European Traditional Sports and Games Association

20th anniversary of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention

by Biel Pubill Soler in UNESCO

The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is a UNESCO treaty adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on October 17, 2003, an important date for our TSG.


Just before the years 2000s, observations had been made by the Member States that cultural heritage does not stop at monuments and collections of objects. It is very important to also consider and include all traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and transmitted to our descendants, such as:

– oral traditions,

– the performing arts,

– ritual and festive social practices, –

– the knowledge and know-how necessary for traditional craftsmanship, etc.

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in front of increasing globalization, and we must be aware that it is very fragile in the present situation. However, having knowledge of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities is useful for intercultural dialogue and encourages the respect for other ways of life.

The importance of intangible cultural heritage lies not only in the cultural manifestation itself but in the wealth of knowledge and skills that it transmits from one generation to another. It is this valorization of knowledge and know-how that has allowed many sports practices from cultural tradition to emerge from the anonymity where their states had left them. Thus, while sports institutions refused to consider or recognize certain traditional sports on the pretext that they were not really sport but rather culture, this 2003 convention created a third way where they are both sport and culture.

The global TSG platform that is the ITSGA (and its continental networks) actively participates in the safeguarding and promoting of ICH, in particular with the signing of the Verona declaration (see texts in Mandarin and Urdu) in 2015, or that one of Palmas (2015).

Verona Declaration – Urdu Appel Verona 2015 CN (1)

However, we must also be aware that this convention was not so unanimous as it seems with regard to the defense of the ICH. Indeed, some major states have not accepted the convention (its principle), such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia, Canada, see the list on the UNESCO website. The reasons were not always expressed explicitly, but the informations got from the ‘wikileaks’ affair showed that it was ethnocentric interests that guided these decisions.

Others have simply signed the Convention (the principle), but without ratifying the essential implementing articles, which means that they are not legally bound to the convention (obligations). This is the case of France, Germany, Belgium, Romania, Japan, and a few others, but let’s hope that all states will be able to show their responsibility vis-à-vis Humanity by finalizing the ratification of this 2003 convention.


In conclusion, intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is a mirror of what our ancestors wished to transmit to us, in the same way of that we ourselves wish to transmit the values ​​and practices that today make sense in our lives and in our communities. This means that tradition is alive, both inherited from the past and influenced by our contemporary life. This notion of a living tradition representative of ICH means that it is inclusive and thus contributes to social cohesion, helping the members of these communities to “make society”.


A simple and cheap solution exists. All you have to do is announce at your parties, championships, competitions, exhibitions, etc., that they are within the framework of this 20th anniversary, by explaining a little about the framework and the issues for the recognition of cultural practices linked to ICH. We will all be winners. Indeed, this 2003 UNESCO Convention belongs to everyone.

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