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DEVELOPMENT: From World Cup to World Assembly

Sanjay Suri

GLASGOW, Scotland, Jun 22 2006 (IPS) - The football World Cup in Germany and the world assembly of civil society in Glasgow this week have the Millennium Development Goals in common. True or false? True, if the United Nations can have its way.

“Look at the connection between sport and health,” says Djibril Diallo, chairman of the United Nations Youth Leadership Summit series, and director of the UN office in New York of sport for development and peace. Promotion of health is one of the eight millennium development goals (MDGs) agreed at a UN summit in 2000. The other principal goals are to reduce poverty and to promote education and gender equality.

“Sport is essential to improving health and well-being,” Diallo says. “Sixty percent of adults do not get enough sports and physical exercise. They lead mostly passive lifestyles, and this leads to obesity.”

And sport is also education, and can fight poverty, Diallo told IPS in a telephone interview from Vienna. “Sport is school for life. It is fundamental for holistic development. Look at the World Cup and see what it teaches: cooperation, fair play, respect for rules. It promotes tolerance. And over 90 minutes it is a lesson in resilience and teamwork. These are very important skills and values.”

It is also the best way of bridging the gender gap, Diallo said. “It allows girls to participate, and increases their capacity for social action beyond home. It is very important for the development of girls.”

The football World Cup is a reminder also of what sport can do to bring people together, he said. “Just see the power of the World Cup; it has brought together people of all races, places and religions in a common cause.”

The MDGs are about most of these things. “So before the World Cup we worked in the countries of origin of the 32 teams that qualified for the World Cup by promoting a number of points of the MDGs. We have been working with FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) to build strong relations with football associations in each country.”

The group has not been working only through football. It has organised cricket matches between India and Pakistan, brought North and South Korea together in the pan-Asian games, and brought Brazilian football star Ronaldo to work with both Palestinian and Israeli children.

This week the UN group held a European Youth Leadership Summit in Vienna where young leaders from across the European Union and the accession countries Bulgaria and Romania focused on the convening power of sport and culture to accelerate progress towards the MDGs.

Further to the millennium goal of ‘developing a global partnership for development’, the ‘Vienna declaration’ underlines that youth represent more than half of the world’s population, and in order to achieve this goal, youth should be actively involved in building a global partnership for development by promoting sport as a vehicle for development.

Many of these issues arise this week also at the Civicus world assembly in Glasgow. The central theme is ‘acting together for a just world’ That includes specifically addressing the campaign to securing of the millennium development goals.

Several of the themes that the Civicus assembly will take up include issues covered by the MDGs, even if they are not stated as such. These figure within the sub-themes of the Glasgow assembly: the attainment of civic, economic, political and social justice.

While the MDGs as officially formulated are owned by governments and the United Nations, civil society groups at the Glasgow assembly plan to challenge the official moves to further these goals, while also itself engaging in promotion of these goals.

One of the most critical areas where civil society has played a role in advancing the MDGs is in finding innovative delivery solutions for aid projects. Governments in many countries have begun increasingly to look to civil society for both guiding and delivering aid.

The Civicus assembly plans to take experiences of delivering aid to further the millennium goals into the realm of influencing political policy. While that is not a game of football, the goal is not that dissimilar.

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