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GA/11572
20 October 2014
Sixty-ninth session, 28th Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Recognizes Value of Sports as Tool for Peace, Development, During Debate Reviewing Resolution’s Implementation

Sports could be a diplomatic bridge to peace and a vehicle for healing political and cultural rifts among communities, speakers told the General Assembly today as it reviewed progress in implementing its 2012 resolution on the potential of sport to be used as an educational and development tool.

Assembly Vice President Gréta Gunnarsdóttir (Iceland) said that when nations and people got together to play sports, they cooperatively crossed political and cultural boundaries, even if there had been wars and enmity between them.  Examples abounded of sports supporting reconciliation and fostering peace among divided groups.  

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the matter, she said that it cited the Organization’s initiatives to mainstream sport into social policies, from organizing football matches to raise awareness about anti-poverty programmes to encouraging athletes to speak out against discrimination.

India’s representative said the United Nations recognition of sport as a fundamental human right was a step forward.  Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan’s Minister for Youth and Sports, said international sporting events were an important tool for dialogue and tolerance among nations, and that sports events at home had helped promote health and development among his country’s youth. 

Australia’s representative said physical activity could reduce harmful health problems and obesity, and that research had shown the value of sports for the development of children and adults with disabilities.  For its part, in the last five years his Government had committed $49 million for sports programmes in Australia and was working with neighbouring Pacific countries on grass-roots sports initiatives there. 

Likewise, Ethiopia had made sports one of its overall development priorities, and was integrating sports programmes into national development and peace policies, according to its representative.  

An example of the power of sport in conciliation and inclusiveness, said the representative of Qatar, was her country’s role in hosting the 2022 World Cup sponsored by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, known as FIFA, which would mark the first time an Arab, Muslim and relatively small country would host such an important event.

Tunisia’s representative said sports ethics should be taught to young people in schools and through associations and social organizations, so that sports arenas would not be used for expressions of xenophobia.  Israel’s representative, noting that Israeli athletes still had to contend with discrimination during international matches, echoed several speakers’ view that there was no room for racism in sports.

Belarus’ representative called on the United Nations to take concrete steps to prevent the politicization of sports events. 

The Permanent Observer for the International Olympic Committee expressed hope that Member States would unanimously support the Assembly’s annual “Olympic Truce” resolution calling for the cessation of all conflicts during the 2016 Games.

Also speaking today were representatives of Monaco, Morocco, Russian Federation, United States, Brunei Darussalam, Brazil and Germany, as well as an observer for the State of Palestine.

The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on 21 October to elect 15 members of the Human Rights Council.

Statements

GRÉTA GUNNARSDÓTTIR (Iceland), Vice President of the General Assembly, introducing the report of the Secretary-General titled Sport for development and peace:  realizing the potential (document A/69/330), noted that since 1993 the Assembly had recognized the virtues of sport as a means of promoting education, health, development and peace.  Those principles had been reaffirmed in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, and in the 2010 Outcome documents of the Millennium Development Goals.  Sports had brought people together across cultural and political boundaries and fostered inclusiveness.  There had been many examples of the role of sport in creating bridges between divided communities, supporting reconciliation and fostering peace.  In the past 20 years, the United Nations and partners had committed to mainstreaming sport into social policies, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) matches against poverty, and athletes speaking out against discrimination.  The report of the Secretary-General described many of those initiatives, and she looked forward to hearing Member views on how to further explore the contribution of sport to a more peaceful and prosperous world.

AZAD RAHIMOV, Minister for Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan, said that sport was among the key factors in development, and could positively impact social inclusion.  That potential must be harnessed.  Welcoming the mainstreaming of sport in the development agenda, he noted that the collaborative efforts of all were of critical importance.  Policies and partnerships were a requirement for success at all levels.  His Government mainstreamed sport in its development strategies and his country had gained significant experience in organizing events.  The promotion of sport as a means of health and development was also part of Azerbaijan's policy on youth.  International sporting events were an important tool to bolster dialogue, understanding and tolerance among nations.  Sport had a unique power to bring people together, drive social change and bridge the gap between different ethnicities and traditions.

MOHAMED KHALED KHIARI (Tunisia) said access to sport was a fundamental social right and a factor in social integration and development.  It promoted exemplary values and a robust education for children and young people.  He reiterated Tunisia's determination to continue to make sport a powerful tool for integration and development, tolerance and cultural diversity.  He welcomed the signing in April 2014 of the Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, which called for the strengthening of sports initiatives that aimed to encourage economic and social development.  Tunisia wanted the ethics of sports to be taught to young people in schools and through associations and social organizations, so that sports arenas and assemblies would not be used for racist slogans or expressions of xenophobia.  Tunisia would collaborate with all partners in promoting the values of sport.

ISABELLE PICCO (Monaco) said that this year had seen two sporting events at a high level:  in the Russian Federation, the Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, and in Brazil the World Cup.  The participation of United Nations bodies such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had summarized the power of sport for dialogue and non-discrimination.  Sport, with its power to include everyone regardless of capabilities, was a force for good.  At a national level, a rally had been organized, which had brought together 400 students, testing their endurance as well as other skills.  Welcoming the naming of a new envoy for Youth, Refugees and Sport, she noted that this could encourage social inclusion within those damaged communities.  Sports could help give children access to a healthy lifestyle while promoting integration in the community.

DAVID ROET (Israel), a co-sponsor of the resolution on sport for development, recalled that just a few days after the conflict in Gaza had ended, Israeli and Palestinian children had come together to play soccer.  Jews, Arabs, Muslims and Christians had played together on Israel's national sports teams.  In Rwanda, thousands of cyclists, many riding bikes fashioned out of wood, delivered food, firewood and coffee.  The first Rwandan National Cycling Team, born in 2007, comprised Hutu and Tutsi riders who showed how sports united people and overcame ethnic and cultural differences.  But the memory of the dreadful day during the 1972 Olympic Games when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes, and hostility took the place of international harmony was still fresh in his mind.  Israeli athletes today still had to contend with discrimination, he said, citing incidents in which Israeli tennis players were excluded from a Dubai tournament; athletes in Tunisia, Kuwait and Iran refused to participate in fencing and judo tournaments with Israelis; and one of Israel's soccer teams was attacked by a mob that stormed the field during a friendship match in Austria.  There was no room for any sort of prejudice, politics or racism in sport.  Member States should work together to cultivate a culture that “unites rather than divides us”.

PETER STONE (Australia) said his country was well placed to use sport as a vehicle to contribute to targeted development outcomes.  Over the last five years, Australia had committed $49 million to development through sports programmes.  In partnership with Governments and non-governmental organizations, the Government had identified non-communicable disease prevention and enhancing the lives of people with disabilities as priority areas.  The Australian Sports Outreach Programme worked in seven Pacific countries to deliver grass-roots level sports initiatives.  Research demonstrated evidence of the value of sport as a development approach for people with disabilities and children.  Among his country’s efforts to combat non-communicable diseases through sport, research had shown the importance of getting women involved in community-based sports programmes, and that vegetable consumption had increased, and the consumption of tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks had decreased.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said his delegation had co-sponsored the draft resolution on sport and expressed hope that it would be adopted by the Assembly.  Since 2008, Morocco had drawn up a national policy on sport and development to anchor sport in the daily lives of its citizens.  It was a fundamental element in the development of young people, just as was education, training, political participation and access to the labour market.  Morocco was proud to be one of the few countries whose Constitution considered sport a human right.  He reiterated Morocco’s determination to reinforce the link between sports, international fraternity, friendship, and the unity among people.  There was no better way to encourage the values of respect, diversity and tolerance among communities, civilizations and cultures than through sports.

PRAKASH GUPTA (India) said that sport was a catalyst that brought the international community together.  Sport was about participation and inclusion, and fostered skills such as discipline, confidence and leadership.  Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, he noted that when people played, they made mistakes, and it was through them that they learned.  The United Nations recognition of sport as a fundamental human right was a step forward; for his country, fostering a culture of healthy lifestyles was a national priority.  Yoga was a gift of India, and it was not about exercise, but about discovering oneness with self and nature, which could ultimately help deal with climate change.  Urging work towards the adoption of an international yoga day, he thanked the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for naming cricket star Sachin Tendulkar as ambassador for hygiene and sanitation in South-East Asia, a measure which would motivate children and young people across the region.

Evgeniy ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) said sport could overcome national and international enmity.  At a time when we were witnessing greater tensions worldwide, it was more important than ever for the international community to foster sports as a means of solidarity.  His country noted the trend of using sports for exerting political pressure.  The international community would have to work harder to enhance sports.  The Russian Federation intended to continue to cooperate with its partners on sports.  The Sochi games popularized sports with a record broadcast audience and participation of more athletes than ever before.  Further, the Olympic area would later be transformed into a major winter sports training centre.  Olympic ideas would be promoted by an Olympic Sports University in his country.  The Russian Federation was ready to continue international sports cooperation, and would continue to organize major events at the highest possible levels.

RUSSELL SINGER (United States) said that his country was home to a vast array of sporting events and communities.  The diversity and universality of participation in sports promoted inclusiveness, while bringing together people of all groups.  Sports crossed all segments of society, empowering people of diverse backgrounds while fostering tolerance and respect for all peoples.  Naming several national initiatives making use of sports as a tool for development and diplomacy, such as a sports visitors’ programme, he said that sport provided a universal language for educating people about respect, diversity and fairness, while combating all forms of discrimination.

ABDUL GHAFAR ISMAIL (Brunei Darussalam) said his country encouraged everyone in society to take part in sports.  The country had hundreds of indoor and outdoor facilities, and children and youth were active in regional and international tournaments.  Females accounted for almost 60 per cent of national athletes.  Brunei's efforts towards inclusiveness were in the form of the national Plan of Acton on Persons with Special Needs; national sport events had included the rights of all people to participate.  On 6 April, Brunei organized a nationwide sporting event to inculcate the spirit and values of sports for all, equality, non-discrimination, fairness, integrity, tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.  They had ongoing programmes for youth, including a soccer football tournament that encouraged youth from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to come together through sport.  A five-day National Youth Challenge brought together youth in team-building exercises, and Brunei had established two communications programmes wherein the Government accounted for the views of young people in the promotion of healthy lifestyles and sport.

ERIKA ALMEIDA WATANABE PATRIOTA (Brazil), a co-sponsor of the draft resolution, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the principle that sport was a means to promote education, health, development and peace.  Brazil's Constitution recognized the practice of sport as a fundamental right, in line with the UNESCO International Charter of Physical Education and Sport.  Brazil was in the middle of a sports-centered decade, with the Confederations Cup in 2013, the Federation Internationale de Football (FIFA) World Cup in 2014, and the 2015 World Indigenous Games and 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  That was consistent with the priority Brazil accorded to sustainable development and social inclusiveness.  With FIFA Brazil had worked towards a World Cup that would convey the message, "Say No to Racism."  During the opening of the 2012 Paralympic Games, Brazil signed a joint declaration with the United Kingdom, Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea in the promotion of human rights and values.

MISHAEEL AL-HIJJI (Qatar) recognized the importance of sport in promoting physical and psychological health, enhancing social cohesion and solidarity, raising young people and in developing nations.  Qatar promoted sports at the national and international levels and as part of its international development policies.  Sports facilities were advanced and a means to promote sports in society.  The Qatar Olympic Committee had many important initiativesQatar was a member of the Group of Friends of Sport for Development at the United Nations.  The Qatar Olympic Committee 2022 was playing an important role in hosting of FIFA in 2022.  It would be the first time an Arab, Muslim and relatively small country would host such an important event.  The Government had adopted national initiatives to expand the base of sports for all members of society, including a paid holiday for employees to benefit from sports.

CHRISTIAN NELL (Germany) said that sport played a valuable role in contributing to social cohesiveness.  Sports programmes could foster social inclusion and help overcome discrimination on the basis of race, religion, disability, gender and gender identity.  Further, sports could help in the achievement of internationally agreed upon development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.  Sport for development was important for national policies on development, he said, and while the focus of each programme varied from country to country, gender equality and peacebuilding was a common emphasis, among others.  The United Nations Office on Sports for Development and Peace (UNOSPS) played a key role in connecting people and promoting peace.

HUDA MOHAMED (Ethiopia) said that sports were popular in her country, but such activities had not reached the desired level they all expected to achieve.  The Government had developed a comprehensive national sport policy and had put in place appropriate mechanisms to implement it.  Her State had further undertaken measures to help implement the national policy with the support and cooperation of relevant governmental organs and adopted various national declarations and resolutions.  Ethiopia had chosen sports as one of its overall development priorities, and had been working to further enhance its useful contributions by integrating it into national development and peace policies.  Her country called on partners and other stakeholders to continue to help Ethiopia’s institutions by providing financial, technical and logistical support for the development of sport programmes.  The country needed help from the United Nations and development partners in areas of capacity-building, provision of sports facilities and equipment and the promotion of community sports participation.

Evgeny Lazarev (Belarus) said that in future reports like the one before the General Assembly today, his Delegation would call for concrete actions by the United Nations preventing negative manifestations, such as the politicization of the holding of sports events.  Sports were a tool for intercultural dialogue and understanding, and major international sports events often did more towards dispelling stereotypes and prejudices than political initiatives.  Congratulating the Russian Federation on their win at the 2014 ice hockey world championships, he said the occasion had underscored a simple truth, which was that the politicization of sports events served no purpose.  His Government intended to continue to back principles of neutrality and de-politicization of sports, as such politicization was incompatible with the principles of friendly relations.

MARIO PESCANTE, Permanent Observer for the International Olympic Committee, said that with the Games, the Committee had been able to set an example of peaceful global interaction.  The past two years had witnessed important developments in leveraging that positive power year-round, in the strong partnership between the Committee and the United Nations, and in several joint agency and programme initiatives.  The Committee had been exploring ways to use sport more effectively as a tool for positive change.  In that regard, he urged Governments and stakeholders to increase access to safe and protected sports for all, in particular girls and women, people with disabilities, and marginalized communities.  The Committee had been supporting the World Health Organization's (WHO) Commission to End Childhood Obesity, and he encouraged others to promote sport for health and well-being.  Sports needed to be seriously considered in the post-2015 development agenda.  He hoped that the Member States would unanimously support the Olympic Truce Resolution urging an end to conflict in the context of the 2016 Games.

Right of Reply

Exercising the right of reply, an observer for the State of Palestine said that his delegation would have liked to be able to come to the General Assembly to take stock of progress made in the framework of sport and its role for good in terms of peace.  However, his delegation regretted that the Israeli occupation dominated all aspects of life.  The occupying Power hampered the development of sports infrastructure, as well as the movement of athletes, technicians, and visitors.  The organization of any sports activities involved a decision which was hostage to the vagaries of Israel's mood at the time.  In most cases, what was being attempted was to ensure the majority of sporting events did not happen.  He mentioned five children aged from nine to 11 who could have participated in sports activities, including with Israeli children.  However, he said, the occupying Power decided otherwise, and killed them while they were engaged in sports activities on the beaches of Gaza.  Israel destroyed all initiatives or means aimed at achieving development and peace in Palestine, and sports were no exception.  The events in Munich were an act that took place a single time, but Israeli massacres against the Palestinian people, including athletes, had gone on for 66 years.  Israel had broken records when it came to human rights violations, winning every gold medal in that category.  Israel would not put an end to its practices as long as the international community had not taken on its responsibilities in putting an end that country's practices.

For information media. Not an official record.