Participation in sport can improve children’s learning and skills development, new Barça Foundation and UNICEF report finds

Participation in sport can improve children’s learning and skills development, new Barça Foundation and UNICEF report finds

The report launches today at an international consultation on sport for development for children at the FC Barcelona Auditorium

Participation in sport improves children’s educational attainment and skills development including empowerment, leadership and self-esteem – contributing to their overall well-being and future prospects, according to new research released today by the Barça Foundation and UNICEF.

“It’s long been understood that sport promotes children’s health, and physical development, but now we have solid evidence to suggest that sport can have a powerful impact on their overall education and life skills development,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka. “We must use this evidence to inspire investment in sports for children, especially the most vulnerable.”

Getting into the Game: Understanding the Evidence for Child-Focused Sport for Development features analyses from global research literature and data from more than 300 sport for development (S4D) programmes in 100 countries. The report was commissioned by the Barça Foundation and carried out by a research team at UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Successful sport for development initiatives involve multi-sectoral cooperation, such as the inclusion of education and social components.
  • Coaches play a critical role in safeguarding children and mitigating possible negative influences.
  • There is little evidence to suggest involvement in sport reduces a child’s risk of abuse and exploitation. In fact, when not done well, there are indications that some sports can increase exposure to violence.
  • Better evidence is needed for the monitoring of sport for development initiatives, including more research on effective implementation.
  • More meaningful child participation in programme design and evidence building is needed.  


As 2019 marks 30 years since the adoption of the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history - The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which among others, states that every child has a right to leisure, play, and participation in cultural and artistic activities – Barça Foundation and UNICEF urge governments to deliver on the commitment to leisure and play.

Barça Foundation and UNICEF have been working together since 2006. Their partnership has helped nearly two million children access sports, play, education and child protection initiatives. The two organizations identified a critical gap in robust evidence on sport for development programming, which led to the production of Getting into the Game. In a second phase, the researchers will test the report recommendations in programmes, including at UNICEF projects funded by FC Barcelona in Brazil, China, Ghana and South Africa, as well as projects in countries affected by conflict or disaster.

"With the presentation of this research, the partnership between UNICEF and the Barça Foundation is positioned as a benchmark in sport for development in the world. Our commitment to evidence and rigor will have an enormous impact on the organizations that work in this field, improving the actions and positively impacting the lives of millions of children," said  President of FC Barcelona Josep Maria Bartomeu.

"This partnership goes beyond programme implementation, goes beyond the logo of UNICEF on the Barça shirt, beyond a research. It's all that, and more,” said Jordi Cardoner, First Vice President, FC Barcelona. “This alliance has an incalculable value, because with it we are positioning sport as a great tool to improve the quality of life of children around the world.”

“Sport is not only inspiring, it is also a real tool for inclusion and to guarantee fundamental rights of children, such as the right to play, “said Gustavo Suárez Pertierra, Chair of the UNICEF Spanish Committee. “This report is a first step to learn how to overcome the barriers that prevent vulnerable children from enjoying sports in a safe environment. Sport generates development and, together with the Barca Foundation, we will work to demonstrate that."

In 2018, the Barça Foundation and UNICEF established the international sports for development (S4D) working group to ensure better coordination and delivery of S4D for children, convening sports stakeholders to contribute to the design of a specific framework on child-focused S4D. This framework, with a completion date set for 2020, is intended to become a reference for organizations delivering programmes for children that have an S4D component.

About UNICEF-FC Barcelona partnership

The partnership between FC Barcelona and UNICEF is committed to the vision that every child receives a quality education and has the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential by participating in sports and play.

About the Barça Foundation

The Barça Foundation was launched in 1994 to support the children and youth of the most vulnerable social groups through sport and education in values, with the objective of contributing to a more just and inclusive society. The Barça Foundation frames its activities within the UN programmes Sport for Development and Sustainable Development Goals. The main action lines are educational access and support, violence prevention and conflict resolution in childhood and youth and combatting social exclusion and discrimination. Today, the Foundation reaches to more than 1,5 million beneficiaries around the world

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit http://www.unicef.org.

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