4 April 2006

Importance of Sport in Reaching Development Goals Stressed at UN Ceremony Featuring Top Athletes

Participants Include Secretary-General, General Assembly President, Roger Federer, Telga Loroupe

NEW YORK, 3 April (UN Headquarters) -- Hailing the United Nations-backed campaign in 2005 to harness the power of sport and physical education to transform lives worldwide, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on all stakeholders to work together to "take our mission to the next stage" and make sport an essential component of efforts to reach the world's development goals.

"That means ensuring full support from Governments and from the United Nations system for programmes using sport as a tool for development and peace -- from the fight against HIV/AIDS to the empowerment of women and girls, from mine action to the reconstruction of societies emerging from conflict," Mr. Annan said, as he received the final report of the International Year for Sport and Physical Education (IYSPE) 2005, which was accompanied by 1,000 signatures of athletes that had participated in the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

During a ceremony that featured statements by top-ranked tennis player Roger Federer, who is also the newest Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and top Kenyan marathon runner Telga Loroupe, among other world renowned athletes, Mr. Annan stressed the importance of cooperation "to realize the potential of sport across the full spectrum of partners -- including development agencies and civil society, the private sector and research institutions, military and the media".  He encouraged the international community to maintain the momentum that had been generated in 2005.

Two years ago, the General Assembly proclaimed 2005 as the International Year to help focus worldwide attention on the importance of sport in society and on how sport and physical education programmes could be used as tools to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, a set of ambitious United Nations-backed targets, ranging from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by 2015.

Subsequently, a series of global conferences and events, and the publication of research documents aimed to promote the value of sport and physical education for health, development and peace, as well as education.  Building on the experience of the 2004 European Year of Education through Sport, the International Year also strengthened cooperation and partnerships between all actors, including family, school, clubs/agues, local communities, youth sports associations and decision makers, as well as the public and private sectors, in order to ensure complementarities and to make sport and physical education available to everyone.

"In 2005 we created momentum, we created a movement," said Adolf Ogi, the Secretary-General's Special Advisor.  As he presented the report, he said that, during International Year, many people had been made aware of the power of sport and physical education to help build a better world.  "We did it more with passion than with money," he added.

Stressing that sport was not just for entertainment, Mr. Ogi said recreation and physical education were also tools for socio-economic development and peace.  "We want development! We want peace!" he said, adding that "the fire was burning and the fundamentals are in place" to do much more.  But sport must be used correctly; it must respect human rights, promote gender equity and encourage cultural diversity.  Overall, the International Year had afforded a great opportunity, but much remained to be done.  Indeed, the International Year had not ended, it had only just begun.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson (Sweden), who was recently appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden, said he believed in the power of sport as a unifier of peoples and cultures.  Sport and physical education were vital for all ages, but especially for children and youth, because it encouraged teamwork, respect for cultural diversity and the need for peace.  Importantly, they also encouraged self-confidence among women and girls.  He echoed Mr. Ogi, stressing that, although the International Year was over, the United Nations joint mission to harness the potential of sport to create a better world was only just beginning.

Today's ceremony was moderated by Djibril Diallo, head of the United Nations New York Office for Sport and Development, and included other keynote speakers, including Abdulla Kaabi, Minister for Youth, Sport and Physical Education of Tunisia, which had hosted the conference that kicked off the International Year; Karl Schweitzer, Sports Secretary for Austria, who also spoke on behalf of the European Union; and Vyacheslav Fetisov, Federal Agency on Physical Training and Sports for the Russian Federation.

The Permanent Representatives of Chile and China spoke.

Other athletes participating in the ceremony included Chilean soccer legend Elias Figueroa and Paralympic track and field champion Katrina Webb, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

Performing were renowned guitarist and singer Salief Keita of Mali, and Jesse Brown, a 17-year-old singer from Switzerland.  Papa Susso performed musical interludes.

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