The United Nations and the International Olympic Committee signed an agreement Monday to use the power of sports to promote peace and economic development, a move that strengthens collaboration between two of the world’s major organizations.
IOC President Thomas Bach told a U.N. event celebrating the strengthened relationship that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was right when he said "Olympic principles are United Nations principles."
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He pointed to the U.N. and Olympic charters, which both call for international cooperation to promote peace, a better life for people around the world and preserving human dignity.
"Yes sport can change the world but it cannot change the world alone," Bach said. "When placing sport at the service of humankind, we need and we want the partnership with other players in society."
Secretary-General Ban said the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the IOC was "a logical and historic step after years of ever closer collaboration in using sport to promote development and peace."
The agreement calls for joint sporting initiatives between the IOC, national Olympic committees, international sports federations, organizing committees and international athletes and the 193 U.N. member states, U.N. agencies, envoys and goodwill ambassadors.
The two organizations will be promoting education for youth through sport without discrimination of any kind, access to sport for all communities especially the most disadvantaged and marginalized, healthy lifestyles and peace-building and community dialogue.
Ban stressed the importance of sport in reducing stigma and increasing the social and economic integration of marginalized people and in bridging cultural, religious, ethnic and social divides.
He quoted former basketball star Magic Johnson’s statement in the dispute over racist comments purportedly made by embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling: "We all play with different races of people when you’re in sports. That’s what makes sports so beautiful."
Ban said sports values such as teamwork, fairness and respect for opponents and the rules of the game "are understood all around the world and are useful well beyond the playing field, in our personal and professional lives."
The IOC’s Bach didn’t mention the Clippers but stressed that a basic principle of sport "is non-discrimination for whatever reason, including political ones."
The universal law of sport "is based on global ethics, fair-play, respect and friendship," he said. "This means for sport and sport organizations that we have to be politically neutral without being apolitical."
The secretary-general announced the appointment of former IOC president Jacques Rogge as his special envoy on youth, refugees and sport — and welcomed the presence of Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, who came to the United States as a refugee from Eritrea at the age of 10.
Keflezighi described how a physical education teacher who saw him run fast shortly after his arrival and commented that "`He is going to be an Olympian’ . . . planted the seed of a dream that changed the course of my life."
He said sport taught him discipline, commitment, perseverance, the value of teamwork, that success is achieved in small steps — but most importantly as a refugee it gave him hope. Keflezighi won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, started the MEB Foundation which promotes similar goals to the U.N. and IOC, and said as his career winds down he will be doing more with it to share "the positive power of sport."