Secretary-General’s Address to Olympic Congress in Copenhagen

5 October 2009
SG/SM/12514

Secretary-General’s Address to Olympic Congress in Copenhagen

5 October 2009
Secretary-General
SG/SM/12514
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General’s Address to Olympic Congress in Copenhagen

The following is the text of the keynote address of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the thirteenth Olympic Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 3 October:

Je suis très heureux d’être parmi vous aujourd’hui.  C’est un réel plaisir pour moi.  C’est également un grand honneur.  Je me sens chez moi parmi vous.  Vous venez de tous les coins du monde.  Vous représentez différentes nations?  et pourtant vous avez de nombreux intérêts communs.  C’est un peu comme d’être à l’ONU!

Je suis ici à Copenhague pour deux raisons très importantes.  Je suis ici parce que ce Congrès est l’occasion idéale d’examiner les moyens de resserrer la collaboration entre l’ONU et le mouvement olympique.  Je suis aussi venu promouvoir la Conférence des Nations Unies sur les changements climatiques qui se tiendra ici même, à Copenhague, en Decembre.

Ces deux objectifs sont liés.  Le mouvement olympique contribue de plus en plus à la protection de l’environnement.  La lutte contre les changements climatiques a besoin d’urgence de votre appui.  Je vous dirai pourquoi dans un instant.

Let me express my profound thanks for this kind invitation to this historic International Olympic Committee (IOC) Congress which is happening for the first time in 15 years.

This Congress is taking place in an era, where we are facing multiple global challenges.  I commend the dynamic leadership of President [Jacques] Rogge to lead the IOC movement through this challenging time.  I also welcome the growing cooperation between the IOC and the United Nations.

Just last month, the United Nations General Assembly, for the first time, took steps to pave the way for IOC representatives to participate in its official meetings.  If all goes well, this could start by the end of the year.

But our partnership goes well beyond meeting rooms in New York.  It extends across the world, from national capitals to war zones.  It carries out scores of projects to help refugees, educate children and protect our planet.  These efforts are underpinned by shared principles.  Non-discrimination, sustainability, universality and solidarity.  Olympic principles are United Nations principles.  Olympians also have tremendous capacity to inspire.

At a United Nations-run camp in Nepal, where young refugee girls were trying to play volleyball with broken equipment, three gold-medal Japanese athletes visited with professional balls and personal lessons.  The girls were overjoyed.  This is just one of countless such examples.

My Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Mr. Wilfried Lemke, has a simple philosophy:  “Sport is a universal language that unites people and builds bridges.”  Indeed, sports can be found anywhere, even in war-ravaged places where all hope seems lost.  Suddenly, a ball appears.  This is a ball made out of plastic bags, used newspapers and used cloth. [Secretary-General shows ball]  Suddenly, a dirty street is transformed into a playing field.  We have seen this in poor townships in South Africa and slums in Nairobi, where United Nations initiatives are helping children benefit from sports.  In the Middle East, organized sports are helping children devastated by violence to learn positive social values.

Three years ago, when the United Nations helped to organize the Democratic Republic of the Congo's first elections in 45 years, the IOC teamed up with peacekeepers to hold “Peace Games” that helped promote calm.  I thank President Rogge for backing these sports-for-peace initiatives.  More and more people around the world understand the value of such efforts.

That is why the vast majority of United Nations member countries sponsor the biennial General Assembly resolution calling for an Olympic Truce.  This is one of the most widely sponsored General Assembly measures, and it is always adopted unanimously.

It may seem impossible to silence all the guns on the planet, but we must try -- we must be as determined as Olympic champions.  We must use the potential of sports to help people who are marginalized, including people with disabilities.  From the Olympics to the Paralympics to the Special Olympics, we hear stories of people who have fought the odds and won.

I hope that all sports will strive to provide equal access to everyone, in keeping with the landmark United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We must also join forces to combat the negative aspects of sports.  Doping, human rights abuses, violence and corruption directly contradict the ideals of the Olympic movement and the United Nations Charter.  We need positive role models who reject this behaviour and show children how to be true winners in life.

I am grateful to the leading Olympic athletes who have signed on as United Nations goodwill ambassadors.  Our work together is especially important as the global economic crisis continues to inflict suffering.  The International Labour Organization, the ILO, is working with the IOC to support job training.  UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund), UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, are organizing sports education programmes.  We are also joining hands to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Athletics are also central to our work to promote gender equality.  I commend the IOC and the organizers of the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore for their commitment to equal representation of male and female athletes.  This is a wide-ranging field of play.

But there is perhaps no area where we cooperate more closely than in protecting our global environment -- one of my top priorities as Secretary-General of the United Nations.  To push for a global climate deal, I have sounded the alarm from Antarctica to the Arctic Rim, from the dry plains of Africa to the steppes of Mongolia.  Last month in New York, I convened the largest-ever gathering of world leaders on climate change.  More than 100 Heads of State and Government participated.

I continue to press them to hammer out an agreement.  We were able to harness much needed political commitment but we also need citizens like IOC members to do their part -- on climate and on the environment.  The IOC’s agenda for Sport and Environment, like President Jacques Rogge just said, is a welcome effort in the right direction.  The concept of “Green Games” is now a reality.  That is why the United Nations Environment Programme named President Rogge a “Champion of the Earth” and I applaud and commend your leadership.

Last summer’s Beijing Olympics set new records.  More than a fifth of all energy used at the Olympic used was renewable.  And people everywhere learned about the importance of protecting the environment.  I am pleased that Vancouver and London, next year and in 2012, are committed to greening the games they will host.

I am also encouraged that the Russian Government, in preparing for the 2014 winter games in Sochi, has already responded to a recommendation from UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme) to relocate facilities away from a protected wilderness area.

Yesterday, you chose a city to host the 2016 Olympics.  I congratulate Rio de Janeiro for its successful bid.  “Parabéns, Rio.”

In a few weeks, an Olympics of another sort will take place right here in Copenhagen.  The nations of the world will gather to seal a deal on climate change.  That will take an Olympian effort.  We are all running a race against time.

Last month’s summit in New York laid a solid foundation for this effort.  World leaders all said they want a deal, and that they will work for it.  The summit also heard important commitments from Japan, China, the European Union and many others.  I appreciate this progress and commitment.  But I am keeping up the pressure.

This is the pre-eminent global challenge of our time, the twenty-first century.  Tackling climate change can set us on the road to peace and prosperity for all.  But half-measures or business-as-usual will set the stage for catastrophe.  I will continue engaging leaders for success at the December Conference.  I appeal to you all to use your positions and your influence to do your part.

Friends, I must confess I am a bit awed speaking before you.  Many of you are athletes, or former athletes, and all of you know more about sports than I do.  If you asked me to jog around this conference hall, I would probably run out of breath.

But when it comes to fighting for our shared global goals -- for a world that is cleaner, healthier, more peaceful, more sustainable and more prosperous -- I will sprint like an Olympian.  I will ski the steepest trail.  I will run and run and never stop until we reach the finish line.  I am counting on all of you to join me.  We must go for the gold.  A gold medal for all of us.  A gold medal for each and every one of you.  I count on your leadership.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.