As 2019 gears up, there is so much to look forward to in the sport for development space as we reflect on some of the highlights in 2018. In October, The United Nations Human Rights (UNHR) Social Forum in Geneva initiated discussions that have set the tone for sport for development for 2019.

This was followed up by December’s Sporting Chance Forum in Paris.  In 2018, the European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation (ENGSO) and the UNESCO Youth Sports Task Force committed to aligning efforts to create greater impact.

The Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development & Peace Network attended these fora in partnership with other leading youth sport networks.The work of the Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development & Peace Network (CYSDP’s) in 2018 contributed towards exploring the role of sport in protecting human rights and championing social change.

After hosting a very forward-thinking panel at the UN Human Rights Forum, it emerged that one of the critical topics will be how sport for development and peace can take advantage of the world’s hottest sport at the moment: esport. Participants in esport tournaments compete against each other playing video games, drawing large online audiences.As esport continues to proliferate globally, there’s no doubt that this sport is here to stay. While publishers (game makers) continue to jockey for position and the world watches larger and larger stadiums host international tournaments, it could only be a matter of time before esport becomes a tool to tackle some of the biggest social issues we face. In most mainstream sports with large followings, regulations and standards have been established and arguably entrenched. Esport presents us with a real opportunity to build the sport of the future. After the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Commonwealth Games Federation Head, David Grevemberg, said he wanted to create the Federation of the future. A Federation that factored in human rights and equality, and was committed to integrity at every level. There is no reason that as esport rises, we cannot play a role in ensuring the very same values.

At the UNHR panel that CYSDP chaired, there was a call to consider the role that esport can play in development activities globally. This was stressed upon as mobile technology has made esport more accessible and subsequently enabled its spread around the globe. What is particularly unique about esport is that the arena, while virtual, is the great equalizer. We have the first sport that can truly address, tackle, and confront the inequality that is biologically inherent in sport. The opportunity to build on equality movements from 2018 through esports is glaringly obvious. Esport can lay the pathway for integration, social cohesion and inclusion programs in unprecedented ways- allowing us a chance to craft a brand new sport free of the biases that have been engendered in other mainstream sports.

It’s becoming hard to ignore the reach, growth and impact of esport. However, there is little taking place to drive social impact. CYSDP wants to take the first steps towards addressing this. As the sport grows commercially so will its role in communities at regional and even national levels. Creating an environment for esport to thrive and catalyze the initial esport for development programs will mean collaborating at grassroots, industry and policy levels.

With CYSDP’s responsibility of supporting the Commonwealth’s 53 Member States and representing the youth voice, there is a readiness to play a leading role in enabling esport for development to drive change across the Commonwealth.

Contributed by:Richard Loat (CYSDP)

Sub-Editor:Jacqueline Njeri  (CYSDP)