|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY SPECIAL ADVISER ON SPORT FOR DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE
Wilfried Lemke of Germany, newly appointed as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning that he would continue the work of his predecessor, Adolf Oggi, to build bridges between people through sport, from the slums of Africa to conflict-ridden areas in the Middle East.
Briefing journalists on activities he had undertaken during his first three months in office, including in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, he pledged to work on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General to bring people together through dialogue, and he would function as the United Nations “eyes and ears” to suss out potential obstacles to development and peace.
“I am the Special Adviser on sports, and I will do everything to support sport projects to bring people together and not to divide them,” Mr. Lemke said, adding that he was confident in the power of sports as a tool for peace.
Stressing the use of sport as a way to promote development, Mr. Lemke said his impression from a recent trip to Africa, where he visited South African townships and two slum areas in Nairobi, Kenya, had been so striking that he had returned home eager to raise funds for the projects he had seen. He planned to run in the New York Marathon in November to collect money for a sports project, whose patron was a Kenyan runner, winner of the race in 1990.
“It was so hard to see how the very young children lived in the slums and the townships,” he said. “The children are the future, and we must give them the future.”
Commenting on protests that greeted torch bearers around the world as they carried the Olympic flame from Athens to Beijing, he said he would try to engage parties in a dialogue to defuse any violence directed at the Olympics. “The Olympic Games are a very big event made for the sportsman. Sportsmen all over the world are training so hard. I know a lot of them are looking forward to this sports event,” he added.
At the same time, he stressed his strong support for free expression. “Every athlete coming from every place all over the world had the right to have a view and to discuss any problem relating to sports, politics and human rights,” he said. However, such views should be expressed outside the competitions. He could not agree with anyone who wanted to “disturb” the Olympic Games.
Expected to attend the opening ceremony on 8 August, Mr. Lemke would also chair a meeting just prior to the start of the Games, bringing together members of the International Working Group on Sports for Development and Peace. He described his presence at the Games as an important opportunity to build ties with high-ranking Government officials and leaders of various national sports federations from around the world.
Mr. Lemke had managed a top European football club, Werder Bremen, for 18 years, where fundraising had been a major focus. He hoped to continue on as Special Adviser. Among his other tasks would be to sort through “the jungle” of initiatives being sponsored by different United Nations agencies, some of which would appear, at first glance, to move in different directions.
He said that, after his first 10 weeks, it had become evident that he needed to take stock of the various United Nations programmes linking sport with development and peace. He intended to do that by convening a roundtable of actors within the Organization to re-evaluate the objectives of all actors in that field.
Mr. Lemke fielded several questions from correspondents regarding issues where sports intersected politics, including the barring of Zimbabwe’s cricket team from playing in England, the use of sports as a tool for peace in conflict zones, such as the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and sports as a vehicle for development in remote areas, such as China’s Tibetan province.
As a former athlete, he said he sympathized with sports figures that had trained hard for various competitions, but were banned by politicians from playing. But he stressed that the conflicting interests of Governments and the sports world should be solved by bodies such as the International Olympic Committee and similar entities, which had rules in place to decide such matters.
He also said he was engaged in “friendly discussions” with Chinese officials on a possible trip to the Tibetan province, and that such a trip would likely take place after the Olympic Games were over.
Mr. Lemke noted that there were roughly 36 Permanent Representatives at the United Nations that belonged to the Group of Friends of Sports for Development and Peace, which he hoped would grow in number. He also told journalists that the Office of Sport for Development and Peace was preparing a resolution to be tabled at the General Assembly session in the fall, which would pave the way for its report to be heard by the Assembly in the future.
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