print logo

Creating peace through sports

 Street News Service 22 November 2019

Wilfried Lemke believes the key to a better and more peaceful society is sport. As the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, he travels the world to witness the power of physical exercise and team play. (942 Words) - By Staff Writer


SNS_UN Lemke interview

 Wilfried Lemke, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, visits a Judo programme in Bouaké, the former rebel capital of northern Ivory Coast Photo: UN Photo/ Ky Chung

What is the benefit for the UN to have a Special Adviser and an Office on Sport for Development and Peace?

"The UN started using sport, play and physical activity in their programmes long ago in order to better achieve their objectives. In fact, sport is a natural fit for the UN: first, access to sport is a fundamental right mentioned in several international conventions. Secondly sport can be used as a low-cost and high-impact tool in a great deal of humanitarian, development and peace-building contexts.

That being said, there is a constant need for better coordination, coherency and systematisation across the UN system and towards the "outside world". There is also the need to keep advocating for a greater support and understanding for sport as a tool for social change.

That is the reason why Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, appointed the former President of Switzerland, Adolf Ogi, as the first Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace in 2001. That is also why Ban Ki-moon, the current Secretary-General, decided to renew the mandate and to appoint me in 2008 as his Special Adviser."

Why do you think the link between Sport and Development and Peace is a powerful one?

"There are countless ways in which sport - when used properly - can contribute to creating positive human development. It has proven, over the years, to be a very versatile and adaptable tool.

First, sport, play and physical activity can be efficiently mobilized at the grassroots level to address a wide range of issues, such as HIV/AIDS prevention, environmental protection, social coexistence, crime prevention, gender equality, trauma relief, inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities, and so on. Secondly, professional sport can be a powerful tool to raise public awareness as well as funds. That is the reason why, for example, the various UN agencies appoint sports celebrities as Goodwill Ambassadors.

All in all, the key characteristics of sport -its universal popularity, its ability to connect people, its capacity to inspire- and the values it carries, like fair play, teamwork, cooperation, respect for opponents, and inclusion, make it a cost-effective tool for an organization like the UN and for its partners."

Can you give some examples of sports events or initiatives that you feel are particularly good at achieving your goals?

"There are thousands of good projects in the area of Sport for Development and Peace, targeting the various issues I just mentioned. These projects are implemented by UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, governments, development agencies, sports federations, and others.

Let me give you a few examples. I was in Haiti recently where I visited post-disaster intervention programmes drawing on the psychosocial benefits of physical activity. In Rio de Janeiro, there are dozen of projects using sport and community role models to prevent at-risk children and youth from falling into criminal activities. In Nairobi, football is used as a tool to empower girls and women, both on and off the pitch, and also as an income-generating activity for local people, via the production of handstitched balls. In the Northern part of Ivory Coast, UN Peacekeepers have constructed football pitches for the local communities and have brought together the rebels and the Government forces on the playing field. In Cairo, in a rehabilitation centre I visited, basketball is used to improve the social integration and well-being of children with mental disabilities.

These are just a few examples; the list is endless. Again, when used in a sensible and appropriate manner, sport can definitely make a difference."

What does sport do that politics cannot do, or not do so well?

"In seeking peaceful resolution to conflicts, for instance, sport's convening ability can be successfully mobilized to bring opponents together on neutral ground, in a depoliticized context, in an environment where aggression can be controlled. On the contrary, the power of sport can, in some cases, be misused for serving ill-intentioned agendas. There are many examples in history, for instance, where sport was instrumentalized by political or religious groups, with negative results such as violence, separatism, nationalism and racism.

Sport can succeed where politics fails, to a certain extent, in activating and connecting people. It should therefore be looked at as a possible entry point, as a catalyst, but definitely not as a standalone remedy for all social ills.

My conclusion would be that sport is only one tool in our toolkit; a powerful one. Use it right, you will do good. Use it wrong, you will do harm."

What was your impression of the Homeless World Cup in Rio this year? How does their work fit in with yours?

"My overall impression was a very positive one. The Homeless World Cup was carried out in a warm atmosphere animated by fairness, openness and tolerance. After the games, the players were congratulating or consoling each other, something you seldom see in professional sport.

I believe that the initiative is very much in line with my mandate, in terms of the range and type of objectives we are pursuing. At the end of the day, it is about using sport to fight social exclusion and provide opportunities to people who need to be supported at one point in their life."

Do you think street papers and alternative media -covering things like the Homeless World Cup- have a special role to play in promoting development and peace?

"Absolutely. Such media outlets can not only raise public awareness on key issues that would generally not be in the limelight but also give homeless people a chance for self-help by providing them with an income generating activity. In that sense, they are important members of civil society and should be praised for their commendable work."


SNS logo
  • Website Design