"Africa could be seeing its renaissance." This is the hope of Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as he reflects on the excitement of the African continent's first FIFA World Cup™. Here he shares his thoughts with FIFA.com on sport's power to unify and the tournament's potential legacy.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to attend the first-ever FIFA World Cup™ on African soil?
Ban Ki-Moon: It is an absolute honour to be here for the first-ever World Cup on African soil. I can feel the excitement and enthusiasm of the people, and cannot help but share their sense of anticipation and excitement for such an extraordinary moment in history. I firmly believe that Africa could be seeing its renaissance with the coming of the World Cup to South Africa.
Can this event help South Africa in particular and Africa in general?
The South African leadership with President Zuma and former President Mandela is a beacon for other African leaders to follow. It is my hope and the hope of the entire United Nations system that this FIFA World Cup will serve as a catalyst for further development in the country, the region and the continent. Already a variety of international, national, and local actors – such as government bodies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector – have been active in using the positive momentum generated to drive forward development projects. I am confident these projects will thrive and leave a legacy of steady and sustained development – South Africa and the entire African continent must take advantage of the benefits created by the World Cup.
What common ground does the United Nations share with FIFA?
FIFA and the United Nations share common objectives we both can build on, such as the mission to bring people from around the world together in a positive atmosphere that promotes peace and co-operation. FIFA and the United Nations share a common belief in the power and potential of this World Cup to make a statement about the potential for development and peace in Africa and the ability to use football as a means to achieve that end. With the decision to award the World Cup to South Africa in 2010 and to Brazil in 2014, FIFA has demonstrated its intention to do more than develop the game as these decisions will also develop entire continents.
Do you think football can help unify people?
Sport, including football, if used appropriately, can certainly be a unifying force. The most obvious example is the impact of the Rugby World Cup in South Africa, which galvanised the birth of the Rainbow Nation. Another example is when the Iraqi football team, comprising Sunni and Shia Muslims as well as Kurds, won the Asian Cup. The divided Koreas have also appeared at the Olympics under one banner. My last example spoke to the unifying force that football can have within a country torn by conflict, but it can have a similar impact on a global scale. International sporting events have, for decades, brought together warring countries, countries with historically tense relationships, and countries that have otherwise been at odds with each other.
What is football's main strength for you?
The game of football is a sport of simplicity and finesse. It has a global reach, it is gender-transcendent and can virtually be played anywhere. Whether at a large-scale sporting event like the World Cup, or an impromptu game on the streets, football has the power to instil confidence, hope, and pride in the underdog, and promote teamwork and support.
At the United Nations, are there some programmes using football as a tool to help people?
Under the guidance of my Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Mr Wilfried Lemke [who comes from the world of football), sport is being brought into the mainstream across the entire UN system. Innovative programmes have come from a variety of UN agencies, and many of them are present right now in South Africa for the World Cup. While there are too many to list, I do want to emphasise the creation of the MDG song, '8 Goals for Africa' because it represents a joint initiative of many UN agencies coming together in solidarity and support of Africa for the World Cup.
Do you think FIFA and the UN could work more together and how?
FIFA has – with its development programmes such as the Football for Hope Movement – clearly demonstrated a desire to work not only for the development of football but also for development through football. I am convinced that further collaboration between our two organisations would be mutually beneficial and I encourage FIFA, following the 2010 World Cup, to redouble its efforts in this field and collaborate with all relevant UN actors.
What is your first FIFA World Cup™ memory?
What I treasure most is not a World Cup memory but the memory of a gift. It was a makeshift ball I received at the International Olympic Congress meeting in Copenhagen last year. It came from Kenya, where it was made by children from rags, plastic and string. What touched me most and gave me hope for our future generations is that this was a gift from disadvantaged Kenyan children for Palestinian children. This ball showed that children will let nothing stand in their way of achieving their goals and their dreams.
Can you tell us what you felt during the 2002 finals in your country?
I remember it vividly. The city of Seoul, in fact the whole country, seemed to be a sea of red, the colour of the South Korean team, who made it all the way to the semi-finals. The excitement was immense and so was the sense of pride and achievement that we hosted the World Cup, together with Japan. It demonstrated the unifying power of football not just in my country but across Asia and beyond.
Did you play football when you were younger?
I did, in the school playground, and I even broke my arm in one schoolyard match when I was a middle-school student. I still get to play very occasionally even these days. Just a few days ago I took part in a charity match in Uganda with President Museveni.
Do you have a favourite for South Africa 2010?
I have a secret, which I hope all those who follow FIFA.com will be able to keep. I know the winner of this World Cup already, and it’s also my favourite. Africa is the clear winner here. It’s a victory for this continent and a winning moment for all those who view sport as instrumental in our efforts to bring peace and prosperity to every corner of the world.