Transcending Borders, Sport Plays Critical Role in Overcoming Hurdles to Building Peace, Sustainable Development, Speakers Tell General Assembly

GA/11867
6 December 2016
Seventy-first Session, 52nd Meeting (AM)

Transcending Borders, Sport Plays Critical Role in Overcoming Hurdles to Building Peace, Sustainable Development, Speakers Tell General Assembly

Heralded in ancient times for its ability to bring warring parties together, modern sport could be a powerful enabler of sustainable development and a tool for empowering young people, the General Assembly heard this morning.

General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) said the ancient Greek tradition of the Olympic Truce — a temporary ceasefire to enable athletes and spectators to travel and compete safely in the Olympic Games — was premised on the recognition of sport as a tool for building peace and goodwill.   Throughout time, sport had helped to build the confidence and strength of young people, persons with disabilities and minority groups, and empower young women and girls.  Across the world, sport had been used to advance peace and reconciliation and had the power to transcend borders and inspire all.  Commending the promotion efforts of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace, he quoted Nelson Mandela as having said that sport was more powerful than government in breaking down barriers.

The Permanent Observer for the International Olympic Committee to the United Nations said sport could be a powerful tool for promoting gender equality, pointing out that the world was moving closer to seeing 50 per cent female participation in the Olympic Games.  At the Rio Olympic Games, for example, more women had competed than ever before, accounting for 45 per cent of the athletes, he noted.  Making sport accessible to all remained a major priority, he added.  However, sport could only build bridges if its autonomy and neutrality continued to be respected, he emphasized.

As the Assembly considered the Secretary-General’s report on sport for development and peace (document A/71/179), several speakers provided examples of the power of sport.  Cuba’s representative recalled that following her country’s 1959 revolution, sport — once the dominion of a privileged few — had become part of the education of all children from an early age.  Cuba had also provided countries of the global South with sports teachers, coaches and trainers, in addition to helping develop deep ties of friendship among peoples.

Some delegates cautioned against the exploitation of sport for other purposes.  The Russian Federation’s representative warned against the “dangerous trend” of political interference in sports, as seen in the baseless allegations levelled against his country before the Sochi Olympic Games.  More recently, the unprecedented and highly political decision to ban the Russian Federation’s entire Paralympic team had dealt a blow to the prestige of world sports in general, he said.  Condemning the tacit international acceptance of doping by some athletes, he described it as particularly hypocritical against the backdrop of the ban on Russian Federation athletes.

Yet, sport could be used in nation-building, some speakers said.  Cambodia’s representative spotlighted his country’s use of sport to rebuild following decades of conflict.  The 1960s were considered the golden era of Cambodia’s sport, but civil war had destroyed the country, including the sporting arena.  However, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia had been strengthening and expanding sport infrastructure, including by introducing sport into schools, upgrading sport fields and equipping sports clubs.

Echoing that sentiment, Israel’s representative said sport could foster a future of peaceful coexistence, emphasizing that nowhere was the unifying power of sport more evident than on Israel’s national sports teams, in which Muslims, Jews and Christians all wore the same uniform.

Singapore’s representative stressed that sport was an enduring source of inspiration for all, highlighting his country’s disability sports master plan aimed at facilitating participation in sport and enabling those with disabilities to adopt an active lifestyle.

Several delegations expressed condolences to Brazil over the deaths of members of that country’s Chapecoense soccer team in a plane crash last week.

Also speaking today were representatives of Monaco, Australia, Qatar, India and Brazil.

In other business, the Assembly took up a draft resolution titled “Investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him” (document A/71/L.25).  Presented the representative of Sweden, it requests that the Secretary-General appoint an eminent person to review the potential new information — including that which might be made available by Member States — to assess its probative value, determine the scope that any further inquiry or investigation should take and, if possible, draw conclusions from investigations already conducted.  The Assembly was expected to take action on that draft resolution later this month.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. today, when it is expected to take action on draft resolutions contained in reports of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).

Opening Remarks

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the history of sport could be traced back to ancient civilizations.  The ancient Greek tradition of the Olympic Truce — a temporary ceasefire to enable athletes and spectators to travel and compete safely in the Games — was premised on the recognition of sport as a tool for building peace and goodwill.  Across the world, sport had been used to advance peace and reconciliation and had the power to transcend borders and inspire all.  Noting that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognized the importance of sport as an enabler of sustainable development, he said it could be used as a key tool for driving pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals through the promotion of tolerance and social inclusion.  Sport had helped to build the confidence, strength and capacities of young people, of persons with disabilities and of minority groups, he said, adding that it had also empowered young women and girls.  Commending the promotion efforts of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace, he quoted Nelson Mandela as having said that sport was more powerful than government in breaking down barriers.  Today, the Assembly celebrated sport for its role in driving sustainable development and promoting goodwill and understanding, he said in conclusion.

Statements

ISABELLE F. PICCO (Monaco), spotlighting various contributions of sport in empowering young people, said that collective promotion efforts had been successful thus far, yet the international community must do more to harness the full potential of sport.  Young people must remain the priority, she said, emphasizing also that gender equality was critical in ensuring that girls and boys enjoyed sport on an even playing field.  Describing the 2030 Agenda as a good roadmap, she said her country had been a keen supporter of including sport, noting that the Sustainable Development Goals Fund aimed to promote sport and reduce juvenile delinquency.  Sport was deeply embedded in Monaco’s society and was a key element of the Government’s policies, she said, outlining various ways in which the Government had raised funds for sport and highlighting the link between Governments and various intergovernmental agencies.  It had also made successful efforts on social networks to ensure that sport become available to all, especially children in isolated areas.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) noted that sport could strengthen cooperation among nations and help to overcome ethnic strife, emphasizing that it was now more critical than ever for it to support multiculturalism, tolerance and socioeconomic development.  Recalling that the Russian Federation had hosted the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi and would host the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in 2018, he warned against the “dangerous trend” of political interference in sports, seen in the baseless allegations against his country during the run-up to the Sochi Games.  More recently, the unprecedented and highly political decision to ban the Russian Federation’s entire Paralympic team had dealt a blow to the prestige of world sports in general, he said.  The Russian Federation was open to cooperation in combating doping and was investigating all relevant allegations, in addition to developing a national anti‑doping plan and establishing an independent commission.  In that regard, he condemned the tacit international acceptance of doping by some athletes, describing it as particularly hypocritical against the backdrop of the ban on athletes from the Russian Federation.

LILIANNE SÁNCHEZ RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba), stressing that sport was an excellent tool for building social inclusion and development, said the Government of Cuba had established free access to sport for all citizens.  Following the 1959 revolution, Cuba had made sport — once the dominion of a privileged few — part of the education of all children from an early age.  In addition, it had lent its impartial support to countries of the global South by providing sports teachers, coaches and trainers, and by helping to develop deep ties of friendship among peoples.  She affirmed that Cuba would continue to share its expertise by deploying its main resource, human capital, despite the 50-year-long economic blockade imposed by the United States, which continued to hamper such efforts.  Expressing opposition to the notion of sport as simply a money-making activity, she denounced the theft of sporting talent from developing countries.

PETER STONE (Australia), expressing his delegation’s commitment to the principles of sport for development and peace and to the role that the United Nations could play in furthering them, said that sport’s popularity, capacity as a communications platform and ability to connect with people made it a useful tool for meeting a range of development challenges, including the Sustainable Development Goals.  That objective was outlined in the Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy 2015‑2018, to which the Government had already committed more than $50 million across the Asia-Pacific region, he said.  Among other things, the Strategy addressed risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases — particularly physical inactivity — supported persons with disabilities and fostered the equality of women and girls and improved social cohesion.  Describing several specific programmes, he said that Australia’s sport for development programmes were also making a strong contribution to such related sectors as education, leadership and economic empowerment.

NIZAR AMER (Israel) stressed that sport could help to build more inclusive societies, promote development and foster a future of peaceful coexistence.  Noting that 2016 marked the 120th anniversary of the modern revival of the Olympic Games, he recalled the murder of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic delegation by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September during the 1972 Munich Games.  “This tragic event is a warning for the ages that sport should not be used as a vehicle for incitement and hatred,” he stressed, adding that nowhere was the unifying power of sport more evident than on Israel’s national sports teams, in which Muslims, Jews and Christians all wore the same uniform.  The lasting social impact made by the Mamanet Cachibol Mother League demonstrated how mothers could serve as powerful role models, he said, highlighting also a sports project that had been headed by the Shimon Peres Peace Centre as an example of how sport could act as a catalyst for peace.

AFRAA AL-SALEH (Qatar) expressed that sport had an important role in fostering dialogue and peace.  Qatar’s Ministry of Youth and Sport focused on centres and clubs that promoted physical activity and had, as part of its national 2030 vision, adopted an annual national sport day celebrated in February that aimed to expand the participation of all members of society in sport.  The 2030 Agenda recognized that sport was an important empowering element of sustainable development and peace and played a role in empowering women, girls and young people.  At the regional and international level, Qatar had hosted several sport events, including one for persons with disabilities.  Hosting such events had the potential to foster understanding of various cultures and shed light on the importance of sport in socioeconomic development.  Participants also had a chance to emphasize the constructive role of sports events and the various experiences of women, young people and persons with disabilities.

LIM MUN PONG (Singapore) said that sport was a potent force for positive change in society that brought people together and transcended differences in cultures, nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds.  For its part, Singapore hoped to engender greater inclusiveness, acceptable and understanding of persons with disabilities through sport.  It had launched a disability sports master plan in 2015 to ensure a more inclusive Singapore, where everyone, regardless of ability, could take part and even excel in sport.  The master plan aimed at harnessing the potential of sport by making it easier for those with disabilities to adopt an active lifestyle.  It also sought to improve access and opportunities for persons with disabilities in sports participation, develop and grow a pool of sports professionals and educators with expertise in sports for person with disabilities and increase public awareness and support for its athletes.  At the recent Rio Paralympic Games, Singapore had been represented by 13 athletes across six sports, its largest ever contingent.  Sport was an enduring source of inspiration for all, he said.

SURYANARAYAN SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) said that while sporting events had occasionally been used for political ends, on the whole it had overwhelmingly served to bring people and nations together.  In India, national teams reflected the population’s diversity, with players speaking many languages, practising different faiths and coming from urban or rural backgrounds.  India’s sports policy aimed at drawing in youth, thereby providing a platform for its potential to advance social and developmental goals.  Describing a number of national sporting programmes, he recalled that two young athletes — Sakshi Malik, who had won a bronze medal in wrestling at the Rio Olympic Games, and Dipa Karmakar, India’s first female Olympic gymnast — had recently embodied the determination of Indian women to pursue their dreams.  “Sport is a reflection of society,” he said, noting that violence, corruption, hooliganism, deception and drug abuse had recently been seen in sport.  Concerted action was needed to prevent the intrusion of such ills and to protect the noble ideals and spirit of the Olympic Games and other sports.

RY TUY (Cambodia) said that even as sport played a part in promoting education, health and development, it could play an even bigger role in bringing about peace among conflicting communities and peoples.  Noting that the 1960s were considered the golden era of Cambodian sport, he said it was unfortunate that various civil wars and internal conflicts had destroyed the country, including the sporting arena, “to ground zero” for almost three decades.  Most recently, however, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the National Olympic Committee had strengthened and expanded the sport infrastructure at all levels.  Sport had been introduced into primary and secondary schools, he said, adding that the country had renovated and upgraded its sport fields, trained instructors, equipped sports clubs and developed federations, schools and community sports clubs.  He also highlighted various regional sporting competitions that Cambodia had participated in or hosted.

FABRICIO PRADO (Brazil) expressed gratitude for the wave of support that had eased the grief of the Chapecoense soccer team’s families, saying that outpouring had demonstrated how sport brought people together.  “Thank you for the condolences and the support,” he added.

MARIO PESCANTE, Permanent Observer of the International Olympic Committee to the United Nations, said recognition of sport as an important enabler in efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals had been a milestone for humanity.  The sports sector was undeniably ready to be a key partner in planning and implementing the 2030 Agenda.  Sport could be a powerful tool, particularly in promoting gender equality, he said, welcoming the increased space for empowering women and girls in and through sport reflected in the resolution.  The international community was moving closer to 50 per cent female participation at the Olympic Games, he noted, recalling that in Rio de Janeiro, for example, more women had competed than ever before, accounting for 45 per cent of participating athletes.  Of course, gender parity at the Olympic Games was not enough, and it was important to promote gender equality off the field as well by teaming up with partners who shared the same vision.  He highlighted a joint initiative with UN‑Women, “One Win Leads to Another”, saying it supported 2,500 girls across the State of Rio de Janeiro by using sports programmes to empower them to become future leaders in their communities.

He went on to emphasize the importance of complying with local, regional and national legislation, as well as international agreements and protocols applicable in the host country with regard to planning, construction, protecting the environment, health and safety, and labour laws.  Making sport accessible to all remained a major priority, he added, pointing to the International Olympic Committee’s new programme to build “safe spaces” for sport around the world.  They would bring equal opportunities for children to play sport in a safe environment while providing a platform for civil society partners to deliver education or health promotion services.  Stressing that sport could only build bridges if its autonomy and neutrality continued to be respected, he said that, together, the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee were using sport to improve lives and build better communities around the world in order further to cement the role of sport at the centre of social change.

Introduction of Draft Resolution

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) introduced the draft resolution “Investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him” (document A/71/L.25), emphasizing the need for moral leadership in today’s turbulent times and the importance of remembering the late Secretary-General’s tireless defence of United Nations ideals.  After 51 years, the exact circumstances surrounding Mr. Hammarskjöld’s death were still not known, he noted.  Recalling that the Assembly had adopted a resolution in 2015 requesting that the Secretary-General pursue pending requests for information by the Independent Panel of Experts, he said new documents had recently come to light regarding the circumstances of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s death.  However, since their authenticity remained unclear, there was a clear need for additional follow-up.

In that regard, today’s draft resolution contained six operational elements, he continued.  It requested that the Secretary-General appoint an eminent person to review the potential new information — including that which might be made available by Member States — to assess its probative value, determine the scope that any further inquiry or investigation should take and, if possible, draw conclusions from investigations already conducted.  Since the draft contained a small programme budget implication, its adoption would take place once the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) had considered the matter later this month, he said.  “Time is of the essence as every passing year the door is closing further on finding the truth,” he emphasized.  “We owe it to the families of those who perished that night, to the United Nations as an organization and to all of us who strive to continue to work in Mr. Hammarskjöld’s spirit.”

For information media. Not an official record.