As the United Nations Year of Sport draws to a close, its architect Switzerland's Adolf Ogi tells swissinfo that the work is far from over.
The UN special adviser on sport for development and peace says a major challenge now lies ahead to ensure that sport is universally used as an instrument to create a better world.
His comments come as the 2nd Magglingen Conference on Sport and Development, which aims to take stock of the past 12 months and look ahead to the future, gets underway in Switzerland.
Around 400 participants from 60 countries, including senior officials and top athletes, are expected to attend the three-day meeting.
swissinfo: The Magglingen conference marks the end of the UN Year of Sport but is this the final whistle on your work over the past 12 months?
Adolf Ogi: No, this is a symbolic conference that marks the completion of the information and communication phase. Now we must start implementing our ideas and our projects.
At the end of this year everyone should know that sport is an instrument that can help create a better world... Sport is something that doesn't know borders and that can easily overcome language divides. It is something that should play a bigger role in our society.
swissinfo: A year ago you said you hoped the UN Year of Sport could help improve the lives of millions of people across the developing world. Have you made progress on this and do you still believe this can be achieved?
A.O.: We have made a great deal of progress. Take, for example, "Secondo Tempo" in Brazil where by the end of the year two million boys and girls who live in the favelas [shantytowns] will be in a programme. They are taken out of this difficult situation, they are looked after medically, and we offer them sport and education. I was there, I saw it with my own eyes, and it works. For these kids, who are brought up in difficult conditions, among drugs, prostitution and other negative things, this is a major step forward for them. I would even say they are somewhat saved.
To date we have recorded hundreds of development projects that use sport. So far 60 countries out of 191 are actively taking part in the International Year of Sport and Physical Education. About 60 more countries have communicated their plans to us. Thousands of activities are taking place all over the world. Politicians are starting to listen.
swissinfo: Are these hundreds of projects around the world the legacy that you are leaving?
A.O.: Not only that. Now all the UN organisations have recommendations to implement sport in all their programmes, in development, health, education and the environment. People are now starting to believe that here is an instrument, that there is an opportunity.
Politicians, economic, scientific and religious leaders have not achieved their highest goal of creating a better and more peaceful world. We need other instruments and sport could be one of them. Inside the UN the message is clear; outside the UN I am trying to persuade governments, non-governmental organisations, sports federations and others that they must also take into consideration that sport can create a better world.
swissinfo: What you are talking about here is the beauty of sport. But the disgraceful scenes at the Turkey v Switzerland football match in Istanbul paint a different picture. In this context is sport really the right vehicle for promoting peace?
A.O.: Istanbul was very bad for our work – it kills a lot of goodwill. But many people tend to seize only on the negative aspects of sport, the violence, the doping, the money, and this is just the tip of an iceberg. The positive side, what lies underneath, is that sport is the best school of life. In sport you learn to win without thinking you are the best, to lose without thinking that is the end. You learn to respect your opponent, to accept discipline, to integrate, you learn fair play and tolerance.
swissinfo: Obesity among Swiss children is on the rise at a time when there are moves in some cantons to reduce the statutory three hours a week given over to physical education. Are you concerned about this?
A.O.: This is the law – it was introduced under my leadership – so the cantons that don't do it will have problems. But I think that due to the International Year of Sport and Physical Education there is a movement against cutting the three hours. There are even some cantons where they say there should be an hour of sport every day. There are pilot projects already running in canton Lucerne and others.
It is a pity that parliament has reduced the budget for sport but I think that we have launched new ideas this year. Obesity and lack of movement are social problems and the cost of our health care is so high that people are starting to think about this.
swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont
The 2nd Magglingen Conference runs from December 4-6.
Around 400 participants from 60 countries are expected.
They include former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker and four-time Olympic speed skating gold medallist Johann Olav Koss.
Adolf Ogi's UN mandate runs until the end of 2006.
The Swiss government allocated SFr410,000 ($310,735) to cover his mandate during 2005 and 2006.
The three-day meeting, which opened on Sunday, is a follow-up to the International Conference on Sport and Development that took place in Magglingen in February 2003.
At that conference, delegates adopted the Magglingen Declaration that today serves as a global guideline for sport and development activities.
The event is being sponsored by the UN, the Federal Sport Office and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
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