Press release

‘Sport has the power to change lives’

Statement, by UK Misinister for Sports, Hugh Robertson, to the UN / IOC International Forum of Sport, Peace and Development

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Secretary General, President Rogge, Special Representative Lemke, friends and colleagues from across the UN and IOC families

I stand before you today as the UK Government Minister responsible for the delivery of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, a process I was involved in from the bid in Singapore, in 2005, right through to the Games themselves - and as someone who spoke at the Forum two years ago, in Geneva.

However, I am really here because I believe in the power of sport to change lives. It is, genuinely, a huge honour and privilege to be here to address you today.

I say that for these reasons:-

Firstly, I am, and have always been, a supporter of the United Nations.

  • As a soldier I served twice, as a peacekeeper, as a blue beret, in the colours of the United Nations.

  • My first tour, as a young lieutenant in charge of a troop of Scout Cars, was on the Green Line in Cyprus in 1988, trying to maintain the peace between the Greeks and the Turks.

  • The second, as a young Major, was commanding the British Detachment in Sarajevo during the early days of the siege of the city in 1994 – a city that had, of course, hosted an Olympic Games only a decade before.

  • Finally, on entering Parliament in 2001, I chaired the non-party political All Party Group that supports the United Nations.

I am, therefore, very grateful to the United Nations for hosting today’s conference. It is an excellent initiative, and one that I hope that all future host cities, and indeed the wider Olympic family, will support.

It would be remiss of me to leave the UN without paying tribute to the work of the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Sport, our colleague, Wilfried Lemke. He is a wonderful enthusiast for this work, a great Ambassador, and we all owe him a great deal. Wilfried, thank you.

However, my second reason for being here, is to acknowledge the work of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in this area. They run the world’s greatest sporting event, and have made huge efforts to use the Games as a means to spread the gospel of sport across the world.

In his final year as President, I would particularly like to pay tribute to the work of Jacques Rogge. I have been lucky enough to get to know the President well, during the delivery of London 2012 and even, I think, have managed not to annoy him too much – which is probably not the case with a host nation politician! He is, quite simply, a wonderful man, who always has led the IOC with wisdom and distinction. We will all miss him greatly.

The third and final reason why today is so important is that, as I have already said, sport can, and does, change people’s lives.

We all know that people who play sport are –

  • Healthier

  • Happier

  • Likely to perform better educationally

  • Much more socially cohesive. Sport brings communities and individuals together.

  • And in some cases, as I will show later, sporting skills, such as swimming, can save lives.

So what are we doing to extend the power of sport to as many people as possible?

The first thing is, simply, to stage an Olympic Games. 204 countries competed at London 2012, meaning that the overwhelming majority of countries across the world sent athletes in their colours, which their own country men and women could follow, support and emulate.

Around 4.8bn viewers are estimated to have followed the Games on television. For a fortnight, at the start of last August, the eyes of the world were on London, the Olympic athletes, and sport. It is an extraordinarily powerful tool.

This is a good time to reflect on the Olympic Truce. Britain set an early Olympic record by getting all 193 UN member states to sponsor the traditional call for a truce during the London 2012 Games. While there was no expectation that any country would vote against, British diplomats wanted to go a step further and have everyone officially co-sponsor their truce resolution. The feat took an Olympian effort that involved weeks of lobbying and innovative tactics to hunt down small elusive states, and persuade political foes to sign on.

As host nation, we wanted to uphold the aspiration of sport to have the power to settle differences, and promote better relations between nations.

As an example of the work undertaken, our High Commissioner in Sri Lanka hosted an event bringing together disabled sportsmen and women, disabled soldiers and former Tamil Tigers, contenders for London 2012, officials from the Ministry of Sports and members of the National Olympic and Paralympic Committees. The event embodied the Olympic Truce values of diversity and inclusion.

So the Games themselves – by their global reach, power to inspire, and through initiatives such as the Olympic Truce, do already make a difference.

The second area where sport contributes to Peace and Development, are the schemes already run by international organisations, individual countries and the International Federations.

It is always invidious to profile one scheme over another, but one good example, is the IOC’s own Olympic Solidarity, which provides assistance to all National Olympic Committees, particularly those countries with the greatest need. By offering financial, technical and administrative assistance, it helps develop structures, which increase the sporting opportunities available in those countries.

There is also the Sylvan/Laureate Foundation, which makes quality higher education accessible and affordable so that more students across the globe can pursue their dreams. Its international academic community spans 20 countries throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs to over 780,000 students.

As an example of what an individual country can achieve, the work done by HRH Prince Faisal’s Forum for Peace and Development in Jordan, is a good example. Founded by HRH Prince Faisal Al Hussein of Jordan, Generations for Peace is dedicated to building sustainable peace and uses sport to assist in transforming areas of conflict. It targets adults and young people influential in their communities to bring about change, promote active tolerance and responsible citizenship. Since 2007, Generations for Peace has trained and mentored almost 6,000 Delegates and Pioneers from more than 45 countries and territories in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. Their peace building activities have touched the lives of more than 90,000 children and young people.

Finally, there are the many excellent development schemes run by the individual Olympic sports themselves.

FIFA has worked in close cooperation with the United Nations, since 1999, on campaigns and programmes designed to promote peace and development through football. An example of that relationship is the cooperation with the International Labour Organisation. Its International Programme on the “Elimination of Child Labour in the Soccer Ball Industry”, was launched in 1997. FIFA worked in close co-operation with International Labour Organisation, the government, manufacturers, trade unions, Save the Children, UNICEF and various local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), to implement this programme. Since its inception, FIFA has given its full backing to highlight the importance of human rights and education for children around the globe, and provided financial resources for various projects in Pakistan.

Both FINA (Swimming) and the UCI (Cycling) work closely with Olympic Solidarity, which has recently seen FINA hold a clinic in Tanzania for local coaches as well as for coaches from Zanzibar.

The UCI has set up training programmes for young riders from countries that do not yet have the resources allowing them to reach the highest levels. These programmes are run at the World Cycling Centre. The UCI also organises training seminars for trainers and managers, and supports various solidarity and development initiatives.

In September 2010, FISA donated 10 adaptive and able bodied boats to replace those damaged by storms in 2011. The boats will be used to support the establishment of a sea level regional training centre for eastern and central Africa in Mombasa, Kenya for both rowing and canoeing. The boats are used for regional training and competitions which are supported by FISA.

So much good is already being done simply by hosting the Games and the work undertaken by the IOC, individual countries and sports bodies.

Finally, let me turn to the contribution a host nation can make. When London won the right to host the 2012 Games in Singapore in 2005, Seb Coe made a commitment to run an international scheme to use sport to better the lives of young people.

That scheme is called International Inspiration. It has reached 11m people in 20 countries.

In Bangladesh, up to 190,000 children have been trained in survival swimming, with over 500 boys and girls trained as Community Swimming Instructors.

In Azerbaijan, 9 district-wide play festivals, 62 community play days, over 250 school play days and 27 youth-led activities have reached approximately 60,000 children and young people, encouraging them and their parents to participate in sport.

In Trinidad and Tobago, some areas are affected by a drugs gang culture, making it dangerous for children to play and take part in sport. The creation of Child Family Spaces, has enabled children and young people to take part in activities in a friendly, safe environment.

In northern Uganda, International Inspiration is helping to establish peaceful communities, targeting young children and communities returning to their homes after 20 years as a refugee. Youth activities, including sports and games, have been adapted to explore issues around conflict and peace.

Having had our eyes opened, we are determined to continue the work of International Inspiration. As a result, since the end of the Games, we have set the organisation up as a charity, and I am delighted to be able to report to the UN today, that Seb Coe will be its new Chairman.

So, in conclusion, I would like to finish where I started, by thanking the UN and the IOC for hosting today’s conference and giving me this opportunity. It wasn’t an opportunity I foresaw as a young officer, serving under the colours of the United Nations 25 years ago!

To the UN, please continue to value sport as a tool for Peace and Development, and please continue to support Wilfried Lemke in his work.

To the IOC, well done for what you are doing, and please continue to prioritise this area in the years ahead – and thank you, once again, to President Rogge.

To those individual countries and sporting organisations that are already sponsoring programmes, thank you.

And for everyone else here, we all believe that sport has the power to change lives. Let us all pledge to do everything we can, to extend the advantages that we all know come from playing sport, to every corner of the globe.

It is a very worthy ideal, and one of which the founder of the modern Olympic movement Baron Pierre de Coubertin, would certainly have been very proud.

Published 6 June 2013