The WHO recognizes the Outsport method as an educational sport practice for health

A few days ago, the World Health Organization published the volume “Inclusive, sustainable, welcoming national sports federations: health promoting sports federation implementation guidance”. These guidelines are designed for sports federations and organizations which aim to develop the potential of sport in promoting well-being and health.

For the first time, the WHO introduces the inclusion of LGBTI people among the factors that contribute to health promotion in sport, mentioning the Outsport method and showcasing it in the collection of tools and good practices.

Why the document is innovative 

The WHO document is innovative in several respects.

Health promotion through sport is no longer defined only as a question of physical activity or sporting spaces. Health, we read in the abstract, “can be promoted not only where people practice sport, but also where they learn, work, play and love”.

Sport, in other words, is fully recognized as a space for sociality and community. Health promotion is defined by the Ottawa Charter as “the process of enabling people to increase control over and improve their health. To reach a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, an individual or group must be able to identify and to realize aspirations, to satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment”.

The four main “health topics” include healthy behaviors on a physical level, the sustainability of sports facilities on an environmental level, the study and ability to draw on information on sport, respect for human rights, governance and the guarantee of access to sport for all people. 

The Outsport Toolkit as a best practice 

In this framework, case studies, good practices and manuals relating to the different areas of sport are presented. These also include the Outsport Toolkit, which applies the methodology of Non-formal Education through Sport (ETS) to LGBTI issues.

Born within the scope of Human Rights Education promoted by the Council of Europe through the Compass manual (first edition in 2002), Education Through Sport is an experiential learning practice not directly oriented towards physical well-being, but towards the use of sports practices to develop social and inclusion skills. The objective of ETS as a tool for social change therefore goes beyond strictly sporting contexts, in continuity with the approach of the WHO document aimed at enhancing the role of sport as a tool for social improvement.

It is significant that the WHO has chosen a tool born from the European project Outsport (2017-2019), coordinated by AiCS, an Italian entity and developed by organizations in Germany, Scotland, Hungary and Austria. Italy is one of the most backward countries with respect to the annual ILGA equality indicators on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the data from the Outsport research, carried out by the University of Sport of Cologne, also confirm this: at European level, only 33% of LGBTI persons in sport do not come out, while in Italy the figure rises to 41%. The national sport, football, is the one that is most abandoned due to this kind of prejudice, and where currently there is only one male professional footballer who is openly homosexual (Jakub Jankto, now playing in Serie A-team Cagliari).

Follow up 

In conclusion, the WHO document can help accelerate a necessary renewal process for European and Italian sports organizations, which saw the One Love campaign on the occasion of Qatar 2022 as an important moment. The challenge is now to disseminate good practices of governance and empowerment of athletes within the training programs for technical and managerial staff. 

Human rights and the fight against inequality are clearly placed on an equal footing with physical health and environmental sustainability. Finally, the LGBTI issue deserves to be addressed and called by its own name, as the WHO has demonstrated by choosing the Outsport method.