Traditional Sports and Games: a challenge for the future

Capoeira Practice © UN Photo / M. Perret

Safeguarding and promoting Traditional Sports and Games (TSG) as sports practices and intangible cultural heritage is a key challenge for the future development of sport and societies.

TSG also enhance intercultural dialogue and peace, reinforce youth empowerment and promote ethical sport practices.

“The celebration of indigenous and traditional forms of sports and games, which derive from the roots of many different communities, is a growing feature of contemporary culture.”
World Sport Encyclopedia, Kiochiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General, 2003

TSG at a crossroad: unveil the past to highlight the future

“Part of the universal heritage diversity”, TSG are “practices in an individual or collective manner, deriving from regional or local identity, based on accepted rules’’. They “dispose of a popular character (…) and promote global health” (Collective Consultation, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 2009).

Safeguarding and promoting TSG build temporal and cultural paths leading to intercultural and intercommunity dialogues. TSG promote the understanding of contemporary cultural, societal and sport practices and anticipate their future evolutions. TSG give governments, communities and individuals the chance to express both cultural pride and richness.

“The diversity of physical education, physical activity and sport is a basic feature of their value and appeal. Traditional and indigenous games, dances and sports, also in their modern and emerging forms, express the world’s rich cultural heritage and must be protected and promoted.”
International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport, Art.1.5

An alternative to unethical and unfair sport practices

Not subject to globalized economic stakes of classic sports, nor to an equivalent quest for performance and results leading to dangerous and illegal practices that UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport notably attempts to regulate, TSG offer governments, sports movement and citizens, the opportunity to build sustainable and ethical sport and cultural practices.

Empowering people towards peaceful societies

The importance of this intangible cultural heritage notably relies on the intergenerational and intercultural dialogues that maintain these traditional practices living within communities. Building intercultural dialogue and promoting ethical values through TSG fosters a fertile soil for youth empowerment and the development of peace between and within communities and societies.

Majors steps towards the recognition and the safeguarding of TSG

International Recognition

  • First stone of the process, the Declaration of Punta del Este (MINEPS III) aimed at promoting the safeguarding and development of TSG through the elaboration of a worldwide list of traditional games and sports and governmental support.

Draft International Legal Framework

  • A draft Charter of Traditional Games and Sports was elaborated and followed by Resolution 21 on the desirability and scope of an international charter on traditional games and sports (General conference of UNESCO, 2005).

Knowledge Sharing and Research

  • Published in 2003, the World Sports Encyclopedia, by far exceeded the ambition of enlisting all TSG. Meanwhile the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage was adopted by the General conference of UNESCO.

Project of International Network

  • Convened by UNESCO (2006, Paris) a Collective Consultation opened the door to the establishment of an International Platform envisaged as a formal umbrella organization specialized in TSG. A second one held in Tehran (2009) notably focused on the establishment of a UNESCO Advisory Committee entrusted of establishing the Platform.

Threefold approach

Engaged in revitalizing the program on the safeguarding and promotion of Traditional Sports and Games, a third Collective Consultation on Traditional Sports and Games (TSG) was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from 6 to 7 July 2017. The consultation gathered experts from sports federations and associations, academics, representatives of Member States of UNESCO and non-governmental organizations.

Participants adopted an agenda for 2017 and 2018 to formalize the following actions:

  • Elaborate Policy Guidelines on TSG on the ground of the draft Charter;
  • Establish an international Platform on TSG;
  • Develop an Online Worldwide Encyclopaedia on the ground of the 2003 World Sports Encyclopedia.

As core of the outcomes of the collective consultation, participants appointed the chairperson of the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee, Mr Khalil Khan (President of the International Association of Traditional Wrestling Sports - IATWS), and established working groups to ensure a follow-up on the above-mentioned actions. Their composition remains open until the fourth collective consultation (dates to be determined).

Development of TSG activities

On 8 December 2017, the Secretariat convened a Technical Meeting where chairpersons from the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee and the Ad Hoc Working Groups discussed strategic development of TSG activities.

The establishment of a Group of Friends of UNESCO Traditional Sports and Games was then decided to create synergies with Member States and join forces.  Over the past months, Member States have shown support and interest in this domain by signing the Letter of Commitment and joining the Group. Members of the Group of Friends are encouraged to take ownership of the TSG initiatives at the national level through policies, consultations and cultural events. This may lead to Member States’ empowerment with a particular focus on advocating for the safeguarding and promotion of traditional sports and games with the guidance and technical support of UNESCO’s Secretariat in close cooperation with the United Nations system.

Hosted by the World Ethnosport Confederation (WEC), the Fourth Collective Consultation on the Safeguarding and Promotion of TSG took place on 13 and 14 August 2018, in Istanbul, Turkey. Strategic development of the programme was discussed, including the International Council on TSG project or the World Traditional Sports and Games 2021 (WTSG2021) project, elaborated by the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee.

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