When as a footballer you get a great assist, you’ve got to do whatever it takes not to waste the opportunity and score a goal.
In the same way, the football industry has been passed a formidable assist from the United Nations and its agenda for 2030 set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To make use of this great opportunity, however, the world of football must team up, not rely on the virtuoso talent of a single player. Its different organisations – from international institutions all the way down to small clubs – must recognise they can each contribute in their own way to shared goals and can have most impact by working together on common challenges.
What’s football got to do with the SDGs?
The business of football today has a tough job keeping pace with other sectors when it comes to sustainability and corporate responsibility, an area that is becoming of vital importance for many organisations. As in other sectors, football must come to terms with the fact that its own reputation, credibility and its access to new and advantageous economic opportunities are tied to themes associated with sustainability.
Despite this, the “CSR” work of clubs, national and international football institutions is still too focused on social or environmental initiatives that, while praiseworthy and important in their own way, are almost always isolated from each other and have little connection to the true (enormous) potential of the sector.
Instead, football could look to the 17 sustainable development goals for inspiration. Clubs, leagues and federations alike could look to “internalise” some of these macro-goals and make them their own, tailoring them to fit the size of the organisation and implement concrete measures to create positive, long-lasting contribution.
Five of the 17 goals jump out where football could make an important contribution and be used to build sustainability strategies.
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Football as a business has a powerful tool to hand because the sport is played around the planet. Physical activity, especially among young people, is one of the fundamental pillars that define a healthy lifestyle. Each person in the sector can contribute to the wider uptake of a correct sporting culture, whether operating at home or abroad, by taking advantage of their contact with communities, using the game of football as a tool for sustainability and offering concrete opportunities to move, play and be active.
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Practicing a sport means knowing and respecting the rules, working together with teammates, having a specific role and doing your fair share.
These characteristics make football, like many other sports, a useful vehicle for supporting education of young people. By working in concert with educational institutions and offering their competencies in athletics, football organisations could be a viable means for contributing to the attainment of an inclusive, equal and quality education.
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
On this font, football has a great deal to teach us, but also a great deal to learn. Football is still very much a “man’s world,” both as a sport and an institution.
If football moved toward improving itself along these two internal fronts, it could send a strong message to society and tip the scales of equality in the right direction.
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Football can be a means for halting social breakdown, promoting feelings of inclusion and integration, rather than segregation. Initiatives like football academies, partnerships with local clubs and improving sporting infrastructure are all examples of how football and institutions can make a great contribution in this area and strengthen the bond that unites them to the community.
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
This objective brings us back to where we started: the assist that calls for teamwork. Of course, this would be an overall result, and is less about a single theme. For football it is perhaps the most critical area we’re highlighting, because it requires a great deal of effort in order to overcome divergence and cultural and sporting antagonisms, moving together toward concrete objectives.
Football’s definitely got some work to do here.
It would no doubt be useful to widen the scope of this “team,” recognising the importance of forging partnerships beyond the football industry, finding common ground with other sectors. By tapping into the experience of those who have longstanding commitments to sustainability, football could unleash its immense social potential. In return, it can offer an emotional, personal connection to billions of people globally.
How can football and the SDGs come together?
The Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework for the world of football to understand which direction to take when it comes to sustainability. Every single organisation can identify their most relevant targets, which they can work with best and help them to understand to measure meaningful impact. By translating the areas covered by the United Nations to fit their own context and identifying situations and problems at home or away they can score greater goals.
It is therefore fundamental to identify indicators with which to measure their positive impact, without worrying about how small it may seem in comparison to other “global situations.” By reorganising their commitment, resources and initiatives, they can work together to contribute to that impact.
Who’s going to start passing this ball and build some team spirit?