IOC and UN collaboration: tapping the full potential of sport
The United Nations has long recognised the contribution of sport for development and peace, and the collaboration between the IOC and the UN has played a central role in spreading the acceptance of sport as a means to promote the Millennium Development Goals as a whole. Although the two organisations have very different roles in society, they share some core values. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his keynote address to the 2009 Olympic Congress in Copenhagen: “Olympic principles are United Nations principles.”
When the UN Secretary-General recently addressed the IOC Session ahead of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games held in Sochi, he said: “That team – the United Nations and the IOC – are not competing on the ski slopes or skating rinks. […] We are joining our forces together for our shared ideals. Sustainability. Universality. Solidarity. Non-discrimination. The fundamental equality of all people.”
Partnership since 1922
The roots of IOC-UN cooperation reach back to 1922, when the IOC signed a collaborative agreement with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to make sport more accessible to workers. When the ILO became a specialised agency of the UN after the latter’s creation in 1945, the pioneering partnership expanded to other UN agencies, funds and programmes. Over the following decades, a series of actions and events helped raise the profile of the role of sport as an instrument for positive change and the IOC signed Memoranda of Understanding with a range of UN agencies and programmes.
Using sport to build a better world
In 1993, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution that further solidified IOC-UN cooperation and paved the way for the new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. General Assembly Resolution 48/10 formally recognised the Olympic Movement’s role in promoting “a peaceful and better world” and established a partnership to promote the International Year of Sport the following year.
A further important development in 1993 was the General Assembly’s decision to revive the tradition of the ekecheiria, the ancient Olympic Truce that called on Greek city-states to cease hostilities during the Olympic Games. Since then, the General Assembly has adopted the Olympic Truce, entitled “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal,” before every edition of the Games. In 2001, then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed the first Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, another landmark event in the acknowledgment of sport’s contribution to positive societal change.
Learn more about the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace
IOC UN observer status and action on the ground
This long history of collaboration between the IOC and the UN culminated in the General Assembly’s decision in 2009 to grant the IOC UN Observer status. Of course, sport’s value as an instrument for development and peace is not measured by resolutions, appointments and meetings, but by what happens in the real world, in places like Lusaka, Zambia, and Haiti, where the IOC has set up its first two Olympic Youth Development Centres, or in Cambodia, where the IOC teamed up with the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide a range of sports and recreation equipment, the so-called IOC Sports Kit, to 84 primary schools across the country as part of the WFP/Ministry of Education “Youth and Sports School Meals programme”.. Since their creation in 2009, the Sport Kits have been welcomed by over 650,000 children and young people in WFP-supported schools across the globe as direct beneficiaries, and around one million people if one considers the community around them. Worldwide Olympic partner Samsung has also recognised the value and effectiveness of this programme and joined the IOC to help provide sports kits around the world.
Learn more about sports-related community projects here
The IOC has also been active in using sport to advance the Millennium Development Goals and to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The high-level meeting of the General Assembly on NCDs in 2011 offered a strong affirmation of sport’s contribution to public health. The World Health Organisation reports that 36 million, or 63 per cent, of the 57 million deaths worldwide in 2008 were due to NCDs. If current trends continue, the annual death rates from NCDs will soar to 55 million by 2030. Nearly half of NCD-related deaths are caused by cardiovascular diseases, followed by cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. Engaging in sport and regular physical activity is one of the most effective ways to avoid those ailments.
Cooperation initiatives like the ones mentioned above are regularly assessed and further developed at meetings, including the International Forum for Sport for Peace and Development which is jointly organised biannually by the IOC and the UN. In the presence of UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, the last edition took place in June 2013 at the UN headquarters in New York.