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If there was ever a time in our history to consider how to not leave anyone behind, 2020 was that year. As people and organizations seek to reconcile the impact of COVID-19, we need to think about how we build back in ways that intentionally bring people together and collectively work towards a better future. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can provide a framework to achieve this goal.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, is a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. At the Agenda’s core are 17 SDGs and 169 associated targets designed as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” The SDGs are a universal call for social responsibility – by the 193 countries who have signed on, and across every sector and to each person. We each have a role to play to meet the SDGs and contribute to a better way forward – a way that leaves no one behind.

Why does this matter to sport?

Sport is well documented in contributing to social development through developing life-skills, social skills and connections, and mental and physical health and wellbeing (Bailey et al. 2009; Holt et al. 2008; Neely & Holt 2014). Many sport organizations are investing in values-based sport, safe sport, and diversity and inclusion. The SDGs are an opportunity to align these priorities with the SDGs’ broader framework focused on inclusion and our social responsibility to contribute to the greater good and work toward a better future.

Of the 17 SDGs, eight are directly relevant to sport: 

3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

4 – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

8 – Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

10 – Reduce inequality within and among countries

11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

16 – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17 – Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

The Kazan Action Plan provides a framework for aligning action within sport, physical activity, and physical education to contribute to the SDGs. For Canadian sport organizations, the Kazan Action Plan supports global connections and alignment on areas of common interest such as advocacy for sport, integrity of sport, gender equity, information sharing, and collective measurements – all key issues for the Canadian sport system.

Outdoor sport facility

According to Vicki Walker, Director General of Sport Canada, “The Sustainable Development Goals provide us with an internationally recognized and accepted framework through which we can identify and communicate the added value and broader impacts of [the Canadian government’s] investments in sport. The SDGs, and the global movement to use them to measure the impacts of sport, can help governments and sport organizations better understand the impacts of their current work, as well as guiding future investments and initiatives.”

The SDGs are increasingly used as a lens through which funders (governments, foundations, and others) are assessing the impact of their investments, requiring sport organizations to integrate the SDGs into their project designs and evaluation strategies.

Engagement with the SDGs

Sport organizations can engage with the SDGs by:

  1. Considering how the SDGs connect to current and future priorities, using them to inform activities to contribute to greater inclusion and other social outcomes.
  2. Articulating specific goals, targets and measurement strategies relating to the SDGs to create awareness and accountability for advancing the goals within your organization, community, and sport ecosystem.
  3. Communicating about work relating to the SDGs so key stakeholders, including members and funders, know you are investing in social development and a purpose beyond simply delivering a sport program.
  4. Working with others to move forward together – SDG 17 is about global partnerships supporting the goals, and is a call to action for us to collaborate to maximize the outcomes and impact.

Canadian sport organizations using the SDGs

Several Canadian sport organizations are already using the SDGs, including Commonwealth Sport Canada and MLSE LaunchPad.

Commonwealth Sport Canada (CSC) is a powerful example of a Canadian sport organization contributing internationally to the SDGs. Through the use of Sport For Development and Sport Development programming to promote community and social development and build national sport system capacity throughout the Commonwealth, CSC contributes to 10 SDGs (1- 5, 8, 10, 11, 16 and 17) with a focus on SDG 3,4,5 and 16. CSC has created or enhanced 129 Sport Development and Sport for Development (S4D) projects, including 17 S4D projects exclusively for women and girls. Of those 17 projects, nine are operational today in countries designated as official development assistance countries, where aid promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries.

Within Canada, MLSE Launchpad created the Sport For Development Metrics Framework to unify the measurement and evaluation efforts of a range of organizations that fund and deliver youth Sport For Development programming across Canada and beyond. The use of consistent metrics enables powerful shared learnings to improve youth outcomes and charitable returns on investment. The Framework focuses on four pillars – Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Ready for School, and Ready for Work; and aligns with SDGs 3, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 16. The Framework is based on MLSE LaunchPad’s evidence-based Theory of Change, which describes how Sport For Development programming contributes to a range of Positive Youth Development Outcomes for youth facing barriers.

Getting Started  

As organizations look to recover from COVID-19 and evolve in response to the social reckoning resulting from the anti-racism movement, we have an opportunity to consider how to create a better world, a stronger sport system, and a path towards equity and justice as we move forward. The SDGs are an opportunity to connect to a global initiative AND consider how social inclusion, poverty, the environment, education and other key areas are connected and influence the lives of current and future sport participants. The SDGs are a rallying point that sport can embrace, align around, and use to truly make a global impact. Imagine if we took our collective energies and our passion for competition and channeled those into racing towards 2030 and meeting the SDGs!

About the Author(s)

Andrea Carey is a Canadian Certified Inclusion Professional, holds a Masters of Education in Leadership Studies, and is the Chief Inclusion Officer for INclusion INcorporated. Andrea has been a senior leader in sport and physical activity and champion of inclusion for more than a decade. Andrea served on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Paralympic Committee for ten years, and chaired the organization’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee and the Paralympic Pathways Committee. Andrea is currently a Board Director with KidSport Victoria.


Bailey, R., Armour, K., Kirk, D., Jess, M., Pickup, I., Sandford, R., & Education, B. P. (2009). The educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport: an academic review. Research Papers in Education, 24(1), 1-27.

Holt, N. L., Tink, L. N., Mandigo, J. L., & Fox, K. R. (2008). Do youth learn life skills through their involvement in high school sport? A case study. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 31(2), 281-304.

Neely, K. C., & Holt, N. L. (2014). Parents’ perspectives on the benefits of sport participation for young children. The Sport Psychologist, 28(3), 255-268.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.