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9 Jul, 2006

Soccer World Cup: Looking Toward A Bigger Set of Goals

Originally Published: 9 July 2006

For the first time, several UN agencies took advantage of the global viewership of the tournament to merge the objectives of the World Cup and the United Nations in “striving for the shared goal of celebrating humanity,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said before the tournament opened.

“As the pinnacle of the only truly global game, played in every country by every race and religion, it is one of the few phenomena as universal as the United Nations,” he wrote in an opinion article published in several newspapers. “You could even say it’s more universal,” he added, noting that the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has 207 members while the UN has 191.

In the World Cup series, everyone knows where his team stands and how it got there, Mr Annan said, adding: “I wish we had more of that sort of competition in the family of nations. Countries openly vying for the best standing in the table of respect for human rights, and trying to outdo one another in child survival rates or enrolment in secondary education. States parading their performance for all the world to see. Governments being held accountable for what actions led them to that result.”

In cafés from Beijing to Buenos Aires, Mr. Annan said, everyone debates the finer points of their team’s game, not to mention the other side’s play, expressing themselves on the subject with as much clarity as passion.

“I wish we had we had more of that sort of conversation in the world at large. Citizens consumed by the topic of how their country could do better on the Human Development Index, or in reducing the number of carbon emissions or new HIV infections,” he wrote.

At this year’s World Cup, the “Green Goal” project was launched by the UN Environment Programme. Inspired by the Local Organizing Committee and the German Ministry of the Environment, it was aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from transport and electricity generation during the month-long tournament.

Other aims included defeating the waste mountains normally associated with large scale public events as well as using rainwater for pitches and creating environmental public awareness among fans.

Committee President and German football legend Franz Beckenbauer had hoped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically partly by encouraging 50 per cent of the estimated 3.2 million fans to take public transport and partly by alternative energy projects in India and South Africa.

To cut waste reduction at the 12 stadiums, ideas like the ‘Cup of the Cup,’ required fans to pay one Euro for a special drinks cup with the containers the only ones allowed inside the grounds.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) teamed up with FIFA for a Unite for Children, Unite for Peace campaign spotlighting the power of soccer in promoting values of peace and tolerance within communities and at the international level.

It included a public service announcement featuring some of the world’s top players, including UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and England’s former captain David Beckham, an interactive website, video profiles of 11 children who have overcome situations of violence, and a manual for players and coaches designed to combat violence and discrimination, particularly against girls.

The manual, published in English, French, Spanish, and German, will be distributed globally. The announcement, produced by MTV International and featuring a 15-man “Team UNICEF” of World Cup players, was shown before each of the matches.

The campaign website spotlights these players and highlights video stories of the 11 children who have overcome situations of violence and conflict through the power of football.

The UN International Labour Organization waved a symbolic ‘Red Card’ against child labour. World Cup football legend Roger Milla of Cameroon and leaders of the sports, scouting and labour worlds spoke at ceremonies in Geneva on 12 June marking the World Day and the symbolic waving of the card that signifies a referee’s expulsion of a player from the soccer field.

Activities ranging from television specials to nationwide discussions, marches and public awareness raising events were held in some 100 countries under the theme, “The End of Child Labour: Together we can do it!”

The events highlighted ILO’s global ‘Red Card to child labour’ campaign which, through the partnership with FIFA, has reached millions of people around the world since its launch in 2002. Mr. Milla also ‘Kicked the Ball’ against child labour in a friendly match with girls teams from a local football club and an international school.

Other events included a march in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, card pinwheels throughout Brazil, a poetry, essay and painting competition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a panel discussion in Washington, DC.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees conducted an auction on eBay for a football signed by the England team, including Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and many more stars.

In Afghanistan, hundreds of footballs were donated to children by staff of the United Nations mission there. “Football is a universal game that we can all learn from,” Kofi Annan’s Deputy Special Representative Chris Alexander said as he handed over the first few footballs to eager children at Amani High School in Kabul.

“It can bridge social, cultural and religious divides. It teaches us the importance of unity, teamwork, and determination – vital qualities as we work together to rebuild Afghanistan. We hope these footballs will help bring the excitement of the world cup to Afghanistan and with it the positive impact football can have on people and communities.”

The footballs, made especially for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan by disabled Afghans and paid for from staff donations, were delivered to schools, orphanages and prisons across the country.