Sports and Achieving the SDGs

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

The United Nations Association of Western Australia (UNAAWA) hosted the second SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Forum at West Coast Eagles Mineral Resource Park on the 24 August 2021. The event marks a significant milestone in the partnership between the UNAAWA and an AFL club, West Coast Eagles, which is the first of its kind in Australia.

The evening commenced with keynote speeches delivered by the President of UNAAWA, Dr Sandy Chong, followed by the Hon. Minister Dr. Tony Buti who spoke about the importance of sports to the development of youth. Plans have been undertaken to make sports as inclusive as possible for women, individuals with disabilities, and other marginalised groups. West Coast Eagles’ Chairman Russell Gibbs noted that the club would like to be known, not only as an AFL organisation, but also for the part it plays in the community. SDGs are therefore an important aspiration for the club.

After the speeches, the event was followed by an interactive game session to help raise awareness about sports and the SDGs. After the introduction of the Naitanui Academy, it was followed by a panel discussion that featured four speakers: Michelle Cowan, Professor Sophia Numphius, Dr. Alec O’Connell, and Nic Naitanui.

The forum highlighted the impact sports made in achieving SDGs, in particular good health and wellbeing, gender and racial equality. It was emphasised that sports cultivate discipline, teamwork, diversity, and respect for rules and resilience. As pointed out by the panelists, sports nurtures empathy and provides opportunity for economic empowerment for individuals and the community; it connects with different communities and provides a sense of belonging to people of diverse backgrounds.

Sports in Australia, in particular football, have made significant progress towards SDGs. All 18 AFL clubs now have a women’s team, and female coach academies have been established to provide pathways for women to improve their coaching skills and to coach at the highest level of the sport. By providing more opportunities for women to participate in all high-level fields, the gender gap could thus be bridged. Nic Naitanui also noted that progress has been made in reducing racism in AFL, altering perceptions of race by educating younger kids is essential at the local level.

The speakers urged the need of SDGs to inform policy and decision-making. Dr O’Connell gave the example of Year 9 boys train on high-quality surfaces while the first girls’ team from its sister school plays on grass in footy. This disparity presents a challenge for nurturing professional female players in the future. The panel also shared ideas on how the SDGs could be made more visible among fans and the wider community by featuring the logo of SDGs in visible locations associated with the clubs. This provides conversation starters which could be educational.

Sophia Numphius pointed out that the wider education system usually has policy and regulatory impacts upon sports. This would need to be taken into consideration when it comes to promoting SDG awareness. Ultimately, the forum highlights the ways in which we could all work as a society to move constructively with the SDGs. Whether it is sports, education or business sector, aligning our activities with SDGs would surely create positive impacts in the communities, leaving no one behind.

The event was attended by over 100 guests, UNAAWA members and community partners and it concluded with networking session.

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