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UN seeks to prove sport is more than just a game

Adolf Ogi (left) and Kofi Annan officially launched the UN's Year of Sport in New York Keystone

Former Swiss cabinet minister Adolf Ogi has launched the 2005 International Year of Sport and Physical Education at the United Nations in New York.

A series of events next year will seek to show how sport can be integrated into education, health, development and peace programmes around the world.

Ogi is a special adviser on sport-related issues to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and has been at the forefront of plans for next year’s programme of activities.

“Adolf Ogi will be leading the events throughout 2005,” said Michael Kleiner, head of the office at the UN in Geneva that has been charged with planning and coordinating the Year of Sport.

“The aim is that governments, sports federations and non-governmental organisations understand that sport is not just about having fun, but can help achieve economic, social and human development,” he told swissinfo.

UN resolution

The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution stressing the potential of sport to help achieve the Millennium Goal of halving global poverty by 2015.

The organisers hope to turn good intention and political rhetoric into action by enlisting the support of some of the biggest names in sport – including Swiss tennis star and current world number one, Roger Federer.

Federer, whose own charitable foundation helps disadvantaged children in South Africa, has agreed to lend his name to the cause.

“Federer not only plays very good tennis,” said Kleiner, “but he also shows great respect for opponents both on and off the court.”

“He is an embodiment of what this international year stands for, and that is that sport can help develop the idea of respect for your opponent, for the rules of the game and the referee’s decision.”

Ogi’s role

Ogi personally approached Federer to ask him to attend Friday’s launch after a muscle injury ruled the two-time Wimbledon champion out of this week’s Paris Masters.

“It is great that a Year of Sport is being launched. It really is a special honour for me, as a representative of one of the newest UN member states, to be there [at the start],” said Federer.

Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002, but Kleiner said this had not stopped the country from taking a leading role in planning the Year of Sport.

“Of course the fact that Adolf Ogi is a former Swiss cabinet minister has had some influence on this, and he has benefited from the strong support of the [Swiss government],” he said.

Swiss involvement is being coordinated by the Federal Office for Sport in conjunction with the Federal Health Office and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Highlights of the “several thousand events” expected to take place across the country include a series of sports programmes designed to facilitate the integration of foreigners in Switzerland, as well as a campaign to encourage children to lead more active lifestyles.

Swiss projects

Switzerland already sponsors a number of sport-related projects in the developing world, including a scheme which uses physical education to help improve the lives of street children in Ivory Coast.

The biggest political event of the year will be a Swiss-hosted international conference on sport and development, to be organised by the Federal Office for Sport in December.

Kleiner hopes the conference will be a fitting end to a year of activities which “will last well beyond 2005”.

“We want to show that sport can be integrated fully into the development activities of governments around the world.

“Many people say this kind of international year is just a lot of hot air, but if by the end of 2005 we have succeeded in increasing recognition of the power of sport to help people, we really will have achieved something.”

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

The 2005 UN International Year of Sport and Physical Education is the brainchild of former Swiss cabinet minister Adolf Ogi.
Ogi was nominated Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace in 2001.
In Switzerland, “several thousand events” will be organised across the country to mark the Year of Sport.

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