How sport and philanthropy are changing the game


Ian Bird (left) and Paul Melia

By Ian Bird and Paul Melia

It’s amazing how a sporting event can capture the world’s attention. This year’s World Cup has reminded us all how sport can be a powerful connector and force in society. Sport, particularly at the global level, provides a unique platform for collective dialogue and action that transcends cultural barriers.

The True Sport Report reminds us of the potential sport holds – its promise and its potential to harm. And the True Sport movement acknowledges what is self-evident to many – that good sport contributes to building healthier, stronger and more vibrant communities by improving health and well-being, putting children and youth on a positive life course, promoting inclusion, and contributing to economic activity. It should come as no surprise then, that global philanthropy has taken note of this potential and sought ways to tap into what is good in sport and to mitigate its potential harms.

Like most cultures, sport is an important part of Canadian identity. So too is giving and sharing – our roots in philanthropy. Traditionally the sport and philanthropy sectors have had little interaction, but lately we’ve been seeing some interesting changes taking place – namely that when sport and philanthropy combine, new opportunities open up.

For example, two early Canadian philanthropic leaders, The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, are major funders of the Sport for Development movement in Canada. This movement involves community projects that intentionally use sport to build healthy communities, to train the next generation of leaders and to influence government at all levels to adopt more inclusive and robust sport-related policies. Recently Community Foundations of Canada and the True Sport Foundation have teamed up to create Smart & Caring True Sport, which is helping connect sport and non-sport organizations together with community foundations to build social capital and community through values-based and principle-driven sport.

Major sporting events are also getting in the game so to speak, focusing not just on the economic or infrastructure legacy that events generate but harnessing the power of sport to create lasting social change. The inaugural Beyond the Games – Living the Values is an integral part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. The heart of the social development legacy for the Games are humanity, equality and destiny. During the games, international influencers from sport, business and the civic realm will come together as agents for innovation and change and will carry this forward to the next Games in 2018.

In Canada, we are seeing the value that philanthropy contributes to strengthening long-term sustainability through sport legacy strategies and funds. In Toronto, the Playing for Keeps initiative was created by the Toronto Community Foundation to leverage the 2012 Ontario Summer Games. It was also a catalyst towards the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games to build social capital and create a legacy of healthier, more active and stronger communities, while nurturing a deepened sense of belonging within communities, in Canada and across the Americas. Alongside the social legacy, the Toronto Community Foundation is also managing the TORONTO 2015 Sport Legacy Fund, a $70-million investment that will support the ongoing operating and capital maintenance of sport facilities for the next two decades.

These examples remind us that when we bring sport and philanthropy together we open up new opportunities to create impact at a trans-local and global level, that strengthen community by building the kind of social capital and social finance that will last for generations.

A two time Olympian, Ian Bird is President of Community Foundations of Canada, the national network for Canada’s 191 community foundations. Paul Melia is President of the True Sport Foundation, a movement for values-based and principle driven sport in Canada.

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