Sports as Enabler for Achieving Sustainable Development Goals

On behalf of UNICEF in Turkmenistan, I would like to congratulate the Government of Turkmenistan on hosting the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. We are witnessing a historic event that will highlight the magical power of sports in bringing people closer together, as more than 6,000 athletes from Asia and Oceania, including one refugee team are expected to participate in AIMAG 2017. It is heartening to see volunteers, who make-up mostly young people from the country, that are working relentlessly to ensure this event becomes hugely successful in the year of health and inspiration for Turkmenistan.  

UNICEF recognises that around the globe there is a force that can attract billions of people around a single event and motivate billions of others in collective or individual active participation - young and old, rich and poor, girls and boys alike - this is the unique power of sport. Sport is an important enabler of sustainable development and has a vital role in advancing peace and social progress in societies.

The fundamental role of sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace was re-emphasised in UN Resolution A/69/L.5 adopted by member states on 16 October 2014. The resolution “encourages member states to give sport due consideration in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.”

For many people around the world, sport and play are immediately and inextricably tied to the notion of childhood. Through play children explore, invent and create. They also develop social skills, learn to express their emotions, and gain confidence about their own capabilities. UNICEF’s work with sport is grounded in its mission to ensure that every child, including children with disabilities has the right to play and sport in a safe and healthy environment – a right founded in Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties. Team UNICEF is thus built upon a deep-seated understanding that play has the power to transform and improve the lives of children.

Sport is a powerful inclusive social tool, bringing together people from different ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds. It plays an important role in improving physical and mental health, reducing childhood obesity and fostering active citizenship and social inclusion. Sport is a good entry-point for the promotion of life skills-based education and healthy lifestyles, including the values of physical fitness, proper nutrition and how to make choices that positively impact health.

There is evidence that sport and play enhance child development and learning and encourage better academic performance. Sport also offers opportunities for the development of peer leaders. It increases self-esteem among adolescents and provides opportunities for the empowerment of girls. Sport can be used to promote a safe and protective environment for children and to teach young people how to solve conflict in a non-violent manner.

Today, UNICEF is a leader in the sport for development field with more sport-based initiatives including Special Olympics than any other UN organization. It is forging innovative partnerships with a broad range of sport organizations, athletes and networks that have an impact on child survival, development, education, and protection to mobilize resources for children. UNICEF has partnerships with Manchester United, FC Barcelona, Special Olympics, and other sports clubs and organizations.

In this direction, the leadership of the country is admirable for promoting sports and healthy lifestyle choices for the country’s citizens, including children and young people. We hope the state of the art sports infrastructure created in the country will be harnessed by girls and boys and citizens to enthusiastically pursue their passion for sports. As part of our joint partnership with the Government we look forward to continue expanding our efforts to ensure inclusive, participatory and safe sports and play for every child. Sports for All and Sports for Development!


Shaheen Nilofer, UNICEF Representative in Turkmenistan