Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for inviting me here today to speak at the opening of this International Conference on Sport and Development.
I am pleased to see such a large representation of leaders from various sectors to discuss how sport can be used to support the sustainable development of humankind.
(Guest list includes:
• Mr. Adolf Ogi, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace and Former President of Switzerland,
• Mr. James Wolfensohn (World Bank),
• Mr. V. Fetisov, Minister of Sports of the Russian Federation
• Heads of several UN entities
• Notable private sector leaders?)
Ladies and gentlemen,
Sport is a language spoken all across the globe. Men, women and children, rich and poor alike, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist, all are linked by an almost universal enthusiasm for sports.
For evidence we need look no further than the fervour created by last year’s World Cup held in Japan and Korea, or at the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney.
Major sporting events like these can capture the imagination of the world.
They also serve to highlight a self-evident truth that is often neglected:
We are all connected in a worldwide web of life.
Our common humanity links us far more than our conflicts and differences divide us.
Sport has the power to lift the veils of hatred and mistrust which too often cloud our world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The power for good that sport represents can be harnessed and channelled to help make our world a better place.
The purpose of this meeting is to further explore ways in which sport can contribute to the Millennium Development Goals, goals which were set out by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, at the turn of the Millennium as a focus for actions that need to be taken by governments, the private sector and civil society to achieve a sustainable future for ourselves, our children and our grand-children.
There is no doubt that sport can play a very significant role in the achievement of these goals, both as a medium of communication and motivation, and as a massive worldwide industry whose practices can have widespread impact.
Take, for example, the manufacture of sports goods.
A multinational company that produces, for example, running shoes or other sports equipment, can have a have a direct impact on whether the Millennium Development goals are being achieved or undermined:
• Is the manufacture of the product relieving poverty or exacerbating it.?
• Are the workers paid fairly?
• Are women being given equal opportunities?
• Is child labour being used?
• Are employees being educated about HIV/AIDS?
• Is manufacturing being done according to cleaner production principles to protect the health of employees and the environment?
These are just some of the questions industry can ask itself.
These are questions that everyone involved in sports—manufacturers, consumers, event organisers—should be asking.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Sustainable development is based on three pillars: social progress, economic growth and environmental protection. Any development strategy that neglects this inter-relation runs the risk of failure.
The organisation I represent, the United Nations Environment Programme—UNEP—is the mandated voice for the environment within the United Nations system.
It is therefore my job to emphasise the environmental factor in all development decision making.
I am pleased to note that, where sports is concerned, consideration for the environment is growing all the time.
An excellent example is the Olympic Movement, which has incorporated the environment into its charter and recognises it as one of the three pillars of Olympism alongside sport and culture.
As well as collaborating closely with UNEP and other competent authorities, it has a Sport and Environment Commission to advise it on environment-related policy.
The Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21, which was adopted in 1999, encourages its members to play an active part in sustainable development.
Among the fruits of these initiatives was what we might describe as the first ever ‘green’ Olympic Games in Sydney 2000.
These games were an advert for how the development opportunities provided by the Olympic Games can be used to benefit the community and the environment.
The success of the Sydney Games will be felt far and wide, and I look forward to seeing how Athens emulates and builds on these principles in 2004.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Examples like these, and the fact that this conference is happening today, demonstrate how far the sports movement has come in embracing environmental awareness.
I am also pleased to note that this engagement is reciprocal.
The environment movement is becoming increasingly engaged with sport as a vehicle for promoting sustainable development.
Just over a week ago the twenty-second Governing Council of UNEP concluded in Nairobi.
Many decisions were taken there to promote sustainable development, including the adoption of a Sport and Development Strategy, which takes into account the United Nations Secretary-General’s initiative to promote the use of sport for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.
Central to the UNEP sport and environment strategy is the recognition that sport is affected by the environment.
For many of the world’s poor, sport is seen as a way to escape from poverty.
Boxers from Thailand, footballers from Brazil, runners from Kenya—all dream of the riches that sport can provide.
But, for every success story there are hundreds, thousands, millions of tragedies:
• babies dying before the age of five due to preventable diseases caused by unclean water;
• children suffering from respiratory diseases because of polluted air;
• children who have no time for play because they are forced to work;
• and children too weak to play or succeed at school because of malaria and other parasite burdens;
• other children are orphaned by AIDS or because their mothers died needlessly in childbirth;
• and then there are the parents, prematurely aged or killed by pesticides, by unsafe working conditions and by the burdens of trying to provide for their families.
As well as being affected by the environment, sport can also affect the environment.
An example from the UNEP Governing Council makes this point very well. At the beginning of the Council we launched a report on the environmental impacts of mercury—a problem that many had not realised was as potentially widespread and grave as it actually is.
I learned there of a use of mercury that I had not previously known about.
We have all seen those children’s athletic shoes that flash when one walks or runs. One ingredient that has been used to make those lights work is mercury.
Mercury is an extremely toxic substance. It persists in the environment, is magnified through the food chain, and is particularly harmful to children and babies in the womb.
As these shoes wear out, they are thrown away and their mercury ends up in the atmosphere, in our freshwater sources and in the marine environment.
I understand that this particular manufacturing process is now banned in most countries.
Nevertheless, it is an example of how, with some forethought, an environmental hazard could have been avoided.
It is up to the sports community to ensure that sport, and the products used in sport, create the minimum harm and maximum benefit to society and the environment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Perhaps the most significant way sport can benefit the environment, and sustainable development, is through its popularity.
Sports stars are among the most famous and revered people on Earth—looked up to and respected much more than politicians on the whole!
People who succeed at sports display qualities we all need: courage, application, refusal to submit to adversity, leadership.
Their potential as ambassadors, as promoters of sustainable ways of living, is enormous.
When an international star like the Brazilian footballer Ronaldo speaks to the youth of the world about AIDS, I am sure he is being listened to.
So, in conclusion, the world of sports presents untold opportunities for creative minds to think up ways to make sure that this multibillion dollar industry, which touches the lives of nearly everyone on the planet, can be a positive force for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
• Manufacturers can be more socially responsible;
• event organisers, stadium constructors and local authorities can make sure their ecological footprint is as small as possible;
• and everyone involved in sport, from the pleasure walker to the international athlete can play a part in spreading the message of sustainable development.
At UNEP we have a motto: Environment for Development.
• We must sign a new compact with our environment.
• We must develop new partnerships.
• Every individual and community has a role to play.
• Together we can build a world that is cleaner, fairer, more prosperous and a happier place for everyone.
• It can be done.