5 November 2004


Press Briefing

Press conference to launch International Year of Sport


The United Nations was turning more and more to the world of sports for help in working towards peace and achieving the Millennium Development Goals, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told correspondents at the Headquarters press launch of the International Year of Sport and Physical Education this afternoon.

That International Year was proclaimed for 2005 by the General Assembly in 2003 via resolution 58/5.  Last month, in addition, the Assembly adopted a resolution stressing the need to build a global partnership to use sports as a tool for development and peace during the Year (resolution 59/268).

Joining the Secretary-General at today’s event were Adolf Ogi, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace; Roger Federer, tennis player; Margaret Okayo, New York Marathon Defending Champion; and Ali Hachani, Permanent Representative of Tunisia, which sponsored the sports resolutions.  The speakers were introduced by Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor.

Explaining the United Nations’ interest in sport, Mr. Annan said that it was a universal language that could bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status.  Through sports or physical education, young people could experience real exhilaration even as they learned the ideals of teamwork and tolerance.

Thanking Mr. Federer and Ms. Okayo for their participation, he said that both symbolized the strength, perseverance and values that the International Year sought to promote.  Both, he continued, would serve as effective spokespersons to young people throughout the world. (For the full text of the Secretary-General’s remarks, see Press Release SG/SM/9579 issued today.)

According to Mr. Ogi, the Organization needed a new instrument to create a more peaceful world.  That instrument, sports, could bridge cultures and conflicts.  It was the best school to teach such values as fair play, teamwork and discipline.  However, sports were not taken seriously for development and peace building, so the resolution and the International Year were needed to make the point.

Mr. Hachani said that the sports resolutions represented a landmark since they put the topic onto the agenda of the General Assembly.  He expressed appreciation for their unanimous adoption.  The International Year, he said, would rally partnerships and development projects for the goal of dialogue and a culture of peace.  In that effort, he stressed, the media had a pivotal role to play.

Mr. Federer and Ms. Okayo expressed the honour they felt in being able to participate in the International Year of Sport and Physical Education.  Agreeing with the importance of sports for the development of children, they described assistance programmes they supported in South Africa and Kenya, respectively.

A correspondent asked how sport could actually end conflicts.  Mr. Ogi gave the example of the Olympic Village where athletes from all nationalities lived together.  In addition, he said that sport could test what was possible in politics, as the so-called “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” tested the ice for relations between the United States and China in the 1970s.

Asked by another correspondent on how the International Year would be publicized to schools, Mr. Ogi said that there would be many related conferences held.  All Member States were being asked to use the International Year to show the value of sport for peace and development.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.