By J Nastranis
The United Nations is convinced that sport promotes values such as diversity, tolerance and respect and contributes to the empowerment of women and young people, individuals and communities, as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives. With this in view, the UN Department of Global Communication’s office at the country level has initiated SDG Zone at Tokyo, titled “Teaming Up through Sport to Advance the SDGs”.
The first three Zone sessions with the themes “sport for development and peace”, “sport for sustainability and climate action”, and “reflecting on diversity from gender and sport”, were held from July 28-30. “How Para-athletes see ‘Sport and Possibilities’”, “designing society through the evolution of sport”, and “a legacy for the next generation beyond Tokyo 2020” will be the themes of six sessions of the SDG Zone at TOKYO from August 25-27, 2021.
SDG ZONE sessions are produced in collaboration with the Asahi Shimbun Company. Explaining the rationale behind of the SDG Zone, the UN says: In this first of the SDG Media Zone series organized fully by the UN Department of Global Communication’s office at the country level, athletes are joined by influencers and innovators from the civil society, business sector, academia, national and local governments, and the UN system from a wide range of regions to discuss how the power of sport contributes in solving global issues. [See the full programme.]
In UN-led online discussions held to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics from July 23 to August 8, 2021, leading athletes, influencers and innovators have been sharing their thoughts on the role that sport can play in building a better world for all.
“Sport becomes something that can change the life of refugees who are living in refugee camps. Because they can achieve something, they can overcome anything that they pass through…and it gives them a platform”, said Pur Biel, a member of the first-ever Olympic Refugee Team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Mr. Biel, a participant in the UN’s SDG Zone at Tokyo series of online talks until August 8, explained how sport had helped him to live through traumatic experiences in his home country, South Sudan.
The athlete’’ experience was echoed by the many other speakers, who shared a common message; that sport can bring about positive transformation in the world, from bringing hope to refugees, to encouraging climate action, and building societies where everyone can excel, regardless of their background.
Tsuyoshi Kitazawa, a former member of Japan’s national football team, stressed the role of sport in building bridges: “whatever you feel in the Games is made possible because the world is playing as one team”, he said. Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, added that the values sport promotes, such as mutual respect, teamwork, equality, and fair play, are very similar to those that help to promote the development of peace.
In the video focusing on sustainability and climate action, Hannah Mills, an Olympic sailor and founder of the Big Plastic Pledge movement to end single plastic use, noted that athletes can have a positive influence over the businesses and brands that support them as sponsors.
Ms. Mils was joined by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who returned from his third space flight in May, and Archana Soreng, a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. They agreed that cooperation among different groups, who often have different interests, must come together to save the Earth.
Speaking during the video focusing on diversity in sport, Aya Medany, an former Olympian who represented Egypt in the modern pentathlon, and Etsuko Ogasawara, Executive Director of the Japanese Center for Research on Women in Sport at Juntendo University, described how women are under-represented, particularly as coaches, and other roles supporting athletes.
Fumino Sugiyama, Co-Chair of Tokyo Rainbow Pride, an event that celebrates the city’s LGBT community, shared his own struggle to continue his career as an athlete, whilst revealing his transgender identity. “If the world of sport can move in a direction where anyone can truly participate without fear”, he said, “it will help create a society where no one is left behind.”
“Sport is close to people’s lives, bringing joy and inspiration”, noted Kaoru Nemoto, head of the UN Information Centre in Tokyo. “Sport provides us with courage and determination, which are needed more than ever to go through this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through these conversations, we hope to highlight the ways that sport serves as an enabler to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, for a greener, more equal, inclusive, and sustainable world for all”.