PRESS CONFERENCE ON SPORT FOR DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE
Fun, collaborative, healthy and relatively inexpensive, sport was also an immensely powerful tool for social development and the development of values, be it in wealthy nations, or impoverished or conflict countries, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.
Speaking to the press about this morning’s meeting of the International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace were: Stephen Owen, Minister of State for Sport of Canada; Dennis Bright, Minister of Youth of Sierra Leone; Gladys Nyirongo, Minister for Sports, Youth and Child Development of Zambia; Johann O. Koss, President & CEO of the Right to Play (NGO); Emmanuel Yeboah, Physically Challenged International Cyclist and Right to Play Athlete Ambassador; and Anne Kristen Sydnes, Senior Advisor, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The briefing was moderated by Djibril Diallo, Director, United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace.
The International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace was established during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, to work on combining sport and play programmes with developmental policy worldwide. Participants of today’s meeting included athletes, United Nations officials, government leaders and sports federations.
Mr. Koss said that the goal of the Group was to create recommendations for national governments to incorporate sport for development and peace in their policies, utilizing the power of the Member States of the United Nations. Today’s meeting was a landmark event, for it had launched an effort to identify successful sport for development programmes and turn them into policy. When it came to financial priorities, sport and play were not seen as an integral part of development. Through today’s presentations by various countries, it became clear that those issues needed to be put at a much higher level in the national plans.
Ms. Nyirongo stressed the importance of the United Nations putting emphasis on sports, which should be used as a vital tool for development. Sports needed to be mainstreamed for development and peace. In her country, children took sports very seriously, and they participated in sports activities, wherever there was equipment or a playground. Much could be achieved through the use of sports for the development of nations.
Mr. Owen said that the fact that ministers, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations system had come together to talk about sports and peace and development was extraordinarily important. The importance of sports for development was clear from some of the programmes initiated around the world, which needed to be institutionalized. It was necessary to coordinate international efforts in that regard, and the United Nations should play an important role in promoting such coordination.
He added that, in developed countries, like Canada, in aboriginal communities and in inner cities, there were issues like poverty, gender discrimination, substance abuse and disability that could touch all members of society.
Mr. Bright said that Sierra Leone was coming out of brutal conflict, but it did believe in the values of sport and the extraordinary potential that they had in terms of building peace and development. It was important to address the mindset, according to which sport was not as important as other priorities, like education and health, that it was equivalent to recreation. In fact, sport itself could enhance the achievement of goals in other areas. Sports should be given their rightful place.
Participants of the meeting were here to listen and share ideas, but they had already started taking initiatives in their own countries. He hoped that, in line with the eighth Millennium Development Goal, it would be possible to develop partnerships between developed and developing countries in the field of sports.
Mr. Yeboah emphasized the importance of bringing sports and peace together. When participating in sports activities, people were not fighting. “If you have peace in your country, you can do better in sports”, he said.
Ms. Sydnes said that she was a true believer in sports for development and peace. To reach the Millennium Development Goals, it was necessary to use that “fantastic tool”. For example, sport was important in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS: it was easy to reach youth and children where sports were played and communicate how they could protect themselves from being infected. Also, in the aftermath of conflict or natural disasters, traumatized children and youth could be rehabilitated through supervised sports and play.
To a question about what was being done to include children and youth with disabilities in sports, Ms. Nyirongo replied that Zambia was currently reviewing its sports policy, seeking to accommodate disabilities in sport. The country was supporting the Paralympics. For the first time last year, Zambia’s team had participated in the SADC Games in Mozambique, where it had won four medals.
Mr. Bright said that just before coming to New York, he had jokingly said to a group of athletes that in the future, Sierra Leone was going to spend more money on Paralympics than on other events, because there seemed to be more medallists among disabled sportsmen and women. More seriously though, there were many people disabled by war in Sierra Leone, and sports became a major healing factor in that regard.
Mr. Owen said that Canada had come in third at the Paralympic Games in Athens, whereas at the Olympic Games in Athens, it had come 19th. He hoped it was an indication of a positive attitude in the country. In Canada, there were 28,000 young people with intellectual disabilities in community sport programmes across the country, mostly led by parents and non-governmental organizations, who understood the very special nature of those in society, who faced barriers and overcame them.
Responding to a question about whether international financial institutions provided assistance in the area of sports, Ms. Nyirongo said that she was very excited that there was emphasis on using sports for development and peace at the United Nations now. Currently, it was such ministries as those of education and health that were getting extra funding from international sources. Now that the Working Group had been launched, she hoped to get support from the United Nations for sports in her country. For now, her Government received help from such organizations as the national boxing and softball confederations. Also, this year –- an International Year of Sport and Physical Education -- the Association of Softball was shipping equipment worth $1 million to her country. That contribution would be used to promote physical education in schools.
In that connection, Ms. Sydnes added that the United Nations was now building a partnership with the private sector to mobilize resources in the field of sports. Big international companies were very interested in supporting children and youth development work.
Mr. Koss concluded the press conference by saying that the role of the Working Group was to create the arguments for governments to see the value of sport and play for development. That could be very cost-efficient. A dollar invested in sports could go much further than in other areas of investment. Every child should have an opportunity to play and have life-long physical activity.
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