‘Win or lose, They Are Champions of the Spirit’, Secretary-General Says of Refugee Athletes, in Remarks at Geneva Olympic Event

SG/SM/17717
29 April 2016

‘Win or lose, They Are Champions of the Spirit’, Secretary-General Says of Refugee Athletes, in Remarks at Geneva Olympic Event

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the event “Celebrating the Olympic spirit”, in Geneva today:

Je suis très honoré de prendre part à la cérémonie d’aujourd’hui.  L’Organisation des Nations Unies est fière de travailler en partenariat avec vous en faveur d’un monde meilleur.

Here, at our Palais des Nations in Geneva, this flame represents the warm partnership between the United Nations and the International Olympic Movement.  This is the flame of passion that burns in the hearts of athletes and fans.  It is the eternal flame representing timeless values that can never be extinguished.  And most of all, this flame is a beacon of solidarity with all peoples of the world.

This year, the International Olympic Committee has taken the extraordinary step of including a refugee team.  For the first time in history, talented athletes who have been forced to flee their homes will get a chance to chase gold.  Their fellow refugees will see outstanding contenders who give hope to all.  And the world will see refugees the way they deserve to be seen:  as talented, strong and inspiring people.

Win or lose, they are champions of the spirit.  I welcome the refugee team and I will be cheering for them with all my might.  Because I was displaced by war when I was a six-year-old boy, because I have met so many capable refugees around the world, and because I believe that with fair rules, they can triumph on the playing field and in the field of life.

At the same time, I call on the world to find lasting solutions.  Refugees want homes, not tents.  They want a flag that waves for their rights.  And they deserve a world that gives them more than assistance; they deserve a world that is at peace.  Let us all be on the team of refugees until there is no need for a refugee team at all.

Next month, the United Nations will convene the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to mobilize global action.  Then in September, the General Assembly will hold an important summit to address large movements of migrants and refugees.  I call on leaders and people to make the most of these global opportunities for progress.

The International Olympic Movement stands strong with the United Nations.  It has helped advance global climate action, which culminated last week with the record-shattering signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  One hundred and seventy-five countries endorsed the Agreement on International Mother Earth Day — more than ever before for any treaty or convention.

The International Olympic movement is also helping to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals for a life of dignity for all people.  This visionary plan and commitment by world leaders specifically recognizes sports as an enabler of sustainable development.

I have seen the International Olympic Committee’s projects around the world.  I have met many children who found the courage, through sports, to follow their dreams.  It may not seem like much to give a refugee girl or boy a ball to kick around.  But I know from experience that war destroys more than buildings and roads — it also destroys childhood.

Sports give children the basic human right of being children who can, at least for a few moments, laugh and play.  That is why I so deeply value the International Olympic Committee’s humanitarian projects.

I thank my Special Envoy, Dr. Jacques Rogge, the honorary President of the International Olympic Committee, for strengthening the partnership between the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The world is looking forward to Rio Olympic Games — and the Paralympic Games, which also embody the values of the United Nations.  These competitions score wins for athletes and countries but also benefit our planet and all people around the world.  Let us ensure that these victories endure for generations and spread throughout the world.

Let us work together to make this world happier, more harmonious and where all the people can live with human dignity.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.