Statement by UN-Habitat Executive Director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif

6 April, 2018

Today, we celebrate the role of sports in promoting development and peace. The UN General Assembly has designated 6 April as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, commemorating the inauguration of the first Olympic games of the modern era, in Athens, Greece in 1896. Adoption of the Day signifies the increasing recognition by the Member States of the positive influence that sport can have on the advancement of human rights, social and economic development.

UN-Habitat uses sport as a powerful tool to positively engage young Women and men. Sport has the power to attract, mobilize and inspire. Sport promotes social integration and economic development, especially in marginalized communities, while also strengthening social networks and promotes peace, promoting non-violence, tolerance and justice.

As an economic force, sport provides employment opportunities, effectively reducing urban poverty. Under the Youth Employment Somalia (YES) Joint Programme, UN-Habitat uses sport to provide young people with wider set of marketable skills and create new possibilities for employment. Providing innovative and diverse opportunities for youth empowerment in fragile, post-conflict settings is crucial for country’s social and economic development.

UN-Habitat not only engages young men and women in different sport activities but is also working directly with communities to secure space for sports activities. In the slums and informal settlements of the world, space is very difficult to secure, especially over the long term. Yet, when given the proper tools, communities can and do have great success in securing these spaces, and making – and keeping – them available for all.

One such example is the Antonio Guterres Slum Soccer Pitch in the Mathare informal settlement in Nairobi. Inaugurated by the United Nations Secretary-General on International Women's Day in 2017, this soccer pitch services the Mlango Kubwa community of over 40,000 people, predominantly made up of children and youth.

I was honoured to join a game of soccer with young men and women from the community. I saw how proud they were of the public space they created and how this space gave them the chance to work together as a team. Building from this success, UN-Habitat has established spaces in conflict cities such as Mogadishu, as ways to promote peace and stability. 

I encourage everyone, young and old, to get involved in sports, and I call on governments at all levels to provide spaces such as these, which will support and promote the social and physical health of communities.