The Paralympic Games and the United Nations
Paralympic athletes embody the highest ideals of humanity – they challenge the boundaries set by society and aim to develop and maximize their potential as world-class athletes.
The goals of the United Nations and the Paralympic Games share the same ideals to serve humanity: the UN strives for the peaceful settlement of disputes, social progress and better standards of life, and harmonious relations among peoples and nations, while the goal of the Paralympics is to place sport at the service of humanity, by harnessing its great potential to contribute to the global struggle for peace, prosperity and the preservation of human dignity.
More than 130 nations participate in the Paralympic Games, which is the second largest and one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world. Communities across the globe are motivated by the Paralympics Games and celebrate their fellow citizens who compete in the Games. Indeed, sports serve to inspire communities around the world to aim higher and highest, beyond any boundaries.
For many years the United Nations system has acknowledged the importance of sports in society. United Nations bodies have enlisted star athletes and major sporting events in campaigns to promote immunization against childhood diseases and other public health measures, to support the fight against racism and apartheid, and to promote human rights. An increasing number of non-governmental organizations at the local, national and international levels are joining forces with the United Nations to promote development, health, human rights and peace through sporting events – the Paralympic Games in Beijing this year is a prime example of this international trend.
Persons with disabilities have the right to participate in sporting and recreational activities at all levels; organizing and participating in sports; receiving the necessary instruction, training and resources; and accessing sporting, recreational and leisure venues. In addition, children and youth with disabilities have the right to play and the right to equal access in sporting, recreational and leisure activities, including those within the educational system.
Recent Achievements at the United Nations: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: sports and persons with disabilities
The right to play and to participate in sports has been enshrined in the newly adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as other instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. All human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Therefore, the right to enjoy and participate in sport is directly linked to other human rights, such as the rights to personal mobility and to participate in cultural life.
What sports can do – promoting development and peace for all
The United Nations is incorporating the power of sport in many of its endeavours. UNESCO, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have all focused on the value of sport. UNESCO has affirmed the right of persons with disabilities to participate in physical education and sport. WHO has engaged with the sporting world to promote a healthy lifestyle and the benefits of regular physical activity for decades. The ILO, as part of its activities to ensure decent working conditions, uses sport as a central element for promoting social and economic development.
Sports play a role in communities large and small. From informal recreational matches and contests, to organized sports leagues and federations, people participate: they play, coach, train, and support their favourite athletes and teams. From indigenous sports to global sporting events, sport has “convening power”. Where opportunities for recreational sport and play are absent, individuals and entire communities are often acutely aware of what they are missing.
Sports are intertwined with development. In 2003, the United Nations and several specialized agencies created a task force that recommended an increased role of sports to realize United Nations efforts for development and peace. The task force concentrated on the Millennium Development Goals – eight commitments approved in the year 2000 by the largest gathering in history of Heads of State to improve the lives of the world’s people, especially the poorest. This provided a framework to use sports as means to improve the quality of life for all.
Sports can contribute to economic and social development, improving health and personal growth for people of all ages and groups. Sports can promote accessibility, provide economic opportunities and generate employment. International sporting events can raise awareness regarding the accessibility of infrastructure including transportation, communication systems, the built environment and public space.
Sports can also help build a culture of peace and tolerance by bringing people together on common ground, crossing national and other boundaries to promote understanding and mutual respect. In the 2005 World Summit Outcome world leaders stated: “We underline that sports can foster peace and development and can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding…” As noted in the 2006 Secretary-General’s report on “Sport for Development and Peace: the way forward”, sports can play a role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by contributing to education, health, development and peace in developing countries. Furthermore, as it is a universal language, it can bridge social divides often experienced by persons with disabilities.
The energy and talent of the Paralympic athletes demonstrate that the human spirit knows no boundaries. The United Nations continues to strive for the realization of universal human rights of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and development. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities empowers those who are ready to break-through any boundaries in our society.