Youth1Rio de Janeiro, 17 August 2016- UN-Habitat in collaboration with Nexus Brasil hosted a high-level event last Friday to discuss the power of sport to drive social change, especially in regards to youth and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. Stephan Fox, the former Muay Thai world champion and the current president of AIMS (Alliance of Independent Recognized Members of Sport, representing 23 international federations), vice-president of SportAccord and General Secretary of IFMA (International Federation of Muay Thai Amateur) opened the event with his powerful story of how he works with Muay Thai, Thailand’s national treasure, on a number of socially responsible initiatives. Using the core values of Muay Thai, they work with underprivileged kids to develop their self-confidence, respect and honour and help them grow into their full potential.

Muay Thai originates from Thailand and is described as ‘a physical and mental discipline which includes combat on shins is known as "the art of eight limbs" because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.’

“Respect is key when training in Muay Thai. You should respect and honour your teacher, opponents, training partners and community. This message we translate to the everyday life” stated Mr. Fox.

The first roundtable looked at sport as a tool for peacebuilding, conflict resolution and countering violence. Three special guests, Mr. Duran Farah, Secretary General of Somali National Olympic Committee, Mr. Hossam Hassan Gadou, lecturer at Behna university, Egypt, and Rafael F. Luciano, Founder of Artists 2 Advocates, shared their experiences from three very different contexts and angles.

"We don’t have enough spaces for young people to play”

The case of Somalia is very unique. It is a country at war for past 25 years and counting, where illiteracy is higher than 62 percent, where children and young people and especially women have very little opportunities to socialize or to play sports as it is not high enough on political agenda. Yet history has proven that sport is the connector between conflicting groups and is the only thing that is universally liked and appreciated throughout the country.

"We don’t have enough spaces for young people to play, especially for young women that need adequate and safe space it is a challenge," said Mr. Farah.

He added, "Sport is the only thing that remained, the only institution that has not failed, yet there is no money and no support to develop more spaces for young people to practice." States Duran Farah, "We need to work with international partners to rebuild our cities that will provide for everybody, especially for our youth that makes up 75% of our population. That includes building a sufficient sports infrastructure”.

Youth2The second roundtable examined the positive and negative sides of hosting these mega sport events. Since Sydney Olympics in 2000, it is mandatory for bidding cities to include the element of sustainability and make it part of their application package. Often they make fantastic plans of how the infrastructure will be built and renewed, how it’s going to generate more business for local small-entrepreneurs and how the newly built sporting complexes will serve the children and youth from the neighborhood to come and play.

The reality, however, is often very different. And nowhere is it more visible than Rio. Carolina Caffe was looking at this element already in the run up to the Games. She shot a powerful documentary to bring the truth to the light entitled ‘A Caminho de Copa.’

“There are many positive and negative effects of hosting a sport mega event. We have to make sure to minimize the negative and maximize the positive. There are success stories from the past of cities benefited and transformed to thriving hubs yet we need to be more strategic to achieve that,” noted Gadou.

The last roundtable was all about the local experiences. Michelle from Instituto Reacao showed the incredible story of Rafaela Silva, who was not only raised through their Judo programme, she actually won the gold medal in Judo. Flavio Canto, former Brazilian judo professional, and the founder of Instituto Reacao was her role model who won his bronze medal in Athens. Rafaela stood on the winners’ podium to receive her gold just last week.

Mr. Zaremba, a professor at one of Rio’s top universities, psychologist and most importantly, well-known social entrepreneur paid a visit too. His team works with only young ladies and trains them in basketball. The last panelist, Mr. Gabriel Mayr works for URECE, a social enterprise working with blind people in football.

“The challenge on the ground is money. We have enough manpower, all volunteers, we have wonderful programmes but not enough money to pay for it. We struggle to operate, year by year, which makes it difficult for us, but for the young people that actually love and enjoy our programmes,” said Mayr.

The event was a first step to start a network of people working on different levels in sport, philanthropy and social entrepreneurship to find new ways of how to use the knowledge and experience to build upon these and contribute to achieving SDGs, especially Goal 11 and the New Urban Agenda.