Advocacy for Sports and Development

In Sports and Development, we do a lot of advocacy work. Every now and then we have to educate, inform and influence policy and planning as part of using Sports to improve the quality of human lives. Generally, Advocacy can be defined as active support of an idea or cause, especially the act of pleading or arguing for something.  Motives for advocacy group action may be based on a shared political, religious, moral, health or commercial position [1]. It is very common for practitioners in our field to identify themselves as Sports advocates, and for organizations to describe themselves as “advocating for Sports”. That is how important advocacy is in Sports and Development.

It is important to note that there is no one definition of advocacy, and different people and organizations highlight different aspects of advocacy according to how it relates to their particular goals and priorities. There are many different advocacy tactics, and advocacy can occur at the local, national or global levels [2]. Since it is very common in Sports and Development, we have studied it well and developed methods to optimize its applications. If you choose to cut corners, advocacy in sports can be very arduous and repetitive.

Advocacy for Sports and Development

When advocating at a local level, it is most important to focus on people in their environments, the settings where they live, work, play and study [2]. On a broader scale, when advocating at all levels, the key is using multiple strategies, at multiple levels, involving multiple sectors and in partnership with all stakeholders [2]. The process itself has been studied well and can be adapted and scaled up or down depending on the size of the project. Advocacy is not unique to Sports and Development, it is also used in other professions like Medicine, The Arts, and even Politics.

However even with that advantage. It is important to note that advocacy can be a long process. Planning small, defined objectives helps you keep on track, see progress and stay motivated [2]. Be prepared to go through this process and as always, if you can, do hire someone who is trained to do this. If not, then at least have them guide you through the process because you do not want to go through this exercise only to get negative results at the end of it all.

Planning Your Advocacy Strategy

We have emphasized in some of our articles that context is very important in Sports and Development. A vital part of advocating – especially if you are representing or speaking on behalf of a group of people – is to consult with that group to hear directly what their experience has been, what their objectives are and what they think will solve the problems that they or their communities face [2]. This is a very important step. Understanding the context to which you plan to implement your Sports and Development Methodologies will help you develop programs that actually work. Furthermore, it will save you time and money.

Before you can start to solve the problem you want to address through advocacy work, you need to understand more about the different issues and challenges want to address. This requires you to ask questions about how these issues came about, why they are still happening and what you can do to improve the situation [2]. Asking these types of questions allows us to develop solutions that will really make a difference for the future of communities, and to plan advocacy efforts accordingly.

The Sport for Development and Peace Youth Advocacy Toolkit has outlined in detail some key aspects to keep in mind. Consider the following aspects when developing advocacy methods.

Analyzing the situation
  • Identifying the issue
  • Mapping the context
  • Community asset mapping
  • Context mapping
  • Mapping your stakeholders
  • Developing your objectives
  • Your communication strategy
  • Calculating your resources
  • Plan of action
  • Monitoring and evaluation plan
  • Developing indicators and outcomes

Going through this exercise will help you narrow down the problem and determine which cause would be the most effective to target for advocacy. It is very unlikely that you will be able to develop an advocacy strategy by yourself or from the top of your head. You need to consult with the community affected and get their input throughout this process to maximize output.

Mapping your context.

At all levels of advocacy, you will need to consider the approach that will have the greatest impact on your issue and which specific problems you have the capacity to influence or change [2]. Right To Play (2012) as quoted from the Sport for Development and Peace Youth Advocacy Toolkit listed some key questions to consider when mapping the your context for advocacy:

  • Is it the right time to be advocating on this issue?
  • Are there formal opportunities for you to effect change on this issue (e.g., to consult with government or other decision-makers)?
  • Is there a potential to work with other organizations?
  • What is the likelihood of success in your advocacy efforts?
  • How many people does this issue impact?
  • Are there any major events or opportunities you can leverage off?

In order to help answer some of these questions, it will be essential to map out the opportunities and challenges to your advocacy work, such as the assets you have in your community, your country’s political context and priorities (national context), and the stakeholders involved in the issues you are targeting [2].

These “assets” are the resources available to you that can help toward developing your advocacy in Sports and Development.  A “community asset” is anything that can be used to improve the quality of community life, and can include physical structures or buildings, community services, sports agencies, facilities, sports clubs, businesses or people [2]. Sometimes this list can be very short and at other times community assets may not be receptive toward your goals. Try not to force them and leverage those in support to your advantage. A lot of time can go by while trying to convince people of your ideas. Remember that your objectives are bigger than them.

Community assets should be explicitly identified and listed. If you are working as a team, all team members should know them. Some examples suggested by the Sport for Development and Peace Youth Advocacy Toolkit include:

  • Community websites;
  • Local phone books;
  • Town directories;
  • Local government offices;
  • Lists of businesses or organizations in your local newspaper; and
  • Bulletin boards.

Sourcing this information can require a high level of experience in policy and community awareness, so it is important to seek advice from people such as youth organizations (and leaders), youth workers, teachers, the local council, sports coaches and government services [2]. You might be surprised to realize that these “stakeholders” share your vision and are likely supportive of your endeavors. Even those who may not be receptive at first may be receptive later.

While there are different definitions for the term ‘stakeholder’, when it comes to mapping stakeholders for advocacy purposes, the term can be defined as ‘a person or group with an interest in, or influence over, a project or initiative’ [2]. These are your allies, so to speak. Seek first to work with them before you critic them.

Some examples of stakeholders (People who have an interest in the issue) are:

  • Government
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Community/parents/caretakers
  • Sports leaders
  • Sports agencies
  • Young people
  • Business
  • Schools/teachers
  • Media
  • Pupils/young people/children
  • Sports clubs

Sourced from the Sport for Development and Peace Youth Advocacy-Toolkit (Adapted from: PLAN International 2014)

The primary message in your advocacy strategy

The next step in developing your advocacy for Sports for Development and peace is to develop a message around your advocacy. The message is the overarching theme that holds the entire strategy together and it is your opportunity to gain attention for your cause. Once you get attention, you will have plenty of opportunities to explain your cause in more detail [2]. By now you should an idea about what the challenges are and most importantly, how you can intervene. If not then you might want to revisit and review context mapping and consult further with community assets.

Some tips for developing your messages:

  1. Define your goal (already identified in the previous section).
  2. Identify and understand your audience based on your stakeholder analysis.
  3. Back up the importance of the issue, you are advocating for, using research and evidence – use facts and figures.
  4. Avoid jargon and acronyms – speak to people in a language that they understand and be clear and concise.
  5. Use success stories and case studies.
  6. Include the people you are advocating for in the process of designing the message.
  7. Make a personal connection – people will be more inclined to get involved with your problem if they can connect to it on a personal level.
  8. Develop an action plan and communication strategy to get your message out (explained in detail in this article).

(Sourced from the Sport for Development and Peace Youth Advocacy Toolkit)

An important thing to remember is that any message that you are trying to get across will be hugely assisted with the addition of evidence to back up your case [2]. Do not try to deduce what you think are the challenges of the community without doing the research. This is not only unethical, but it never ends well.

Developing a strong message isn’t easy and the opportunity to present it to whomever you are trying to target is sometimes hard to get. However, if you can build a strong enough message and target the right audience, the more success you are likely to have [2]. Your Audience may be small at first but they are likely to accrue if they sense that you’re being sincere.

You can find a comprehensive guide to help in the development of an “EPIC” message in the Youth and Advocacy toolkit.

The EPIC approach is an acronym for:

  • Engage
  • State the Problem
  • Inform on the solution and,
  • Call to action

We advise that you consult the original source for further details. In there you will also find an additional guide in the delivery and choosing the methods of communication with practical examples all at your disposal for free.

Advocacy Methods

By this stage, you have done most of the necessary research to inform your intervention. The next steps will educate you on the advocacy methods at your disposal and how to adopt and utilize them to your benefit.

The choice of method to adopt will very much depend on the target audience, the message to be conveyed, the resources available, and the cultural and socioeconomic context [3]. You do not have to employ all these methods at the same time for the same project and it’s very unlikely that you will have to. We do however suggest that you revisit them with every new project to familiarize yourself with the options at your disposal.

Following are summaries of advocacy methods you can adopt:

  • Lobbying;
  • Community meetings;
  • Mass media Print/electronic media and;
  • Online campaign

(Sourced from the Sports for Development and Peace Youth Advocacy Toolkit):

These are some examples of tactics you can use to engage the following:

  • The general public and the local community.
    • Videos
    • Case study/personal stories
    • Awareness campaigns
    • Newsletters
    • Local events
  • The media
    • Choose right communication tool: – media releases, op-ed, press conferences, letters
    • Make sure information is timely
    • Localize the issue
  • The political sector: State government/ Federal government.
    • Meetings with elected officials – follow-up
    • Letter writing campaigns, then follow-up in person
    • Distribute background documentation proving your case
    • Timing: Upcoming elections?
  • The private sector: Corporate/businesses
    • How do your objectives align with their social responsibility?
    • Research on your impact
    • Social return on investment
    • Case studies

Additionally, and especially if you are advocating in the modern context (not to suggest that all the other methods are not modern). You can also adopt campaigning. This involves speaking publicly on an issue with a view to generating a response from the wider public and using a variety of techniques such as:

  • Chain e-mails or letters;
  • Opinion pieces and letters to the editor in newspapers;
  • Newsletters;
  • Celebrity endorsements;
  • Media partnerships with newspapers, journalists and film-makers;
  • Web-based bulletins and online discussions such as this one;
  • Public events and;
  • Large-scale advertising campaigns.

(Soured from the World Health OrganizationAdvocacy step 6: selecting methods of advocacy)

This may all sound overwhelming and it can be. The trick is to do one thing at a time or – if you have enough team members – assign them different advocacy methods. We do this all the time. You can – for example, have a Lobbying team. An electronic media team and a community engagement team. As long as you convene at the end of each day and update each other on the process and work you have done to that point so far and still to be done.

Do not skip this step, if you do that long enough it will result in split efforts and your work will become unsystematic over time.

At this point, you might consider adopting advocacy as part of your organizations’ strategy for future projects. After you have done this for a while. You will notice that it becomes easier the benefits start to accrue.

The long-term benefits of advocacy are that:

  • Advocacy often allows you to address the origin/cause of a problem;
  • Advocacy brings to the fore issues that may not otherwise receive publicity or notice;
  • By educating through advocacy, you can change mindsets and influence policy;
  • Advocacy allows for accountability and,
  • Advocacy brings community cohesion as a result of positive social change.

(By the Sports for Development and Peace Youth Advocacy Toolkit)

Taking action

Having come this far, you would have conducted all the necessary research and analysis to support your strategy. Some of which may not be part of this guide. Now it is time to put it all together into an action plan. An advocacy action plan ‘frames’ the advocacy work into clear and results-oriented activities for implementation, specifically when you are targeting a wide range of audiences.

Develop your action plan

The plan should include the following:

  1. The activities that will be carried out.
    1. These are actions that lead to the specific outputs which contribute to the short-term goals and might include events, conferences, press releases, publications, meetings, etc.
  2. Set timelines for each activity to be completed.
  3. It should outline and allocate appropriate stakeholders for specific roles and responsibilities corresponding to the activity.
  4. It should specify the inputs or resources required to complete the activity.
  5. It is important to note that involving the stakeholders, especially youth, in the planning is essential for the success of the plan to help create shared goals and commitment to its implementation. The voice of the young person and their contribution to all aspects of the plan will ensure credibility and impact.
  6. Additionally, it is crucial to set out your budget from the outset when developing your action plan, in order to create realistic plans. Some of the core costs in budget line items can include some of the following:
    1. Staff and coordination costs (including travel, staff recruitment, team development, capacity building, event coordination);
    1. Strategy development costs (including bringing relevant staff together, facilitation costs);
    1. Research and communication costs (generating credible evidence, and translating findings into communication and outreach materials); and
    1. Costs of networking with government at the national and regional levels (including costs of attending conferences and meetings).

Costs are sometimes pushed aside as many Sports and Development organizations shy away from talking about costs and financial capital. My advice is that you be as transparent as possible so that the community has confidence in your efforts and you do not take the blame should you fail because your budget was insufficient. Take all stakeholders into your confidence by showing them what you use your resources on.

What can you do with your resources?

It is no fallacy that capital invested in Sports and Development is often insufficient, be it human or financial capital. The good news is that some of the most effective advocacy and initiatives can be arranged at relatively low cost, including:

  • Arranging speeches and public appearances by prominent spokespersons;
  • Placing targeted articles, letters to the editor and op-ed pieces in the local media;
  • Working with schools, community and sporting groups to highlight issues/impact/program;
  • Arranging seminars or lectures on a particular issue or about the work that you do in SDP, or a series of seminars around a central theme which reflects objectives;
  • Identifying suitable experts to speak at existing conferences and events; and
  • Delivering workshops in existing high-profile festivals, conferences or events, rather than trying to organize your own.

Finally, measuring your outcomes

Finally, you will have to put a tool in place to score yourself. You need this to verify your efforts. Measuring the outcomes of your advocacy strategy is essential in evaluating your successes and understanding the areas in which you can improve.

Measuring your outcomes should always refer back to your action plan to ensure that you are measuring the direct results of your own activities. This allows you to highlight specific areas of success, learn from weaknesses and ultimately prove the effectiveness of your strategy. This can be done through monitoring and evaluation, which is another vital step that is often overlooked.

Since this is a very broad topic in its own right, we may discuss monitoring and evaluation in a future article depending on your feedback. Let us know in the comment section below if this is a subject you want Sports and Exercise Dev SA to explore further.

We also publish “user-generated content” every now and then so if you have themes related to Sports and Exercise that you would like to read about in future articles let us know in the comment section below and the next article could be inspired by you. 

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Bringing it all together

Advocacy is an essential part of sports and development. You need to study the context to which you want to implement your advocacy to if you want your advocacy to benefit the community and achieve your defined outcomes. You can do this by consulting with the community assets and stakeholders. Doing this will guide you through developing a message to communicate to the people you wish to serve. Once you have developed a message and the community is supportive of it, you can then decide which advocacy methods will work best.

Put those methods to use and have a tool in place to monitor and record your progress. You need to monitor your advocacy from inception and not at the end, as most people would believe. What you do at the end is evaluation.   Evaluation is an assessment of the project at one point in time, including the successes and failures. It seeks to understand why what happened, happened. It will also help you improve on future projects and avoid repetitive failures.

This article is fairly comprehensive but let us know if you need any additional information that you did not find in this guide. Also, on the contrary, if you can add any useful information do not hesitate to do so as we learn from you just as much as you learn from us. Don’t forget to subscribe by filling in your email address below so you can get notified of future similar content we publish. Until next time. Keep moving. 

Works Cited
[1] Wikipedia Contributors, “Methods used by advocacy groups,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 May 2019].
[2] Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and PeaceWorking Group, Sport for Development and Peace, London: Commonwealth Secretariat, 2015.
[3] World Health Organization, “ADVOCACY STEP 6: SELECTING METHODS OF ADVOCACY,” World Health Organization, Geneva, 2008.
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Thando W. Dlamini, BA

Sport Development and Exercise Science Practitioner

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