Our Perspectives

Sport for SDGs: A journey from Khartoum to Rio de Janeiro


Sudanese athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo: UNDP Sudan

Sport is not usually the first thought that comes to mind when talking about achieving sustainable development. Nonetheless, it has been an instrumental tool in the promotion of peace and development for many years and I was able to witness it for myself at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Since the inception of the Millennium Development Goals, sport has been essential in implementing development targets as recognized by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which emphasizes “the growing contribution of sport […] in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities…" For this reason, many organizations have been promoting peace through sport.

The International Olympic Committee, is an organization encouraging collaboration between all parties of the Olympic family to promote Olympic values such as excellence, friendship and respect. The Committee established a strategic roadmap for the future, highlighting the potential of sport to help achieve at least four of the Sustainable Development Goals: good health and well-being (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16).

In Sudan, the power of sport in building peace is especially visible in some of the country’s war-torn areas. For years sport events have been held in Northern and Western Sudan, successfully bringing people together in a safe and jovial environment while strengthening relationships and building resilience.  This is why the Sudan National Olympic Committee collaborated with the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) to include sport activities, campaigns and festivals in IDPs and refugees camps.

The Olympafrica Foundation and FC Barcelona  also partnered in the implementation of sport activities and events to bring sport to youth throughout Africa. Thanks to initiatives such as the Futbolnet Project, they were able to reach people in some of the less developed areas of Sudan, making a great impact in the communities. In all its forms, sport is a real catalyst for peace and social development in Sudan.

I was able to see it all come together at the Rio Olympic Games. It was an extremely exciting and incredible experience, especially meeting athletes and people from all over the world sharing meals, spaces, emotions and their love of sport. Sudan was represented by six athletes in three different categories: judo, swimming and track and field. The six participants came to the Rio Olympics from all over Sudan as ambassadors for peace and development, carrying hope for the people of Sudan.

In addition to training and competing, the Sudanese delegation served as youth advocacy group for the SDGs promotional campaign #Sport4SDGs. The campaign was launched by UNDP Sudan to promote sustainable development among youth in the country. The delegation also participated in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) 1o5C campaign which aims to encourage global support for the Paris Agreement on climate change.

During my visit to Rio de Janeiro, I was very impressed by this great diverse and multicultural city which I thought could not better represent how sport can be a positive instrument of change in the world. I was able to witness Brazil make history as Rio became the first South American city to host the Summer Olympics. But most of all, it allowed me to see my country be represented in a more optimistic way.

Sustainable development Sustainable Development Goals Youth Governance and peacebuilding Conflict prevention Social cohesion Saeed Zaki

UNDP Around the world