SDG #8 is Decent Work and Economic Growth. This SDG promotes sustained and inclusive economic growth, and higher levels of productivity and technological innovation. Sport can have a social impact by creating direct and indirect employment, and equipping individuals with skills necessary to enter the workforce.
Sport tourism is one way that sport can contribute to a city’s or country’s economy. Sport tourism is a rapidly growing economic driver around the world. In Canada, sport tourism is a $6.8 billion industry according to the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance. Sport tourism refers to travel which involves either observing or participating in a sporting event.
Sport being used as an economic driver has to be done in a sustainable way. The old model of the Olympics where all facilities were built to accommodate the huge sporting event is not sustainable, which is why they changed the model. But sport tourism isn’t only on the big national and international scale. It is also seen on the local and community levels. Saint John houses the only 50 metre pool in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, one of four in the four Atlantic provinces. It is used as the host pool for many swim meets over a swim season. They even are the pool where Maine Swimming holds their Maine State Championship meet for the past several years. This pool brings thousands of people to the city over the course of a year.
There are a lot of indirect sport jobs like administration to run facilities and hotel administration and restaurants for visiting teams and families, and lifeguards for sports like swimming, diving, waterpolo and artistic swimming. There are also a lot of direct jobs, like coaches and sport administration jobs, and referees for sports like basketball, soccer and American Football. I’m not advocating that every town and city needs to invest in large sport and recreation facilities, but having basic facilities give towns the opportunity to host competitions. Some small towns in New Brunswick have a swim team but their pools are not able to host swim meets. If they had been slightly larger they could have hosted more competitions which would then help the local economy.
Sports also create decent work and create jobs which help grow the economy in towns without even considering hosting competitions. Recreation facilities can be used for other purposes, they can be rented out for birthday parties and for other recreational groups. Recreation facilities can serve as community centres for after school programs and other programming. Sport can increase overall community involvement. An interesting example of this has been seen during COVID-19 where the field at TD Place in Ottawa was turned into a drive-in movie theatre.
There are many benefits on a smaller, more personal scale that can help achieve SDG 8. Sport-based programmes in schools and after school programs and sports clubs can provide important life skills that can help employability of young people. It shows dedication, teaches hard work, time management and other important skills.
Sport can also help promote effective and responsible management of volunteers and help promote participation in society and community engagement. Sporting events also require volunteers, officials, mission team staff, all can help with personal and professional development. Sport clubs and sport organisations often have volunteer Board of Directors that helps people develop skills and also be involved with their communities. In some high schools in Canada a certain number of community volunteer hours is required to graduate, sporting events offer a great place for young people to get their hours done.
A host committee often employees many people in a community (perhaps for a short period of time depending on the size of the event), but there are many chances for people to become involved.
Social businesses using sport for good is also a really important way that sports can contribute to SDG #8. These organisations are important because they have identified the power that sport has to have a positive impact on the community and empower people to use sport in new and innovative ways. Social businesses are also interesting because part of what defines a social business is that the workforce gets market wage with better working conditions. Social businesses need to be part of the new normal. Decent work is part of this Sustainable Development Goal and it needs to be a priority for entrepreneurs.
A question we need to ask ourselves is who can access sports to benefit. Can marginalized communities afford to participate in sports? Another question we need to ask ourselves when designing sport programs is if we are focusing on the wrong life skills. Because success in sport can be highly correlated with hard work, we expect the same for success in life when that’s not the case. Sport programs can over emphasize competitiveness and other values that are imperative to neoliberalism and capitalism, rather than critical thinking and compassion. We need to ensure that sport programs are reinforcing the good skills and qualities, and not the ones that may reinforce negative societal objectives. (A good example of qualities that we should focus on in sport programs are the True Sport Principles: go for it, play fair, respect others, keep it fun, stay healthy, include everyone and give back.)
Using sport as a tool for economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 world will be an opportunity for governments, the private sector and not-for-profit sector to help lift communities up. Sport will be an important tool for recovery because it can help rebuild some of the community connections that were lost, and at the same time improve people’s skills that can help them find employment, and also create employment. Economic development agencies in Canada (like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency “ACOA”) are focused on creating opportunities for economic growth. It should be the policies of organisations like this to focus on organisations that create growth but also contribute positively to communities.