The former UN Chief and Nobel Peace laureate Kofi Annan passed away peacefully in Bern, Switzerland, on August 18 after a short illness. The renowned “Diplomatic Rockstar” rose through the ranks to lead the United Nations into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.
The world knows a lot about Kofi Annan as ambassador of peace and goodwill, but little is known about Kofi’s love for sports and his belief in sports as an engine of peace and development. Kofi Annan was one of the greatest advocates of sports for development and social mobilisation. Kofi took inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s idea of utilising sports for national integration and established the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) in Geneva in 2001.
The purpose of this office was to build the capacities of developing nations by employing sports in communities and educational institutes. He wanted policy makers to use sports for attainment of Millennium Development Goals.
Mr. Wilfried Lemke, the special advisor to the Secretary General on Sports for Development, played a key role in translating Kofi’s vision of Sports for Development by taking many practical yet out of the box steps. In 2003, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on sports as a means to promote education, health, development and peace.
The General Assembly under Kofi’s inspiring leadership proclaimed 2005 as “International Year of Sport and Physical Education”. In 2009, the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDPIWG) which was originally launched in 2004 under the patronage of Kofi Annan reached out to various governments, stressing the need for including sports in their development policies.
In May 2010, Kofi Annan said: “I want to work to maximise and mainstream sport into the development work of UN. Our aim is to ensure that sport is not seen as by-product of development but as one of the engines. Sport is universal language, understood from Milan to Manila and from Montreal to Montevideo. It engages and brings our world together in a way few can manage. It can and does encourage pupils to come and stay in school and parents to get their children immunized. It provides both a powerful symbol for national identity and also brings people together across continents. Sports teach the values of teamwork, discipline and leadership as well as reward of effort.”
Kofi Annan was a global statesman who fought throughout his life for a fair and more peaceful world. Kofi had the amazing capacity to think out of the box and get his ideas executed. He believed in empowering the people through sports and developing leaders at grassroots. He believed that bureaucracy is a silent machine with no brains. He knew that we can’t solve the problems of the 21st century with the tools of the 19th century and that’s why he had such a great faith in power of sports.
After stepping down voluntarily from the UN, he continued to work for the cause of peace through his chairmanship of the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Chairs of the Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela.
Many governments with knowledge of the utility of sports for development like Angola, Ethiopia, Austria, Ghana, Germany, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Sri Lanka and Norway included Kofi’s programme in their development policies. Unfortunately, many countries including Pakistan couldn’t proceed beyond lip service because of lack of capacity and poor understanding of sports for development.
I consider myself exceptionally lucky that I had an opportunity to undergo a master’s programme of Sports for Development and Social inclusion designed by UNOSDP & UNESCO and delivered by the University of Catalunya (Spain) in 2013 which was the brainchild of visionary leaders like Kofi Annan and Wilfried Lemke.
When I look back at the brief list of sports philosophers and sociologists of the modern era, two names that standout are Pierre De Coubertin of France and Kofi Annan of Ghana who gave sports a new meaning and dimension by bringing a paradigm shift in the very concept of sports. These two great sports leaders will always be remembered in history as exceptional men, born with the spirit of sports and heart molded out for the love of humanity.
The death of Kofi Annan has left the world devoid of a visionary leader and the world of sports of a true champion who acted to promote the essence of sports beyond its competitive spirit.
Kofi Annan will always be remembered for his relentless efforts for promoting sports as engine of development, peace, social integration and conflict resolution. The entire fraternity of Sports for Development and those associated with development world salutes the great man.