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UN sports advisor champions fair play


United Nations special advisor and former Swiss cabinet member Adolf Ogi has spent the past seven years promoting sport as a tool for peace and development.

In an interview with swissinfo, Ogi looks back on his time at the UN and talks about the positive role of sport. He assesses the Swiss political climate and says it's time to get positive about the Euro 2008 football championships.

Ogi's international efforts have borne fruit. Over the past seven years the UN has launched 1,000 sports projects worldwide. The sports office is now being turned into an institution, an opportune moment for Ogi to hand over to a successor.

swissinfo: For the past seven years you have been UN special advisor on sport for development and peace. Are you proud of your achievements?

Adolf Ogi: Not proud, but I do believe that the UN now recognises sport as a further platform, alongside politics, economy and religion, that can be used to help reach the UN Millennium Development Goals for 2015.

Unfortunately, we are not yet on track. That's why we need new strength and instruments – including sport – that can lead us to a better, more peaceful... and terror-free world. I am glad that the new UN Secretary General acknowledged the achievements of the past seven years by making the office an institution.

swissinfo: You announced your intention to retire from the UN position this summer. Are you reconsidering under the new circumstances?

A.O.: I wanted to retire last year along with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan but the new administration asked me to stay for the changeover. I have now done that. I want to resign at the end of the year but it is still under discussion whether that will be the end of December or a bit later. But I think it's time a new woman or man took over the job.

swissinfo: To what extent do you think sport has won recognition from the international community for the role it can play in promoting peace?

A.O.: Sport not only can play an important role in promoting peace but also in promoting education, health and other aspects of development. Sport is a school of life. In sport you learn to win without thinking you're the best. You learn to lose without thinking that's the end.

You learn to respect your opponent, to accept the rules and the decisions of the referee. You learn integration, solidarity and fair play. I would say this message is clearly understood in Africa, Asia and South America. Unfortunately, it is not yet very well understood in Europe and North America.

swissinfo: In Switzerland Euro 2008 is just around the corner. It seems that this event is causing more headaches than happiness. Has Switzerland a problem with Euro 2008?

A.O.: We won't know until it's over. Then we will see whether Euro 2008 was a success or not for Switzerland and Austria. At the moment one has the impression that the problems that have to be overcome are stifling a sense of excitement.

But we also have to be realistic. You can't order the Swiss to be excited 250 days before the European Championship. You can't say to them - "enjoy life, make something from this event". That is not part of the Swiss temperament. But it is a pity that only problems are being talked about now and the joy is suppressed. It's time now for a certain thrill to emerge.

swissinfo: Will the organisation of the championships be good enough?

A.O.: We just cannot allow the European Championship to be badly organised. The Portuguese have shown how it is done and the Germans organised an excellent World Cup. I am counting on us doing the same. And I hope so because we won't get a second chance.

swissinfo: You once said that if the [rightwing] Swiss People's Party continued in the same vein, they would have problems in the 2011 general elections. Do you still think this is the case?

A.O.: This year the party received 29 per cent of the vote. That's unique in Swiss history. But when you are so strong you have a duty to contribute to finding the best solutions for your country and not simply your party. The People's Party must show that it is capable of finding the best solutions to resolve Switzerland's problems in the future.

swissinfo: Will the People's Party be up to this?

A.O.: Success validates but it also brings obligations. I hope that this responsibility will be taken seriously, that there will not be divisive politics but that solutions will be found in the interests of this country of four cultures, 26 cantons and 3,000 communes. I am confident that the People's Party will manage it.

swissinfo: How should we picture you in retirement?

A.O.: With skis on Mont Blanc.

swissinfo-interview: Christian Schmid

Adolf Ogi

Born in 1942 in Kandersteg near Bern, Adolf Ogi received a diploma in business studies before going to England to study at the Swiss Mercantile School in London.

After working as manager of a tourist office, he joined the Swiss Skiing Federation, first as technical director and afterwards as director from 1971 to 1981.

He also took an active part in the International Ski Federation from 1971 to 1983 and is currently honorary president of the Swiss Olympic Committee.

Ogi was a member of parliament from 1979, and was a member of the cabinet from 1988 to 2000. He was the transport, communications and energy minister from 1988 to 1995. Then he moved to the defence, civil protection and sport ministry from 1995 to 2000. In 1993 and in 2000 he was president of the Swiss Confederation.

In February 2001 Ogi was appointed special advisor to the UN Secretary-General charged with the task of promoting understanding and support in sport for the work and ideals of the United Nations. He plans to retire from this post at the end of this year.

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Ogi's favourite anecdote

As sport minister, Adolf Ogi once had to give a speech on sport, health and heart disease. He couldn't remember if heart was le coeur or la coeur in French so he asked his fellow minister Jean-Pascal Delamuraz. His colleague said: "Don't worry about it, just say liqueur!"

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