|For information only - not an official document.|
|Press Release No: UNIS/DSG/30|
|Release Date: 20 March 2000|
|At World Sport’s Forum, Deputy Secretary-General Says Sports Can Help
Heal Divisions between Peoples, Communities and Entire Nations
NEW YORK, 17 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s opening address at the World Sports Forum in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on 13 March:
I am pleased to join you in St. Moritz for this important and truly international event. I must say it is somewhat ironic that we have journeyed from far and wide to one of the world's most spectacular environments and yet find ourselves huddling in hotels and conference rooms. So let us pledge, at the outset, to spend at least some of our time here out of doors, breathing the pure Alpine air. That would be fully in keeping with the spirit of fitness and sport that permeates this gathering.
I bring you greetings from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He wishes you to know of his strong support for your efforts, and also of his conviction that the men and women of the sporting world -- athletes and entrepreneurs, young and old alike -- have a role to play in the global mission of the United Nations.
One may wonder, at first glance, what sport and the United Nations have in common, and how the realm of corner kicks, long jumps and home runs fits into the world of treaties, peacekeeping operations and rural development projects. Some of you might also still be surprised to hear me say that the private sector and the United Nations should work more closely together. Isn't the United Nations against free enterprise?
That perception, if it was ever valid, is completely out of date. The sports world, the business world and the world Organization are now learning to see themselves as natural allies. I hope today to show you why this is so, and in doing so to lay the groundwork for a stronger partnership among us that can make significant contributions to global harmony and peace.
One need only to remember one of diplomacy's greatest triumphs -- the successful struggle against apartheid in South Africa -- to see the positive power of sport in action. Most everyone is familiar with how much the sports world did to help bring about a peaceful transition to democratic rule in South Africa. Less well known, however, is the role of sports in post-apartheid South Africa. Today, we see integrated teams. We see sports such as rugby that are no longer the province of one race, but rather serve as agents of healing and understanding. I should stress here that one of the biggest challenges the United Nations often faces is sustaining international support after a crisis has passed. The sports world in South Africa and its partners abroad should be commended for the way in which they have continued the battle for equality and against intolerance.
One must also think of the Olympic ideal, which promotes international understanding, particularly among young people, and which has long been recognized as closely resembling the ideals enshrined in the United Nations Charter. I am pleased to say that the United Nations flag now flies at Olympic events, and also that the ancient Greek tradition of an Olympic truce -- a call for all hostilities to cease during Olympic Games -- has been revived. Of course, the United Nations promotes peace 24 hours a day, 365 -- or should I say 366 -- days a year, but we will make special efforts to promote the observance of an Olympic Truce during this year's Games in Sydney. More generally, we have close relations with the International Olympic Committee and are developing them with the governing bodies of other sports, such as the FIFA and the International Cricket Council, who are interested in promoting peace, dialogue and reconciliation in conflict zones.
And then, of course, there are the individual athletes themselves. It is hard to overestimate their authority as messengers and role models. Some athletes may regard this as an unwanted burden. But most soon come to accept that success and celebrity bring responsibilities, and that they do have special qualities and skills which make them models for the rest of society -- and especially for the young -- qualities bred on the field or the track, but which are of great value in other areas of life. Athletes recognize, for example, the importance of teamwork; they realize the need for physical and mental discipline; they understand the art of competing without enmity -- showing neither contempt in victory nor malice in defeat. These are not just assets when the game-clock is running; they are skills for life.
Moreover, the truth is that very few boys and girls grow up saying "I want to be Secretary-General of the United Nations", "I want to be chief executive officer" or even "I want to be President". But millions do grow up hoping secretly -- or not so secretly -- that they will be the next Ronaldo, the next Steffi Graf or the next Michael Jordan. Sports are that influential, and that pervasive. Not least, they give us an international language and an exceptional vehicle for bringing strangers together. They bring them together across lines of class, nationhood, ethnicity and culture that might otherwise divide, and around values and objectives that can make our world a better place for all.
That is one reason why Kofi Annan has already enlisted several athletes, including the great Muhammad Ali, as his "messengers of peace". The heads of different United Nations funds and programmes have followed suit. Vladé Divac of the National Basketball Association, for example, is now enrolled as a messenger for the United Nations International Drug Control Programme, encouraging young people to play sports instead of playing with drugs. These stars, along with their teams, associations, and sporting goods manufacturers, make up much more than a business; at their best, they are proponents of healthy life- styles and universal values. The United Nations would like to harness more of this power to its global mission of peace and development.
The private sector has similarly far-reaching power. One of the most encouraging developments at the United Nations in recent years has been the fundamental shift in the relationship between the Organization and the world business community. Where once there was confrontation, today there is cooperation. Where once there was suspicion, today we understand that our respective goals can be mutually supportive. The United Nations openly acknowledges the vital role of business: its technological prowess, its innovative spirit, its unparalleled ability to create jobs and wealth. And the international business community increasingly recognizes that open markets and bottom lines benefit directly from the United Nations work for political stability; from its literacy, health and other development programmes; and from its wide-ranging technical services in areas such as shipping, aviation, telecommunications and intellectual property.
This mutual recognition has the makings of a formidable alliance. That is especially promising at a time when the international trading regime is under attack and there is a risk of backlash against the open global economy. It was with this in mind that the Secretary-General proposed, last year in Davos, that the world business community should join the United Nations in a "global compact". The Compact is not a code. Rather, it is a way to give meaning, nationally and internationally, to the term "corporate citizenship". In practical terms, it asks companies to embrace and enact, in their spheres of influence, universal principles in the crucial areas of human rights, labour and the environment.
What are these principles? They are set out in agreements to which nearly all the world's governments have pledged adherence to: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work. But corporations need not wait for governments to enforce these agreements. They can uphold human rights in their own corporate practices. They can avoid employing child labour and insist that their suppliers and subcontractors do likewise. They can eliminate conditions that are hazardous to health, and make sure that, in their hiring and firing policies, they do not discriminate on grounds of race, creed, gender or ethnic origin. Companies can also practice and promote greater environmental responsibility by encouraging the development and diffusion of environment-friendly technologies, for which the market is anyway expanding and will certainly expand ever further in the future.
Why promote these principles? Not only because they express the aspirations of peoples throughout the world. Not only because corporate citizenship is the right thing to do. We should promote these principles because when they are respected, the result is a solid foundation for stable and prosperous societies. That is good for people, and it is good for business. Companies that embrace these principles will inspire public confidence by showing they take their social responsibilities seriously, and that they understand that a corporation's role in society goes far beyond maximizing the value of its shares.
The sports world is very well-placed to join the businesses, trade unions and non-governmental organizations who have expressed interest in the Global Compact and want to work with us in translating the principles into practice. Allow me to suggest three specific ways for our public-private partnerships to move ahead.
First, let's focus on children. As you know, child labour is not just an issue for textile and electronics manufacturers, but for the sporting goods industry, as well. Employers and their organizations can, for example, provide rehabilitation, training and support services to former child labourers. They can pledge to free their workplaces of child labour, in a phased manner, with help from the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), non-governmental organizations and others. In the wake of last year's signing of a landmark ILO convention aimed at abolishing the worst forms of child labour, tremendous opportunities for partnerships exist.
The rehabilitation of children scarred by war is another area that is ripe for action. Firms investing in the economic revival of societies rebuilding after conflict should feel a special responsibility here. Programmes for rehabilitating children inevitably involve sport as part of the effort to restore the simple pleasures of childhood, and companies could support them. The United Nations, which is sometimes the only source of support for post- conflict societies, is eager to work with you on this.
Second, we must look at health issues. The sporting industry has long led the way in campaigns against drugs and tobacco. Today, there is another cause that urgently needs greater attention: the spread of HIV/AIDS. AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate, overwhelming health services, creating millions of orphans and in some places having an impact no less destructive than that of warfare. Magic Johnson is another of the United Nations messengers of peace, helping our global campaign to protect people from the epidemic. We need your help in spreading information, in breaking the silence and in providing assistance. As employers, you have uncommon power and reach that can and should play a part -- for example, by providing premises for HIV education, by giving protection and support to your employees and by taking a lead within the wider community. Multinational companies working in Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe have undertaken such initiatives, and have also funded medical research projects. Such steps are extremely welcome and encouraging; I encourage you to explore what you, too, can do.
Third, I think we all know that sport is still too often disfigured by overt expressions of hatred and intolerance -- I am thinking of the behaviour shown by some spectators at football matches -- and also by insidious discrimination that denies people opportunities and prevents qualified managers and executives from getting ahead. It is up to teams and their owners to send a clear message -- including through the power of the purse -- that intolerance will not be tolerated. The United Nations will be holding a world conference on racial discrimination next year. I hope that you will support that event, and use the occasion to examine what more you can do to fight this stubborn scourge.
The power of sports is far more than symbolic. You are engines of economic growth. You are a force for gender equality. You can bring youth and others in from the margins, strengthening the social fabric. You can promote communication and help heal the divisions between peoples, communities and entire nations. You can set an example of fair play. Last but not least, you can advocate a strong and effective United Nations.
There may not be any miracle finishes or perfect performances. But if we are even half as motivated and dedicated as the typical athlete, the sporting world, the business community and the United Nations can prove to be quite a winning team. In that spirit, I wish you the best for a successful forum and look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead.
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