Qatar meeting on Sports Diplomacy

Chairperson,

Excellencies,

distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s discussion on Sports Diplomacy, convened by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar 2020 – together with the UNESCO Office for the Gulf States andYemen, the Josoor Institute and Generation Amazing – is very timely.

It remind us of the power of sports, no only to advance international cooperation and development, particularly through sports diplomacy, but to contribute to addressing the biggest challenges in our lifetimes due to COVID.

As is all too evident by now, the world has almost been brought to a standstill over the past year due to the pandemic. While its overall impact may not yet be fully understood – both in terms of its human toll, and its socio-economic effects on nations across the globe – it is already clear that the long-term consequences will be devastating, and recovery could take decades. The IMF just released its latest numbers: the decline in the world economy in 2020 is without precedent.

The impact of the pandemic on the sports sector has been also significant, with the disruptions and cancellation of major sporting events across the world, including the Olympics and Paralympics.

These decisions have inflicted a huge financial toll on an industry with almost USD300 billion in annual revenue, with immediate consequences on athletes, coaches, fitness instructors, across the sector, and on SME’s linked to physical activity.

There has been much discussion of the most affected industries linked to tourism, air travel and cultural activities. Less has been said about sports. So let’s take the opportunity to raise our voices and urge our governments and stakeholders to prioritize financial support and investment in the sport sector. The return on this investment  is high, as it will not only help us reduce the negative impact on our economies, it will catalyze the positive contribution that sports can make in the recovery from the COVID pandemic, and in rebuilding the health, well-being and resilience of our economies and societies.

It will help us particularly with one of the most worrisome impacts of the pandemic: the situation of youth. We risk having a lost generation of youth, with lost perspectives and an acute impact on their mental health.

Sports, and international sports events will continue providing the platforms for engaging people and countries with different interest, and building bridges through sports diplomacy.

This is particularly relevant in cases where official channels for direct communication may not exist.

For example, in its most recent history, UNESCO has worked with the two Koreas to inscribe Ssireum/Ssirum (Traditional Korean Wrestling) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, a major achievement in the realm of sport and cultural diplomacy.

In all this, you can count on UNESCO’s longstanding role in promoting cooperation among countries – particularly through education, culture and sports.  We are convinced that, through this cooperation, sports can also contribute to our development agendas, the agenda 2030 and national plans, like the Qatar Vision 2030.

There is  a substantial set of UNESCO tools and frameworks in this domain: the Kazan Action Plan; our Ministerial Forum on Sport and Physical Education (MINEPS); UNESCO’s International Charter for Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport; the International Convention against Doping in Sport; and our recently launched sports education partnership Fit for Life.   The latter promotes values in sports education, advocates the transformative potential of leading an active life, promotes value-based learning, and emphasizes physical activity to overcome isolation and mental illness.  All of these tools are at your service in these trying times.

These efforts should be intensified in the coming months and years, bringing on board new partners such as regional multilateral development banks and the private sector, as we collectively work towards minimizing the impact of the pandemic on sport.

We have a great opportunity to make sports count in the current situation. We are well prepared to do so, as we have all shown our commitment to this agenda. I am sure that your discussions and exchanges will open the door to innovative solutions and to an agenda to build more resilient societies going forward. I wish you the most fruitful debates.

Thank you.

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