$ 156,000 in 2012–2013. Regardless of the form these uniquely Canadian initiatives will take in the years ahead, the international movement they helped create will continue to grow and mature, as more international and national governments, NGOs, sport organizations and corporations take up the mantle of sport for development and peace, more young people are inspired to volunteer, and more universities offer courses and conferences on the methods. It is clear that both the United Nations and the Commonwealth will give greater priority to SDP in the years ahead. Popular NGOs like Right to Play will continue to thrive, in the latter case supported by a CA$ 17M, three-year grant from the Canadian International Development Agency in 2010. It is the obligation of those of us in the academy to continue to pursue the difficult research questions that this movement presents, to challenge our bright, idealistic students who want to become engaged to develop an informed, reflexive sense of humility about the possibilities and the contradictions and to ensure that future policy discussions are conducted in an open, evidence-based environment.



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1 The best source for policies, programs, research, and resources is the International Platform on Sport for Development (see

2 In April 2010, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added women’s ski jumping to the Olympic winter program effective for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (IOC, 2011).

3 Gopalan spoke at the media conference organized by the Australian Sport Outreach Program, Australian High Commission, Delhi, October 6, 2010.

4 The term ‘sport for good’ was coined by Donnelly (1993). For early examples, see Cavallo (1981), Krüger and Riordan (1996), and MacLeod (1983).

5 See Kidd (1996), Chapter II, “The making of men” pages 44–93.

6 G7 or Group of 7 countries consisting of a meeting of finance ministers from seven industrialized nations including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.

7 The most recent General Assembly resolution (65/4) was passed on October 18, 2010; see

8 The most recent update on the working groups is at


Warden of Hart House and Professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto. He has published extensively on the political economy of Canadian and international sport, most recently co-editing Olympic Reform Ten Years After (with Heather Dichter) and Forty Years of Sport and Social Change, 1968–2008: ‘To remember is to Resist’ (with Russell Field). He has served in many roles as a sport policy advisor and voluntary sport leader. He currently chairs the Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport, the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Team Up Foundation, and the Selection Committee of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. He is an honorary member of the Canadian Olympic Committee


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