Government leaders, United Nations officials and world class athletes met Tuesday, May 24 at the United Nations in New York City to launch an initiative that promises to revolutionize the way the world views sport.
Capitalizing on worldwide momentum being gained by the Sport for Development movement, an Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group, first envisioned during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, is working to transform successful sport and play programs worldwide into development policy.
"Many countries do not have national sports initiatives, and those that do often miss the opportunities created when sport and development programs collaborate," said UNDP Assistant Administrator, Mr. Bruce Jenks, Chair of the International Working Group. "With the policy tools it creates, the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group will make it easier for these countries to set up their own sport programs and reap the development benefits."
The vision for the International Working Group evolved over the course of several years in conjunction with the growing recognition of sport as an important tool for development, health and peace. There is mounting evidence that providing more opportunities for children to play enhances their healthy physical, social and emotional development and builds stronger, more peaceful communities. International humanitarian organization Right To Play, lead by four-time Olympic gold medalist Johann O. Koss of Norway, is driving the initiative.
"Sport and play are rapidly gaining recognition as simple, low cost, and effective means of achieving international health, peace and development goals," said Johann O. Koss, president and chief executive officer of international humanitarian organization Right To Play. "We need to take advantage of this momentum to document and systematize the positive influence of Sport for Development on children and communities around the world."
Emmanuel Yeboah, Physically Challenged International Cyclist and Right To Play Athlete Ambassador, is testament to the power of sport in uplifting children, adults and communities around the world.
"My mother told me never to let anyone put me down because of my disability," said Yeboah, who was born in poverty in eastern Ghana with no lower right leg. "That advice was a gift, and sport for me was the only way to achieve that goal in a country where those with physical disabilities were viewed as cursed and sometimes became the victims of infanticide. Now, I want to share my life-building experiences in sport with disadvantaged children in my own country and throughout the world."
Besides the athletes themselves, a number of ministers from various countries and sports federation representatives present at the International Working Group's launch attested to the importance of well-structured sport and play programs in achieving a number of development goals, such as conflict resolution, equality for women and HIV/AIDS education. Sierra Leone is an active participant in the initiative.
"Sport and play programs are giving the most unfortunate children a reason to laugh," said Dennis Bright, Minister of Youth and Sport in Sierra Leone. "In Sierra Leone, former child soldiers as young as 7 and 8 are being given the opportunity to overcome their trauma and become children again through organized play. The world needs more of this medicine."
Buoyed by the wealth of successes in Sport for Development around the world, participants endorsed the establishment of an International Working Group to document these experiences in a comprehensive effort to develop Sport for Development policy guidelines and best practices. These guidelines can help promote progress towards the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, so participation by United Nations officials has been active.
"The International Working Group, working with the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) and the UN New York Office of Sport for Development and Peace, hopes to contribute to the mainstreaming of sport into existing national policy frameworks and international development assistance programs," said Djibril Diallo, Moderator of the meeting and Director of the United Nations New York Office of Sport for Development and Peace, a co-host of the event.
"The International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace is a unique example of civil society actors, public sector and the UN coming together to foster the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals", said Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP).
The International Working Group has received funding from three governments (and commitments of other forms from five additional governments) but more financial assistance is needed to ensure the viability of the group. Efforts are being made to attract private funds and other funding governments.
"Sport and play programs are multiplying throughout the world, but many governments have not yet been enlightened as to the power of sport as a tool in successful development," said Canadian Minister of State (Sport) Stephen Owen. "This initiative should help solve that problem, and Canada is a proud funding government, along with Switzerland and Norway. But more government commitment is still needed."
The International Working Group is seeking support from governments to translate a declaration of commitment into action.
"The International Working Group's mission includes encouraging countries to adopt a declaration of commitment ensuring that Sport for Development recommendations are reflected in national policies and receive the necessary government funding," said Adolf Ogi, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace.
The next meeting of the International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace will take place in Turin, and will be scheduled around the 2006 Winter Olympics.
more information please contact:
Alison Gregor, Media Consultant,
International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace
+ 1 646 685 0617 office
+ 1 646 269 5137 cell