Sport and the United Nations’ System started their dialogue – along with various forms of collaboration – a long time ago. As early as 1978, UNESCO described sport and physical education as a “fundamental right for all”. Since then, they have progressively got closer and involved each other – more and more – into their respective fields of expertise: on the one hand the UN Specialized Agencies have reached out for support within sectors of civil society engaged in sport, while on the other International/National Federations and Olympic Committees have committed themselves to a broader mandate which includes social/humanitarian actions.
Historically, one of the very first manifestations of collaboration between these two worlds can be found in 1982, when FIFA transformed its already famous FIFA World Stars Games into the FIFA Charity Matches for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) and continued to organize them for more than a decade.
Ten years later, in 1992, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) pursued and obtained several Agreements of Collaboration with the most renowned – at the time – United Nations Specialized Agencies. These agreements envisaged the involvement of sport towards the solution of the world’s greatest problems, from diseases to migratory processes, from hunger to education. Furthermore, every two years the United Nations General Assembly has passed and approved a Resolution reviving the ancient tradition of the Olympic Truce, which asks all conflicts to cease during the winter and the summer Games. At times, as in the case of 1996 Atlanta Olympic Aid, this resolution proved to be more than just an appeal and produced positive improvements in several war-torn countries.
These Agreements of Collaboration also generated a series of international projects on the occasion of the most important sport events such as FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games which showed the world the interconnection between global sport and the aspirations of every human being to improve his/her condition. Furthermore, the financial growth and implications related to the implementation of worldwide sport events – and the reported economic successes of the corporate sports world – called, naturally and spontaneously, for a social and human responsibility of sport towards the rest of the world.
By the new millennium, the birth and growth of many NGOs active in this field, and the close collaboration between the UN Agencies and International, Regional and National Federations and Clubs, suggested to the UN System the necessity of a specialized body tasked with coordinating this populated environment. Thus the United Nations Office for Sport Development and Peace was created, and since its inception it has dealt with matters related to the interconnection between sport and human condition and its improvement toward the Millennium Development Goals.
During the last ten years, sport and the right to play have been universally recognized as human rights, and have been utilized by almost all UN Agencies in projects of sport for development. They have been extremely useful – due to their low-cost and high-impact – as tools in humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts. Their aims have been different, depending on the necessities of the country at stake and the problem being targeted. From communication to health, from education to gender equality, from community services to normalization in areas affected by disasters, sport has helped in the solution of many problems, and- progressively – a growing responsibility has been posed on its shoulders.
This has also been underscored by the gathering of so many sociological, economic, humanitarian workshops and conferences inspired by the newly born sector “sport for development”. Consequently, the right of access to sport and play has been recognized in a number of international conventions.
The world of sport has also offered their best and most-renowned athletes as testimonials for the most profound problems of the planet; they have served under the flag of many UN Agencies and NGOs, offering to the most forgotten people a beacon of hope, and often a way of providing additional funds to life saving/improving activities.
At the same time, globalization, technology and financial growth have started to change sport – for better and for worse – and brought new issues and challenges in this arena which did not exist at the time of the first collaborations between the UN System and the Sports World. Transnational organized crime has begun to see and find in the world of sport, a target and a field to conduct many illegal operations.
The current era of instant communication, brought – among others, but extremely pertinent in its relevance for human rights – a huge problematic in sport out into the open: the abuse of young athletes. In every sport discipline and everywhere in the world, more and more cases of misconduct – sometimes life-threatening – have been identified and reported. These abuses are physical, sexual, and psychological. Furthermore, even the organization of major sporting events, besides bringing many benefits to the host countries, can be exploited by organized crime in terms of child exploitation, trafficking and prostitution.
Sport results manipulation is another plague, with no borders. Everyone within the organizational chain of a sport competition is a potential target for these illegal operations. The phenomenon of sport result manipulation, which is increasing worldwide, threatens sport’s values and risks transforming sport into a vehicle of illicit activities, spoiling its important role in peace, socio-economic development and international dialogue. Sport results manipulation is not only a threat to the regular development of sport competitions; it is a threat for humanity since it jeopardizes the innocence of those, particularly youth, who are looking at sport as something clean and meritocratic.
The Permanent Mission of Italy and the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva, in partnership with the Group of Friends on Sport for Development, the International Centre for Sport Security and Lega Pro agreed that the time had come to consult simultaneously on these two issues, namely sport results manipulation and child abuses in the sport context, and discuss the issue at the United Nations in Geneva, the international capital of human rights.
Despite the very different nature of these two threats, they both place at risk the future of sport, the innocence of youth, their dreams and therefore their fundamental rights.
Both the abuse of human beings and other illicit activities such as corruption in sport are by themselves a crime, but to perpetrate these within a context which should be playful, joyful and meaningful is a wrongdoing that deserves particular attention from different sectors.
The conference “Sport Integrity: A Right for Youth” was initiated in order to address these fundamental concerns, in pursuit of these aims, including raising awareness within the Geneva-based internationally community on the threats to sport integrity such as sport results manipulation and child protection issues around sport; showcasing initiatives developed by international and regional organizations, as well as the sport movement, for the defense of sport values and involvement of youth; presenting concrete efforts undertaken to use sport as a tool for education and preserve the integrity of sport by relevant sport bodies and civil society organizations, such as the Save the Dream programme; encouraging the adoption of best practice and the highest child protection standards in sport and to protect the belief in sport’s values; promoting an interdisciplinary involvement of the various Offices and Agencies within the United Nations system and other relevant international and regional entities; identifying ways to strengthen synergies among different stakeholders, including civil society organizations, identified initiatives and existing platforms; and sharing information on relevant programs adopted by Member States in this field and promoting their implementation, when appropriate, in other contexts.