Culture & Heritage

International Charter of Physical Education & Sports 1978

International Charter of Physical Education & Sports 1978

International Charter of Physical Education & Sports 1978


This resolution, in accordance with WHO’s Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health, UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education and Sport 1978, UNESCO’s Berlin Declaration 2013, UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 and Designed To Move – A Physical Activity Action Agenda, confirms and reinforces the importance of Traditional Sports and Games as a vehicle for the world’s unity, integration, cultural diversity, peace and physical activity. ​ 

The International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport  is a rights-based reference that orients and supports policy- and decision-making in sport.

Adopted in 1978, the original Charter was perceived as innovative at the time - as it was the first rights-based document to state that “the practice of physical education and sport is a fundamental right for all”.

Based on the universal spirit of the original Charter, and integrating the significant evolutions in the field of sport since 1978, the revised Charter  introduces universal principles such as gender equality, non-discrimination and social inclusion in and through sport. It also highlights the benefits of physical activity, the sustainability of sport, the inclusion of persons with disabilities and the protection of children.

This unique text is the expression of a common vision by all stakeholders  whether they are professional or amateur athletes, referees, public authorities, law enforcement, sports organizations, betting operators, owners of sports-related rights, the media, non-governmental organizations, administrators, educators, families, the medical profession or other stakeholders.

The Charter promotes inclusive access to sport by all without any form of discrimination. It sets ethical and quality standards for all actors designing, implementing and evaluating sport programmes and policies.

Traditional Sports and Games: a challenge for the future

International Charter of Physical Education & Sports 1978

International Charter of Physical Education & Sports 1978


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.

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.

                                                                                                                            Courtesy - Unesco 

Mallyuddha - Indian Traditional Sports

International Charter of Physical Education & Sports 1978

Mallyuddha - Indian Traditional Sports


Mallyuddha in South Asia has a history of at least 5000 years making it the oldest known codified form of fighting in the region. Competitions held for entertainment were popular among all social classes, with even kings and other royalty taking part. Wrestlers represented their kings in matches between rival kingdoms; death matches before the royal court served as a way to settle disputes and avoid large-scale wars. As such, professional wrestlers were held in high regard. In pastoral communities, people would even wrestle against steers.

The first written attestation of the term mallayuddha is found in the Ramayana epic, in the context of a wrestling match between the vanara King Bali and Ravana, the king of Lanka. Hanuman, the god in Ramayana, is worshipped as the patron of wrestlers and general feats of strength. The Mahabharata epic also describes a wrestling match between Bhima and Jarasandha. Other early literary descriptions of wrestling matches include the story of Balarama and Krishna.

Stories describing Krishna report that he sometimes engaged in wrestling matches where he used knee strikes to the chest, punches to the head, hair pulling, and strangleholds. He defeated Kans, king of Mathura, in a wrestling match and became new king in his place. Siddhartha Gautama himself was said to be an expert wrestler, archer and sword-fighter before becoming the Buddha. Based on such accounts, Svinth traces press ups and squats used by Indian wrestlers to the pre-classical era. Later, the Pallava king Narasimhavarman acquired the moniker Mahamalla meaning "great wrestler" for his passion and prowess in the art.

Competitions in medieval times were announced by a kanjira-player a week beforehand. Matches took place at the palace entrance, in an enclosure set aside for games and shows. The wrestlers typically came of their own accord during public festivals, along with magicians, actors and acrobats. Other times they would be hired by nobles to compete. Winners were awarded a substantial cash prize from the king and presented with a victory standard. Possession of this standard brought national distinction.

The scene of action was gay with flags flapping, and the citizenry quickly packed the rows of benches. When the wrestlers climbed into the arena, they strutted around, flexing their muscles, leaping in the air, crying out and clapping their hands. Then they grappled, holding each other tightly around the waist, their necks resting on each other's shoulder, their legs entwined, while each attempted to win a fall or break the hold.

The Manasollasa of the Chalukya king Someswara III (1124–1138) is a royal treatise on fine arts and leisure. The chapter entitled Malla Vinod describes the classification of wrestlers into types by age, size and strength. It also outlines how the wrestlers were to exercise and what they were to eat. In particular the king was responsible for providing the wrestlers with pulses, meat, milk, sugar as well as "high-class sweets". The wrestlers were kept isolated from the women of the court and were expected to devote themselves to building their bodies. The Manasollasa gives the names of moves and exercises but does not provide descriptions.

The Malla Purana is a Kula Purana associated with the Jyesthimalla, a Brahmin jāti of wrestlers from Gujarat, dating most likely to the 13th century. It categorizes and classifies types of wrestlers, defines necessary physical characteristics, describes types of exercises and techniques of wrestling as well as the preparation of the wrestling pit, and provides a fairly precise account of which foods wrestlers should eat in each season of the year.

As the influence of Indian culture spread to Southeast Asia, malla-yuddha was adopted in what are now Thailand, Malaysia, Java, and other neighbouring countries. It was popular not only among commoners but also patronized by royalty. The legendary hero Badang was said to have engaged in such a wrestling match against a visiting champion in Singapore.

Traditional Indian wrestling first began to decline in the north after the medieval Muslim invasions when influences from Persian wrestling were incorporated into native malla-yuddha. Under Mughal rule, courtly fashion favoured the Persianate pehlwani style. Traditional malla-yuddha remained popular in the south, however, and was particularly common in the Vijayanagara Empire. The 16th-century Jaina classic Bharatesa Vaibhava describes wrestlers challenging their opponents with grunts and traditional signs of patting the shoulders. Sculptures at Bhatkal depict wrestling matches, including female wrestlers. As part of his daily routine, the king Krishna Deva Raya would rise early and exercise his muscles with the gada (mace) and sword before wrestling with his favourite opponent. His many wives were tended to by only female servants and guards, and among the 12,000 women in the palace were those who wrestled and others who fought with sword and shield. During the Navaratri festival, wrestlers from around the empire would come to the capital in Karnataka to compete in front of the king, as described by the Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes.

Then the wrestlers begin their play. Their wrestling does not seem like ours, but there are blows (given), so severe as to break teeth, and put out eyes, and disfigure faces, so much so that here and there men are carried off speechless by their friends; they give one another fine falls too.

Malla-yuddha is now virtually extinct in the northern states, but most of its traditions are perpetuated in modern kusti. The descendents of the Jyesti clan continued to practice their ancestral arts of malla-yuddha and vajra-musti into the 1980s but rarely do so today. Malla-yuddha has survived in south India however, and can still be seen in Karnataka and pockets of Tamil Nadu today.