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Brazil at the Forefront of Sport for Development

1 April 2010
Tibaijuka_Magic Paula_Luke Downdey.jpg
Magic Paula, Brazilian Basketball Star,
Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat
and Luke Downdey, Founder of Fight for Peace
(from left to right) at World Urban Forum in Rio

What better place than Rio de Janeiro to discuss about the sport's potential in creating healthier, safer and better cities, especially for the younger generations?

Four years from now, Brazil will be hosting the world’s largest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup. Two years later, the Cariocas – the inhabitants of Rio – will have the pleasure of welcoming the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Already in 2007, they had the chance to welcome the 2007 Pan American Games.

However, the city – despite its blue seas, spacious bays with white beaches and green hillsides – is sadly plagued with social ills such as inequalities, high levels of poverty and exclusion, lack of public services, insecurity, violence, corruption, crime and drug trafficking. Today, 20% of Rio’s 6 million population still live in favelas, Brazil’s shanty towns. 

Nevertheless there is room for hope. Past and present experiences in Rio de Janeiro and all across the country have proven that sport and play can make a positive difference for marginalized and vulnerable individuals and communities.

Record Attendance at UN-Habitat’s 5th World Urban Forum

From 22-26 March, the 5th edition of UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum was held in Rio on the theme “The right to the City - Bridging the Urban Divide.” The world's premier conference on cities, the Forum brought together some 13,718 participants from 150 countries to examine the issue of rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies.

At the Forum, three sessions were specifically dedicated to sports: on Tuesday 23 March, a side event addressed the “Brazilian Challenges for the World Cup 2014” and a networking event on “Sport for Safer Neighbourhoods” highlighted the best practices and challenges in advancing urban safety and security through sport-related community programmes and legacy programmes of mega-sports events. On Thursday 25 March, a Youth Round Table on “Empowering Youth through Sports in the Urban Environment" provided the opportunity to discuss how community-based and elite sports initiatives and personalities can contribute to the development of marginalized and at-risk youth in urban areas.

Groundbreaking Community Projects and Coalitions

The various community-based projects and initiatives that were showcased at the Forum demonstrated that Brazil is clearly at the forefront of Sport for Development. Cooperation between civil society organizations involved in using sport as a tool for social change, for instance, is well-advanced. Through the Brazilian branch of the Sport for Social Change Network (Rede Esporte pela Mudança Social or REMS in Portuguese), an initiative launched in 2007 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and financed by Nike, great strides have been made. A growing coalition consisting of some 30 organizations is striving to strengthen their own efficiency and sustainability through capacity-building seminars and regular exchanges of information. They will be holding their second International Conference in November of this year.

Today, the Secretariat of this practitioners’ network – which used to be hosted by UNDP Brazil – has been taken over by Atletas Pela Cidadania (Athletes for Citizenship), a group of some 40 Brazilian athletes “who have got together to inform, create awareness and mobilize society in support of important national causes for the development of the country.”

In fact, many of the sports personalities who are part of Atletas have their own social projects. The Grael brothers for instance – Torben (5 Olympic medals in sailing), Lars (2 Olympic medals in sailing) and Axel (sailor, forester and environmentalist) – run a social and educational program dedicated to under-privileged youth around the city of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, which offers a combination of sailing activities, vocational training (sail loft, fibre glass, woodwork, electronics, refrigeration, motor maintenance, etc) and supplementary education. The Grael Project has won awards and recognition from UNESCO and UNICEF, among others.
Fight for Peace Academy © Antoine Tardy-UNOSDP
In the past few years, the project has significantly expanded significantly through partnerships and the creation of franchised entities across Brazil. A similar path is being followed by the NGO Fight for Peace (photo). Originally launched in 2000 by former English amateur boxer Luke Dowdney in the Complexo da Maré – a complex of favelas (shantytowns) in Rio de Janeiro – it has now fulfilled its desire to replicate internationally. In 2007, a Fight for Peace Academy was established in North Woolwich, London, while a third one is due to open in South Africa some time in the near future.

The various grassroots projects that are championed by Brazilian athletes have much in common. It generally consists in preventing at-risk children and youth from falling into delinquent behaviour and in unlocking their potential by engaging them in a combination of social and learning activities in order to provide them with better opportunities for their future.

Involvement of the Federal Government

The Brazilian Federal Government is also playing its part. Following the creation in 2003 by President Lula da Silva of a Ministry of Sport and the adoption in 2005 of a National Sport Policy, sport has been recognized as a tool for the development of individuals and as a potentially value-forming activity that promotes collective decision-making, cooperation, solidarity, tolerance, team spirit, and determination.

Rocinha Favela © Antoine Tardy-UNOSDPJust last week, the Reação Institute (endorsed by UNESCO), active in one of Rio’s emblematic favelas, Rocinha (photo), has moved to a brand new government-sponsored sports centre inaugurated on 8 March by President Lula da Silva, Governor Sérgio Cabral, Mayor Eduardo Paes and President of the Rio 2016 Games Organizing Committee, Carlos Nuzman.

As part of the legacy of the 2016 Games, the latter have also committed to tripling by 2016 the number of children who benefit from the programme Segundo Tempo. The programme, originally developed by the Ministry of Sports in partnership with UNESCO, is expected to grow from 1 to 3 million beneficiaries, aged 7-17. In addition to which more than US$ 400 million are also expected to be invested in Mais Educação, another Federal programme that funds sport infrastructure for public schools.

Under the so-called Sport Incentive Law, adopted in 2006, Brazilians may direct up to 6% of their income – through sponsorship and donations – toward investments in sporting activities and projects that have previous been approved by the Ministry of Sport. Legal entities such as companies and social clubs may direct up to 1% of their revenue-based taxes in a similar manner. Most of the community-based projects mentioned above have already benefited from this new regulation.

Generally speaking, it appears that the Sport for Development concept has reached a high level of maturity in Brazil and benefits from innovative thinking and constructive synergies between all the actors involved (public authorities, NGOs, private companies, United Nations entities, sports actors, etc.). Let us now hope that the two major sporting events due to take place in the country in the coming years will bring deep social and economic changes lasting well beyond the events themselves and remaining as a significant legacy.

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