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/ARTS WEEKLY/SPORTS: Scoring a Goal for World Peace

Eulàlia Iglesias

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 25 2005 (IPS) - The United Nations is in the process of deploying a new weapon to promote world peace: sports.

India and Pakistan, two longtime rivals, were united last year when an Indian cricket team traveled to Pakistan for the first time in over 14 years.

In July, two soccer teams of players from Israel and Palestine competed against two Bayern Munich youth teams, in what was billed the “Peace Match”.

“Beginning with the 1971 ping-pong diplomacy, sport has been used to build social capital, defuse tension and bridge cultural divides,” Nadia Samadani, associate officer of the new U.N. Office of Sport for Development and Peace, told IPS. “Since then, Iran-U.S. sport diplomacy has been used to forge better relations between the two countries.”

“There is a project underway to organise a sporting event along the border of South and North Korea,” Samadani added.

Samadani told IPS that “all member states have supported the concept of sport for development and peace, as demonstrated with the adoption of the U.N. resolutions”.

The U.N. General Assembly proclaimed 2005 as the International Year of Sport and Physical Education (IYPSE). Numerous activities and initiatives have taken place at the international, national and local levels in recent months to commemorate this year.

The objective is to promote sport for education, health, development and peace to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

To promote the IYPSE, the U.N. created the Office for the International Year of Sport and Physical Education in Geneva in April 2004. Shortly thereafter, it launched the New York Office of Sport for Development and Peace.

The two offices work together with the Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, Adolf Ogi, to advocate the power of sport on an international level.

The IYPSE’s objective is to organise a series of conferences and events and to publicise research documents in order to “clearly demonstrate the value of sport and physical education for education, health, development and peace”.

Pakistan and India’s national cricket teams recently united for a 2004 cricket series. India’s team traveled to Pakistan in order to compete. In early 2005, Pakistan’s team traveled to India along with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It was the first time that Musharraf had set foot in India in four years. The visit also served as the beginning of a dialogue with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In recognition to their efforts, national teams of Pakistan and India were appointed as spokespersons for the IYSPE on Sep. 21, joining tennis champion Roger Federer and the women’s winner of the 2003 New York City Marathon, Margaret Okayo.

In August 2004, football was also used as a diplomatic tool for peace. The national team of Haiti and defending World Cup champion Brazil played a friendly match in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince to promote peace and encourage armed factions to hand in their guns.

This is not the first time that the Brazilian team has played the role of goodwill ambassador. In 1967, the Brazilians played a match in civil war-plagued Nigeria. Combatants on both sides agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch the superstars play.

The U.N. is currently working with NGOs, sports associations and 40 national committees that have been formed to coordinate local activities with the IYSPE.

On a national level, initiatives include public awareness activities and commemorative stamps and websites to widen dialogue and implementation of projects. At the international level, several conferences and events have been held to discuss the power of sport to promote intercultural, post-conflict and peace-building dialogues.

Sporting events are also being organised around the globe. In September, the Fourth Women’s Islamic Games were celebrated in Teheran, Iran. Chile recently held the Social Integration Games, with more than 1.000 young participants from different social and economic strata. These games featured the soccer star Sergio “Superman” Vargas and six other top players.

In Africa, youth volunteers distributed over 42,000 pocket calendars outlining the MDG’s at a soccer match between Cameroon and Egypt in Yaoundé on Oct. 8. Two banners promoting the MDGs were displayed in the stadium.

The potential of sport was also discussed by heads of state attending the U.N. World Summit in New York from Sep. 14-16. The final document of the summit underlines the role of sport in promoting peace and development and encourages consideration of a Sport and Development Plan of Action.

“We underline that sports can foster peace and development and can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, and we encourage discussions in the General Assembly for proposals leading to a Sport and Development Plan of Action,” the outcome document states.

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