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Address by Mr. Adolf Ogi

  • Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace

  • UN Under-Secretary-General

  • Former President of the Swiss Confederation

"How the United Nations are Using Sport as a Tool for Development and Peace"

Public lecture

Faculty of Physical Education and Health

University of Toronto

15 November 2006

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to address you here in Canada at the University of Toronto. I would particularly like to thank the Dean of Physical Education, Dr. Bruce Kidd, Right To Play and Commonwealth Games Canada for granting me the opportunity to address you today.

The challenges our world faces are greater than they have ever been. Wars and conflicts are a prominent reality, poverty as well as diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria still affect human development throughout the world. To meet these challenges and in the quest for solutions of prevailing problems, sport has been identified as an innovative instrument. Sport, as an international language, can build bridges between people, help overcome cultural differences and spread an atmosphere of tolerance. As Albert Einstein correctly said: "We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them". New and innovative thinking comprises sport as an integral part of a holistic approach to development and peace and, as such, is increasingly gaining importance on local, national and international agendas. Although the sports world is far from perfect, sport is being used to develop a sense of community and common purpose. Sport is about humanity, and together, with sport and through sport, a better world can be created.

Much has been achieved in progress towards enhanced acceptance and utilization of sport as a tool to assist in the achievement of the development goals, particularly the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In 2003, we published a United Nations inter-agency report, exploring the value of Sport for Development and Peace entitled "Towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals". The report identified that well-designed sport-based initiatives are practical and cost-effective tools to achieve objectives in development and peace and called upon United Nations agencies to:

Develop a strategic approach within the United Nations to foster Sport for Development and Peace partnerships;

Mainstream sport into the work of the United Nations;

Incorporate sport in United Nations coordination mechanisms to better integrate sport into United Nations strategic planning instruments; and

Look for ways to use sport for communication and social mobilization purposes.

Following this report, the power and influence of sport has continued to grow. The United Nations system has sought to utilize the prominence given to sport to sensitize and expand on the objectives identified by the United Nations and to increase its use as a tool to impact positively on society, to promote public health, create employment and unite communities.

Evidence of the power and impact of sport has been made very real in communities throughout the world, particularly during the International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005. Allow me to first give you a brief update on the progress achieved in the promotion of sport as a means to advance the Millennium Development Goals and the broader aims of development and peace.

United Nations General Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a number of resolutions on sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace including resolution 58/5, proclaiming 2005 as the International Year of Sport and Physical Education; resolution 59/10; and resolution 60/9. At the World Summit at United Nations Headquarters in September 2005, the Outcome Document, agreed on by this largest-ever gathering of Heads of State and Government, highlighted the role of sport, stating:

"We underline that sports can foster peace and development and can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, and we encourage discussions in the General Assembly for proposals leading to a Sport and Development Plan of Action."

The General Assembly followed up by unanimously adopting a landmark resolution on 3 November 2005 to build on the momentum generated by IYSPE 2005. On 3 November 2006, at the 61st Session of the General Assembly, resolution 61/L.12 was adopted which acknowledged that:

"Sport and physical education can present opportunities for solidarity and cooperation in order to promote tolerance, a culture of peace, social and gender equality, adequate response to the special needs of persons with disabilities, intercultural dialogue, social cohesion and harmony".

Also on 3 November 2006, the Secretary-General presented an Action Plan on Sport for Development and Peace in report 61/373. The Action Plan encourages the United Nations and its partners to move from awareness to greater implementation and action and urges all stakeholders to integrate Sport for Development and Peace in the development agenda at every level.

Such resolutions and reports by the General Assembly are evidence of the rising importance of sport and development on the international agenda and represent a clear signal from Governments in recognition of the unique role of sport in the promotion of education, health, development and peace.

International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005

Despite our limited financial and institutional means, the International Year of Sport and Physical Education (IYSPE 2005) can be considered a success. During IYSPE 2005, a growing network of Governments, organizations, groups and individuals around the world were made aware of sport and physical education’s vital role in contributing to education, health, development and peace. Particular achievements during IYSPE 2005 included:

122 out of 192 United Nations Member States were active with 70 Member States establishing National Committees or National Focal Points.

Commemorative IYSPE 2005 activities were reported by:

16 United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies;

28 sports organizations;

33 governmental and non-governmental agencies;

The majority of activities have continued into 2006, reflecting sustainability of initiatives and increasing acceptance of the power and potential of sport as a development tool.

20 international and over 18 regional conferences were organized during the year, connecting the role of sport with the issues of development, health, culture, environment, peace, gender and education.

The Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) was established, a four-year policy initiative that strives to develop policy recommendations on incorporating sport as a tool for development and peace was launched as part of IYSPE 2005 at the United Nations.

Thousands of international and local projects, using sport and physical education as tools for education, health, development and peace have been initiated.

Actors which were not involved prior to the year are now involved.

Millions of people have been sensitized to our goals and objectives.

IYSPE 2005 has been a launching pad. The United Nations has proved it has the ability to help Governments and communities harness the positive aspects of sport and channel them in a coordinated way. The Year illustrated the role of sport and physical education for a quality education with mandatory physical education recognized in a number of countries as a universal pillar to foster education, health and personal development. Sport and physical education have been recognized for the important role they play in improving public health; and sport as a universal language has been found to bridge social, religious, racial and gender divides, hence contributing to lasting peace.

Despite the benefits for society through sports programmes, specific difficulties and obstacles encountered have been identified. In our continuing efforts to implement Sport for Development and Peace initiatives, it is important to:

  1. Recognize sport for all and physical education as national priorities. One major inconsistency we have encountered is the fact that on one hand there is consensus about the important role sport can play regarding the resolution of social problems such as obesity, discrimination, marginalization and gender inequalities; yet, on the other hand, sport is being accorded reduced budgetary allowances, or in the worst case, is being entirely cut out of policies and budgets. The most obvious example is the simultaneous growth in acknowledgement of the value of physical education/school sport in improving health, holistic development and social inclusion and its marginalization within the educational systems of many countries.

  2. Implement sustainable sports programmes to address social problems. We know that specific issues such as the increasing problem of obesity and a general lack of movement in large parts of the populations of many countries are identified and can be partly resolved by using sport as a tool to improve health, promote holistic development, peace and national harmony. But the implementation of adequate and sustainable programmes and campaigns necessitates community ownership and the allocation of adequate resources not solely to elite sport but rather to community sports activities.
  3. Use sport as a vehicle for combating discrimination, achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Sport can provide a basis to develop the participation of all sectors of society, including the disabled, women and girls, the impoverished, the aged, and other marginalized individuals and communities, in sport at all levels.
  4. Coordinate sport for development and peace programmes and policies using an agreed institutional framework. The international community, including the United Nations, has identified the need for a structure within which to govern and coordinate programmes and policies related to sport. The role of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG), inter-governmental organizations, national sports committees and various platforms contribute to the institutional framework necessary to enable coherent policy and the implementation of successful programmes.
  5. Enhance global "Sport for Development and Peace" coordination. Stronger collaboration and coordinated strategies for partnerships are needed between governments, sports organizations, the private sector and NGOs on the local, regional, national and international levels. This is a precondition for agreements to help countries gain expertise and share experiences in order to work against regional imbalances in sport programmes and policies. Sports organizations must be encouraged to promote professionalism in sport instruction and to help countries increase participation in sport.
  1. Particular obstacles encountered in implementing sport for all policies and programmes include:

A lack of adequate resources, and in some cases competition among stakeholders for limited funding;

Insufficient monitoring and evaluation to gauge the effectiveness of programmes;

A lack of awareness of the positive benefits of sport to encourage greater public participation;

The increasing costs of participating in sport and excessive focus on sport for the talented;

Regional imbalances in sport programmes; and

In schools, a lack of capacity among teachers and principals to introduce effective physical education curricula, and a lack sports and physical education infrastructure.

Next Steps

With the adoption on 3 November 2006, by the United Nations General Assembly, of the report of the Secretary-General and Plan of Action on Sport for Development and Peace, the international community has been provided a framework within which to move forward Sport for Development and Peace initiatives. The Plan of Action is an important next step in advancing Sport for Development and Peace within the United Nations system and by all stakeholders. It encourages stakeholders across a broad spectrum to expand their activities and increase their cooperation. However, while the Plan of Action is a critical step forward, more definite benchmarks for national governments, as well as the United Nations, together with a monitoring and reporting framework are still needed in order to fully galvanize governments and United Nations agencies to realize the tremendous power that sport offers as a tool for development and peace.

One of my main objectives is to persuade governments everywhere in the world, but especially in developing and least developing countries, to maintain the momentum created by IYSPE 2005. By mainstreaming sport into development strategies, including the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and by integrating the principles of sustainable development into policies concerning sport and physical education, governments are using a truly unique potential to promote health, education, development and peace. The value of sport as a tool to strengthen national unity and solidarity among regions and population groups, and its peace building potential needs to be further explored by the United Nations Member States and agencies.

The momentum gained during IYSPE 2005 will continue moving forward by the United Nations Offices on Sport for Development and Peace, established in Geneva and New York, through the efforts of the United Nations Communications Group on Sport for Development and Peace, and other initiatives, including the SDP IWG. Active outreach and advocacy efforts to secure sport’s place on the development agendas must continue with greater vigour and determination. I call upon you to maintain the momentum and to help increase our efforts to make this world a better place through sport.


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