NEW YORK – Millions of young people across the world take part in sporting activity every single day. Sport has the power to educate and empower them, particular those facing adversity. Sport can help them to develop basic life skills, improve their health, further their development and promote school attendance.
Sport can also have a wider impact in terms of benefitting the community through teaching children to resolve conflicts and establish peaceful relations. Moreover, playing sport can help to heal children and communities ravaged by war, instability or natural disasters.
This was just one of the many subjects discussed yesterday at the Sport, Children and Development conference, held at the United Nations Trusteeship Council Chamber in New York. Inter Campus, which was invited to take part as an example of best practice in the field, was represented at the event by Massimo Moratti and Javier Zanetti.
The Italian Permanent Representation to the UN was one of the real driving forces behind the conference, organising the event in collaboration with the Jamaican Representation as Italy’s presidency of the Council of the European Union draws to a close. 2014 also marks 25 years since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Italian and Jamaican ambassadors were on hand to inaugurate the event. Starting by highlighting the rights set forth in the Convention, Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi talked of the importance of access to leisure, rest and free time, all of which are essential to young people’s healthy development within the community. After a detailed review of sporting values, Cardi emphasised just how much events such as these promote sustainable development, in turn contributing to the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will in itself become the reference point for the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals until 2030.
Jamaican Ambassador Courtenay Rattray explained how both governmental policies aimed at promoting participation in sporting activity from a young age and the country’s “culture of possibility” are delivering impressive results in Jamaican athletics and bobsleighing.
Save the Children Representative to the International Institutions Francesco Aureli moderated the first session of the conference, giving the floor to Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.
Santos Pais spoke of her belief that sport carries with it a wealth of positive memories that accompany us from childhood. These memories embody the type of rules, values and sense of equality that are at the base of a democratic community. Where natural disasters, poverty and social insecurity are the characteristics of daily life, sport is one of the best ways of introducing a sense of normality into the lives of the children.
Santos Pais went on to discuss the risks of exploitation and violence against minors, something that is also present in sport. These include training which exploits child labour, diets which lead to eating disorders and levels of competition which can have harmful effects on psychological wellbeing. In turn, these consequences can have a negative bearing on the way young people view the world. Amongst the solutions identified for eliminating these risks and allowing children to pursue their dreams were the establishment of specific legislation against violence, the investment or resources into the professional development of trainers and instructors and the participation of well-known sporting figures.
UNICEF Child Protection Section Chief Susan Bissell used her speech to outline how the attraction of young people to sport makes it an effective vehicle for the resolution of social problems. Sport can reduce infant mortality and help children to reclaim adequate social space in refugee camps, for example. Bissell went on to concur with what Santos Pais had stated in the previous speech, declaring that young people are children first and athletes second.
Yoka Brandt, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, took to the floor to open the second part of the conference. Brandt introduced the topic of disability in sport, placing particular emphasis on inclusion and on the importance of having children from different social groups playing together.
Next up was a great friend of Inter Campus in Wilfried Lemke, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace. Lemke stated his belief that there needs to be tangible investment across all levels of education, given that it is a powerful, essential tool for guaranteeing development. Lemke also recognised the importance of the ongoing collaboration between Inter Campus and his UN agency, reminding the audience that the Nerazzurri organisation’s next training initiative for local instructors is set to take place in Bogota in 2015.
Amina Mohammed, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, then brought the second part of the conference to an end. Mohammed’s speech revolved around the basic principle that all children have a right to childhood, and that when this is denied, the process of reclaiming it becomes even more vital. Thought perhaps sport is sometimes not considered an essential part of the discussion on this issue, Mohammed stated her belief that sport is in fact an intrinsic part of the topic.
The Post-2015 Development Agenda aims to give renewed impulse to existing objectives, tackling issues such as when religious considerations stop children from taking part in sport, or when disabled children are exluded from parcticipating sporting activity. Mohammed argued that governments should invest heavily in sport, given that it can add dignity to young people’s lives and contribute to their physical and mental health.
By way of reviewing the achievements already made in terms of promoting the right of children to practice sports, it was finally time for Yoka Brandt to introduce Inter Campus, which was at the conference as an example of best practice.
Attendees were shown an emotive film which depicted some of the locations of Inter Campus’ activity, along with crowds of smiling children in Nerazzurri jerseys. This was accompanied by some passionate words from Massimo Moratti about how the project grew almost spontaneously, as a way of responding to the needs of young people the world over.
Inter Campus creates a safe area for children inside and outside of their families. Through the hallowed Nerazzurri jersey, Inter Campus creates the conditions for young people to be respected, starting in their own homes, where episodes of violence are common.
Thanking Ambassador Cardi and the other attendees for their welcome and continued support of Inter Campus, Moratti shared his memories of how the initiative was born: “It was a great sense of respect that first led us to create such a far-reaching project for the protection of young people.”
Javier Zanetti brought the curtain down on the conference with a personal reflection. Part of the Inter family for 20 years, Zanetti has followed the Inter Campus journey from the very beginning. The Nerazzurri vice-president spoke of how the initiative helps young people to grow as human beings, offering them an alternative to violence and a sense of hope for the future.