On 6 April, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, recognising the role that sport and physical activity plays in communities and in people’s lives across the world.
The occasion holds special resonance this year as the world seeks to recover from the devastation wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with sport sure to play a crucial role in that effort.
To mark this important date in the calendar, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has written the following article in the UN Chronicle in which he details how FIFA and its many programmes remain "at the service of society" in this time of global need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented time of distress and loss for the whole world. Foremost is the tragic loss of loved ones that so many have suffered. We have also largely lost our social lives and human interaction, including everyday activities such as participating in, or attending, a football match.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and with the roll-out of vaccines, we hope life will return as it is meant to be lived: together, without the barriers and constraints imposed by the pandemic.
As it has done before, football, the most popular sport in the world, will play a central role in bringing communities together. Through football, we will be able to get back in shape physically, socialise with our teammates and rivals, and fill stadiums again. We will regain some of what was lost in the past year and hopefully bring back joy and smiles.
We also have a unique opportunity for a fresh start. Football can be a powerful tool for action on many pressing global issues, including several of the most important United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as those related to health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), peace and conflict resolution (SDG 16).
Football and the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), have an unparalleled global reach. The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia was watched by more than half the world’s population, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 was seen by over 1 billion people. Such wide visibility provides our sport with a unique platform to promote the universal values of fair-play, inclusion, solidarity, diversity and teamwork, all critical to achieving the SDGs.
We are equally fortunate to be able to call on football stars - the FIFA Legends - who are living examples of those values. They generously use their own platforms to spread messages about important social issues and help us reach a much wider audience, beyond football fans.
Sports organisations themselves have their role to play and should lead by example by engaging in partnerships to contribute to the international development agenda. FIFA has recently built alliances with a number of United Nations agencies—notably with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN-Women, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Food Programme (WFP)—for the realisation of social development objectives, including promoting healthy lifestyles, crime prevention, sports integrity, youth development, gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as education.
Education is indeed central to our global efforts to create a better world. Thanks to the Football for Schools Programme, we are investing $120 million in the education, through football, of the world’s young people to help them develop key life skills. Delayed because of the pandemic, the Programme is expected to start operations fully in 2021, when it can also help address disruptions in education caused by COVID-19, especially in some of the most affected regions of the world.
FIFA is also leading the way to create safer sporting environments, putting in place safeguarding measures to protect children through the FIFA Guardians programme, which aims to professionalize the role of safeguarding officers in football.
Since we must work together with state and local authorities in this area we have entered into a memorandum of understanding signed last year with UNODC, aimed at potentially establishing an independent, multi-sport, multi-agency, international entity with the authority and experience to assist international sports and ensure that we work together with law enforcement agencies and governments to eradicate any form of abuse and investigate cases as appropriate.
As we continue to fight back against COVID-19 and its effects, we do so with the aim of not just helping football—as we have with an unprecedented support package of $1.5 billion for the game’s organisers around the world through the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan - but also society as a whole. From the moment the pandemic was declared, we, in collaboration with WHO, have contributed to vital public health messaging to promote safe hygiene practices aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. We continue to collaborate closely with WHO and amplify messages that support good health and save lives.
Football and society have a symbiotic relationship: what is good for society is good for football and vice versa. On this International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (6 April 2021), FIFA is at the service of society, and we will continue to play any role we can in supporting the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The original version of this article was published in the UN Chronicle.