On 6 April, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. This annual observance, proclaimed by the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly on 23 August 2013 (resolution 67/296), underscores the power of sport to drive social change, community and human development, and to foster peace and understanding both in developed and developing countries.

Sport has been on the United Nations agenda since 1993, when the General Assembly adopted its first resolutions entitled “International Year of Sport and the Olympic Ideal” (resolution 48/10) and “Observance of the Olympic Truce” (resolution 48/11). Every two years, the Assembly adopts a resolution on “Sport as an enabler of sustainable development” and every other two years, a resolution on “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”, ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The contribution of sport was further recognized in the Declaration on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 70/1 of 25 September 2015, which emphasizes that “sport is an important enabler of sustainable development”. The Declaration also recognizes “the growing contribution of sport to the realization of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education, and social inclusion objectives”.

Unfortunately, this year’s celebration comes in the devastating wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with severe pressure placed on public health systems, emergency services and the global economy. The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has stated that “our world is facing an unprecedented threat, and the United Nations is facing one of the biggest challenges in our history.” The global sports landscape has also been altered significantly, from playing games behind closed doors to canceling events, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed until 2021. The pandemic has shaken the sports world, with social distancing being the best way so far to protect oneself and others.

Now more than ever, we need to celebrate the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace and the power of sport to change the world, as Nelson Mandela reminded us. If sport teaches us anything it is that teamwork is essential and that together we are stronger. In the same way, we shall overcome COVID-19 if we and the rest of the world work together. Likewise, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a pathway towards a sustainable future for all, leaving no one behind, with peaceful and inclusive societies, and a healthy planet. We can only get there by working together.

Sport plays an important advocacy role in combating the spread of diseases and highlighting the importance of international solidarity. In times of crisis, fear and anxiety can consume us. Alone, it seems, we can do very little, but working together, we can do so much. Even though sporting events have come to a halt for now, athletes, major and small sports leagues and community sports organizations are delivering messages of positivity—connecting us with each other. Sport is bringing people and communities together, helping us find common ground, regardless of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.

H.E. Isabelle Picco, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Monaco to the United Nations, the day of the adoption of the latest resolution on sport (Olympic Truce), 9 December 2019. Photo courtesy of the Permanent Mission of Monaco.

In the context of the global pandemic, it is important to note that the World Health Organization advocates 30 minutes of daily physical activity in order to stay healthy, boost one’s immune system and combat stress and depression.

Moreover, we should not forget that sport is a versatile instrument to prevent conflict and build peace, as it builds relationships across social, economic and cultural divides and creates a sense of shared identity and fellowship among groups that might otherwise be inclined to view each other with distrust and hostility. The universal language of sport helps fight radicalization and prevent violent extremism that is conducive to terrorism. It is also a very powerful tool for dialogue and reconciliation.

With so much progress in the last few years, we must keep on. By raising awareness of the role of sport in health, sustainable development and peace, the International Day can help increase much needed global solidarity. Sport is uniquely equipped to unite. It has unlimited potential to positively heal the world we live in now, and the world we are building for the future. More than ever, the power of sport can contribute to the global efforts to make the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality.

Qatar, host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, is committed to delivering a sustainable World Cup tournament and showcasing innovative solutions. Efforts are in place to address climate change, workers’ welfare and rights, and business practices. Qatar has often stressed its intention that the World Cup benefit the entire MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region and specifically support youth with access to education, research, social, cultural, technological and economic opportunities. A number of initiatives have been launched for the purpose of unlocking this potential. For instance, Generation Amazing leverages the power of football to instigate social change, break down barriers, increase access to sport and enhance community integration in line with the SDGs. From Brazil’s Atlantic coast to the highlands of Nepal, Generation Amazing, in collaboration with United Nations partners and civil society, is building sporting facilities and running programmes that focus on developing leadership skills and civil engagement, and nurturing life skills for thousands of girls and boys in underprivileged communities.

H.E. Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, Vice-President of the seventy-third session of the General Assembly and Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations (left) addresses the Assembly on 2 April 2019. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

We also view the World Cup as a supporting platform for the talented and growing entrepreneurial and innovation community of the region. Financial and technical mentoring from worldwide experts is provided to young entrepreneurs to develop creative and cost-effective ideas, including innovations that will lead to more sustainable outcomes in the design, construction and operational stages of the World Cup’s infrastructure delivery. Most importantly, through education and research, the organizers are energizing sectors that will contribute to more diversified, forward-looking economies across the region. Pioneering disciplines such as behavioural psychology are being introduced, using research to improve processes and policy outcomes.

Monaco is proud to have the only Olympian Head of State. Sport is at the core of Monaco’s identity and way of life, which is reflected in its hosting of major yearly sporting events, including the Monte-Carlo Masters, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the Track and Field Herculis IAAF Meeting, as well as soccer (football), basketball, sailing and many other competitions, and by the hundreds of sports associations that ensure access to physical activity for all. Physical education and swimming lessons are an integral part of the curricula from primary to high school.

Sport is an important equalizer, as the same rules apply to everyone, and it carries ideals and values, such as the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. Through the Olympic spirit, every Olympian and everyone belonging to the Olympic family is a symbol of unity, sharing the same dreams, aspirations and ethics.

We praise the International Olympic Committee, the 206 National Olympic Committees, the International Paralympic Committee, the 182 National Paralympic Committees and the International and National Sports Federations for their leadership and the partnerships they have developed in so many areas. Sport is increasingly integrated into partnerships and projects developed by the specialized funds, agencies and programmes of the United Nations, as well as other stakeholders, including private-sector companies.

Athletes around the world are a constant source of inspiration through their hard work, relentless efforts and collective engagement. Those values are essential for our collective action to overcome the global pandemic and its economic consequences worldwide. Sport has the power to enrich our lives and promote peaceful relations between nations as we embark upon our recovery efforts and work towards strengthening our global community.

Let’s celebrate the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

Let’s support all those who are using sport as a force to advance the SDGs, peace, inclusive societies, equality and opportunity.

Let’s remember, at this time of crisis and uncertainty, the uniquely unifying power of sport and its ability to inspire, bring hope and transform humanity by uniting us to work together.

5 April 2020

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