|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Sports for Peace and Development
Soccer, the most popular game in the world, was an extraordinary instrument for peace, development, mutual understanding and tolerance, Cesare Maria Ragaglini, Permanent Representative of Italy, told journalists at a Headquarters press conference today.
Sports programmes could help children integrate into their communities and provide a network for schooling and health care, Mr. Ragaglini said. Inter Campus, an organization based in Milan, did just that by teaching children in 25 conflict-affected countries how to play soccer and partnering with local nongovernmental organizations to deliver development assistance. Pointing out that the first victims of conflict were women and children, he said that “Inter Campus gave children back the right to play and smile.”
Also speaking at the press conference were Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, and Luis Figo and Francesco Toldo, professional soccer players who serve on the Inter Campus Soccer Team and teach soccer to children in the Inter Campus programmes.
Noting with pleasure that the General Assembly had dedicated its debate today to sport and development, Mr. Lemke said the United Nations “had not been focusing on elite sports, but on how we can use sport as a tool for development and peace.”
“For that, we need role models,” he said, “and the support of many other clubs.” Recalling a past trip to Angola to see Inter Campus at work, he said there were children without any education who had become involved in sports and, thus, role models for other children in their neighbourhoods. He encouraged the United Nations to continue to cooperate with Inter Campus and other like-clubs, particularly through the Organization’s Youth Leadership Camps.
Mr. Figo and Mr. Toldo, both soccer players for 20 years, expressed pride in their roles with Inter Campus and gratitude for the support of the United Nations.
“Because I was born in Portugal to a middle-class family, I had the opportunity to follow my dream,” said Mr. Figo. “There are a lot of young people in the world that don’t have that luck.”
Inter Campus was not a form of charity, Mr. Toldo stressed. It taught children, who had nothing but problems, how to play soccer. Recalling some of his experiences with local Inter Campus partners, he said that in Cambodia, where an Inter Campus soccer game was scheduled to start at 2 p.m., children who didn’t even know how to play showed up an hour early to participate. As well, in Romania, where many minors had been abandoned, soccer had reintegrated them into society.
Nothing could match the emotion felt when seeing children in some of the poorest countries of the world play together, Mr. Toldo stated. “It was better than winning any championship.”
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