Institute of Sports Science

Can sport help to meet the Millennium Development Goals?

22.08.2016 – Policy makers have traditionally embraced the role of sport in providing health and social benefits for both, adults and children – becoming manifest for instance in the European Sports Charter. Consequently, global organizations, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), put much effort into fostering the implementation of Article 31 of the UN Convention on the right to play for children and adolescents. This has been emphasized in less developed countries (LDCs) since sport is seen as a low-cost but high-impact tool for child and youth development (Ban Ki-moon, 2014).

In contrast to this popular policy claim, however, empirical evidence based on large-scale survey data is largely missing. In a recently finished research project – conducted jointly by Tim Pawlowski and Ute Schüttoff (both University of Tübingen) as well as Paul Downward (Loughborough University) and Michael Lechner (University of St. Gallen) – panel data based on a cohort of children in Peru is used and propensity score matching is employed to identify the effects of sports group participation on child development. Findings suggest that participation in a sports group has positive impacts on subjective health and a measure of social capital. However, and in contrast to developed countries, there are no statistically significant effects on well-being and human capital formation. Overall, results suggest that at least some of the aspirations of development aid organizations can indeed be met through sport.

Key results were previously presented and discussed by Tim Pawlowski in a panel discussion organized by UNICEF during the first ‘Vamos Jogar‘ Conference in Rio. The full length paper is now published in the Journal of Sports Economics.