14 February 2007 The world’s top female tennis player, Maria Sharapova of Russia, today became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with a special focus on helping with the recovery efforts after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
“One of my proudest contracts ever,” said Ms. Sharapova after signing on for a symbolic $1 salary as an ambassador during a ceremony with UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert at UN Headquarters in New York.
Ms. Sharapova announced that she and her newly created private foundation would donate $100,000 to eight UNDP projects in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine that try to assist those areas still blighted by the Chernobyl accident.
Those projects aim to restore hospitals and sports facilities, improve access to computers, and promote ecological awareness across the three countries.
“I was just briefed on Chernobyl effects and how I will be involved with it, and I’m just so excited to be a part of this process – I can’t wait. I can’t wait to help with everything I can,” she told reporters.
The 19-year-old, winner of two Grand Slam titles and currently ranked number 1 in the world, has a personal connection to Chernobyl. In the year before she was born, Ms. Sharapova’s family fled the Belarusian city of Gomel for Siberia because of concerns about radiation in the wake of the accident.
“That’s why it means so much to me to be a part of this project because I was sort of part of it as well. I hope that I can go there and make field trips… I still have family in Gomel, Belarus – my grandmother lives there.”
The new goodwill ambassador voiced hope that she would be able to raise the awareness of the problems caused by Chernobyl while at the same time calling attention to the fact that help is available. “There are a lot of solutions, and I want to make sure they know that,” she said.
Mr. Melkert said Ms. Sharapova’s appointment would bring benefits beyond the Chernobyl recovery and re-development efforts.
“Her special interest in young people, responsible choices and healthy lifestyles make Maria the ideal role model, not only for people in the region, but really for young people everywhere,” he said.
Ms. Sharapova becomes the sixth UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, joining the soccer stars Ronaldo of Brazil, Zinedine Zidane of France and Côte d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba, the Japanese actress Misako Konno and Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon Magnus.