|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Secretary-General Heralds Sports as Road to Peace and Development
at International Academic Conference Luncheon
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the International Academic Conference luncheon, on “Promoting Peace and Development through Sports and the Role of Public Diplomacy”, in Seoul on 29 October:
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you. I am always happy to come home to Korea — but this trip is especially meaningful. This evening, I will have the great honour of receiving the Seoul Peace Prize. I will accept it on behalf of the entire United Nations, especially those brave staff members serving under difficult and often dangerous conditions.
Tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to speak to the National Assembly. I feel privileged for this first-ever opportunity for the United Nations Secretary-General to bring the United Nations message directly to the representatives of the Korean people. On both occasions, I will talk about people — how the United Nations must serve the world’s people and how the United Nations can succeed with the support of ordinary citizens.
That is why I am so grateful to WFUNA (World Federation of United Nations Associations). I thank the leadership of Ambassador Park Soo-gil. Your associations are made up of individuals who believe in the United Nations. I am delighted to begin my trip by meeting all of you.
Today we are discussing one of my favourite topics: sports! This year we were all impressed by the fantastic Olympic Games in London. I had the great privilege of running with the Olympic torch.
It was particularly inspiring because that same day I had been in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I went to the stadium in Sarajevo where the Olympics were held in 1984. I ran with an athlete who told me that during the Balkans wars in the 1990s, he had to train at night to avoid snipers.
Then I visited Srebrenica. In 1995, Srebrenica was the scene of the worst act of genocide in Europe since the Second World War. I was there to mourn the deaths of thousands of Muslim men and boys with the mothers, wives and daughters they left behind. Srebrenica was a stark reminder of what happens when the United Nations — and the international community — fails to act.
When I arrived the same day in London, I saw the immense good we can achieve when the international community comes together. At the 2012 London Olympics, the world was united by the power of sport. Running through the streets and then carrying the International Olympic Committee flag at the opening ceremony the next day, I was awestruck by the jubilance, the spirit of friendly competition, the hope for a better world.
The London Games made history. For the first time, Saudi Arabia sent female athletes to participate in the Games. This was a welcome step toward greater gender equality.
I also followed with interest the Paralympic Games. Those athletes travelled a tough road to London. They braved discrimination, doubts and difficulties. Whether or not they won medals, they were all true champions — each one of them.
I congratulate the United Kingdom — and also the Korean teams. I know that many people here were up very late watching Korean athletes. The athletes set many records. But before the Games even opened, the United Nations set its own record. For the first time in our history, all 193 United Nations Member States co-sponsored the Olympic truce resolution.
That resolution called for a truce during the Olympic Games. Sports again proved its power to unite. The Olympic Truce initiative stemmed from our longstanding partnership with the Olympic family. I have made conscious efforts to strengthen our ties. I rely on my Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Wilfried Lemke, to keep this issue high on our agenda.
In 2009, I spoke to the International Olympic Congress about how we could work more closely together. I am proud to be the first Secretary-General ever to travel with the International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, to projects that are helping people through sports.
We went to Zambia and visited a project called Fountain of Hope. The children there had playing fields and reading materials. They learned sports and life skills. What really impressed me in Zambia and in similar projects around the world is how much sports, life skills and values are linked.
Teamwork. Fair play. Respect for your opponent. Honouring the rules of the game. These are all necessary in sports. But they are also essential to relations between people and countries. If I could, I would take all the lessons that those children in Zambia learned at the Fountain of Hope and share them with diplomats at our meetings in New York.
To spread this message, I have opened the doors of the United Nations to partners that use sports to promote our shared values. Sports can help us achieve our Millennium Development Goals.
The Saudi Arabian women athletes were just one example of how we can use sports to promote gender equality. For boys and girls, and for men and women, sports are a path to better health. For youth, especially, sports provide recreation so they are not tempted by illegal drugs.
Sports can bring people together and teach them about our common humanity. At athletic games, ethnic, religious and economic divides disappear. So do stereotypes, fear and misunderstanding.
That is why the United Nations has programmes that bring people from different communities together to play sports. Our peacekeepers organize friendly soccer matches in places like Cyprus. The United Nations runs a project called Basketball without Borders, where students meet and learn that they may come from different backgrounds but they share the same dreams for the future.
Basketball is also the inspiration for our Nothing but Nets campaign to fund the fight against malaria. Sporting events help us raise awareness about human rights, the environment and our fight against poverty.
The United Nations is proud to count many star athletes among our goodwill ambassadors. These famous players take our message to tennis matches and football fields. They engage whole new audiences in our work. And they achieve public diplomacy through sports.
This country will be the proud host of a number of major sporting events in the coming years. We are all looking forward to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The United Nations will be by your side cheering for the Olympic ideals. Before then, Korea will host the 2015 Universiade in Gwangju. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to come together for sports and culture, dialogue and understanding.
The United Nations has already signed a partnership agreement with the organizers to promote the Millennium Development Goals. We are even exploring the possibility of a first-ever united Korean team to compete jointly at the event. I am certain the whole Peninsula would cheer for that team to win.
Last week, I met one of the world’s most impressive daredevil athletes. Felix Baumgartner of Austria recently broke the sound barrier when he jumped to earth. Maybe you watched his incredible journey. I myself watched the live coverage of his courageous journey. At one point he was moving faster than 800 miles per hour. I was mesmerized by his amazing courage.
When we spoke, I told him that he showed there is no limit to human endeavour. There is no limit in our dreams. We cannot all take a death-defying leap from space, but we can all take a brave leap of faith — faith in humanity, faith in our common future, faith in our ability to change the world.
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