By Grant Jarvie
A Sporting Tribute to Kofi Annan
As a person the commitment to justice, human rights, peace and development were resolute. As a person Kofi Annan understood the potential of sport to convey humanitarian messages.
In a tribute to the former UN Secretary General’s work and commitment to some of the shared ideals with the Academy of sport we present extracts from speeches that recognised the potential of sport to be an agent of social change.
“Sport is an important tool to promote many of the things that are dear to me – democracy, social and developmental change, social cohesion and understandings among people” Kofi Annan (2010).
On Ghana and FIFA World Cup in South Africa
“The lasting trophy to take away from the tournament is this incredible moment of unity. I wish we could preserve it and invoke it more broadly for the development and wellbeing of the continent. There is no reason why we should wait another four years for another moment of solidarity; we can draw upon what you have created, now”
“Crucially, this unity went far beyond the shores of our continent. Millions of non-Africans cheered for you, too, something that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. I am sure, we have all felt at some stage of our lives that the world is united against Africa. But this World Cup, and particularly your last match, has shown the enormous goodwill towards our continent. You won – we all won – because you opened so many hearts and eyes”
On the UN and sport
“Indeed, when Secretary-General, I admit we at the United Nations were often a little jealous of the power, and indeed, universality of sport.
Both the IOC and FIFA have, for example, more members than the UN. At the last count, the UN has 192 members compared to 208 who belong to FIFA.
It was why I was so determined at the UN to use sport more effectively to achieve development goals.
It is a huge tribute to sport in general – and to all of you here – that you have long recognised sports’ wider responsibility to society and its ability to drive social change”
Sport as an engine of social change
“As Secretary-General, I appointed the former President of Switzerland, Adolf Ogi, as the first Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace.
This was followed by the establishment of an Inter-Agency Task Force and, in 2005, the UN’s successful International Year for Sport and Physical Education.
Our aim was to ensure sport was seen not as a by-product of development but as one of its engines.”
On sporting capabilities and challenges
“But some outside this knowledgeable audience might ask whether we are not asking too much of sport.
They are right to remind us that sport, above all, is a game to be enjoyed whether as a participant or as a spectator.
But this is to underestimate its convening power and far-reaching potential. Sport is the universal language, understood from Milan to Manila, from Montreal to Montevideo.
It engages and brings our world together in a way few, if any other activity, can manage.
It has an almost unmatched role to play in promoting understanding, healing wounds, mobilizing support for social causes, and breaking down barriers.
It can – and does – encourage pupils to stay in school and parents to get their children immunized.
It is used effectively to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and has helped drive global campaigns against such evils as child labour and landmines.
It provides both a powerful symbol for national identify but also brings people together across continents.
At its simplest, of course, sport and physical activity directly builds fitness and co-ordination, improving mental and physical well-being and resistance to disease.
Sport teaches the values of team-work, discipline and leadership as well as the reward of effort. Each are valuable lessons for life.
It builds confidence and social skills and is key to the healthy development for our children.
And in a world in which billions of us live a more sedentary lifestyle than even a generation ago, it is increasingly vital for all of us.”
On sport and society
“But the positive benefits of sport go much further than its physical and mental impact for the individual. It is vital, too, for the health and strength of our societies.
Sport, used properly, challenges prejudices, heals divisions and champions tolerance.
I have seen time and time again how sport helps overcome the most deep-rooted conflicts and tensions.
The annual Twic Peace Olympics in southern Sudan takes place in a region which for many years has been scarred by ethnic and tribal conflict.
War was still raging when the first games were held a decade ago after organizers spotted how make-shift games of volleyball allowed refugees from different tribes to play together.
Sports fields, no matter how rough, have been places for centuries where fears and suspicions can be put aside.
The Twic games allow those from different communities to meet and compete with and against each other in friendship.
Now supported by a whole range of different organizations, the annual games attract global interest and are seen as a symbol of what sport can achieved in the most difficult situations.
Sport has, of course, frequently been used to cross divides between countries from the days of ping-pong diplomacy between the US and China to the way North and South Korea appear together today at international sporting events.
But it can also help heal divisions within countries and enable countries to come to terms with past and present tensions.
Just think of how the success of the Iraqi national football side in winning the Asia Cup in 2007 sparked scenes of jubilation in every community.
The side which included Sunnis, Shias and Kurds showed their fellow citizens – and the world as a whole – what could be achieved by working together.
The 400 metre gold medal won by aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics did more to bring Australia together and enable it to face up to the past than any number of Government task forces or report.
And, of course, the far-reaching impact of South Africa’s triumph in the 1995 Rugby Union World Cup was recently portrayed in the film Invictus.
President Mandela understood that, just as the sports boycott had helped undermine the apartheid, sport could also heal its deep scars.
Sport promotes social integration, overcoming prejudices of race, background and gender.
It is sadly not yet the case that racism has been rooted out of sport. There is, as I know you fully recognise, much more to do.
But without sport, I believe racism would be much more prevalent in many of our societies.
It is hard to continue thinking yourself superior to those of other races or backgrounds, if your sporting hero has another skin colour or religion.
The selection of players from backgrounds for national teams has helped bring races together – and also built a new sense of national pride and belonging.
France’s World Cup triumph in 1998 – a team which featured Zidane, Desailly and Blanc – had a positive effect on how the country saw itself.
Sport is also proving important in breaking down gender barriers, and providing role models for empowering girls and women.
The international success of female athletes in many parts of Africa is giving the continent new heroines role models, challenging prejudices and helping girls achieve their own ambitions.
This is another important impact of the Twic Games at which girls, in a very traditional society, are treated as equals.
We have all seen, too, how sport helps people look anew at those with disabilities and provides a valuable route for integration.
The Paralympics and Special Olympics have been an extraordinary success, enabling us to focus on what people can do rather than what they can not.”
Sport , civil society, partnership
It is through partnership, not only with development agencies but with civil society and the private sector that we can maximise the impact of sport for good in our world.
Thank you for all you are doing. With clear goals and renewed effort, we can achieve together a great deal more in the years to come to harness the potential of sport to improve lives across our planet.”
Kofi Annan has been a powerful voice for the poor and a tireless advocate for peace, international security and human rights. The extracts presented from speeches during his period as secretary-general of the United Nations demonstrate that he understood the realpolitik of sport in society and the challenge remains to make the sense of purpose, mission and leadership provided by his successes and failures into more of a reality. Kofi Annan understood that sport could be a resource of hope and optimism.