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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

Government and the Sports for Social Impact Revolution

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

I wanted to dive into more specifics of the role of government in using sport as a central policy tool to achieve some of its objectives.

Canada has long recognized the power that sport has to empower people through sport. This can be seen through policies from Sport Canada that are aimed at increasing participation and inclusion of groups in sport (Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport, Policy on Sport for Persons with a Disability, and Actively Engaged: A Policy on Sport for Women and Girls).

Sport Canada is a team within the department of Canadian Heritage whose mission “is to enhance opportunities for Canada to participate and excel in sport, through policy leadership and strategic investments in the sport system. Sport Canada has produced policies, in conjunction with the Government of Canada sport acts and regulations.”

But I wanted to explore how and why the Government of Canada can use sports in policy, outside of Sport Canada. This is already being partly done; Sport Canada and Health Canada are jointly responsible for the Physical Activity and Sport Act (2003), which outlines Canada’s commitment to using sport to promote healthy lifestyles. But how can sport be used in other departments like Global Affairs, or one of the several economic development departments? Sport is easily transferable to many different policy areas.

To explore why governments should apply a sport lens to broader policies I sat down with Senator Marty Deacon, who currently serves as a Director on the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Commonwealth Games Canada and has been very involved in sports throughout her career. We had a fruitful discussion on the role of government in sport policy and using sport to have a social impact and some of the areas that can be improved upon.

Government can be and is a regulatory body for sport funding. When sport organisations request funding from the Government of Canada, it goes through the Sport Funding and Accountability Framework (SFAF). The SFAF is the tool used by the department of Canadian Heritage to identify which organisations are eligible to receive funding contributions under the Sport Support Program. Organisations that meet the eligibility criteria proceed to the next stage of the SFAF, during which various components are rated and weighted to determine an organisation’s final assessment score, which determines their funding reference level. Some of the considerations are what they will be doing to increase equality, inclusion and safe sport.

Sport Canada can further introduce more consideration on how the money will be used for community development when granting funding to sport organisations.

One area that we agreed was lacking in sport policy was that policy is sometimes done in silos. Sports need to be included in any policy development that goes on across government departments, something that Sport for Social Impact has really tried to highlight. The need for cross-departmental sport initiatives is high. Sport is not just for Sport Canada, sport can and needs to be used in departments like Infrastructure Canada (planning bike lanes into our cities), Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (using sport as a tool for settlement of newcomers to our country), and so many other departments can use sport to help achieve their mandates and serve Canadians. Sport is a versatile tool that's “side effects” can be used to help achieve many different policy goals.

It is not only up to the sport community to use sport for community development. Government departments have the capacity to use sports in their policies and programs to increase the accessibility of sports and the impact that sports can have on our societies. In the recent federal budget request from the COC and CPC, they focused on how National Sport Organisations want to increase their programming in community development. It is great to see that sport organisations see their role in a purpose driven world as a positive one and can have the foresight to see how sport can be used for good.

I looked through the Liberal Party Platform from the 2019 federal election to examine how some of their election promises could involve sport policy. I pulled out a select few of their promises to explore how they can use sport to help achieve their goals.

"Making Communities Cleaner, More Efficient, And More Affordable"

Sport can help achieve this by replacing cars as a mode of transportation. One of their promises specifically outlines increasing zero emission vehicles. Bikes have no emissions, increasing bike safety in our cities will reduce traffic on roads (making it more efficient) and also decrease emissions and air pollution (making our cities cleaner)

"Drug Use and Addiction: We will make it easier for people to get the help they need, with better access to treatment"

In rehabilitation programs across the country, sport is being used to help recovery. A very simple example of this is the Run to Quit program. Physical activity helps people through withdrawal symptoms, and provides a healthy outlet for stress. Sports can also be used for other substance abuse recovery programs.

"Culture We will protect, promote, and strengthen the culture that brings people together and makes us strong"

Sport brings us together like nothing else. Hockey has been a really strong national unifier over the past few decades, but that has changed. #WeTheNorth and the Toronto Raptors NBA victory, the country rallied together in huge celebrations.

"A Positive Contribution to International Peace and Security We will renew Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping efforts, and use the expertise of our Armed Forces to help others prepare for climate-related disasters"

The Liberals promised to have positive contributions to international peace and security. In their platform they did not outline the role that sport diplomacy can play in building a stronger, more peaceful world. Sport diplomacy is an effective tool that can be used to break down barriers and bring societies closer together.

The role that I see the government and policy playing in the social impact of sports is government using sport as a central pillar of the policies they produce to meet their mandates. Health Canada can use sport to help foster healthy communities and people across Canada, provincial education departments can use sport in their curriculums to help connect youth and the subject matter. Departments like Infrastructure Canada and Health Canada can partner to help provide funding for better access to bike lanes in cities, to help make space for healthier communities. I see sport as a universal policy tool that can be applied to many different situations to solve some of the most pressing issues in our societies.

We are on the cusp of a great sport revolution. The way sport is being used to impact the day to day life of the average citizen is changing. Where we once focused solely on competition and achieving greatness in sport, the impact that sport can have in the wider community through development and social impact will define the future of what sport is all about, not the number of medals that we win. The government can get ahead of this by taking a broader sport policy approach.


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