Andris Piebalgs Wants to Enjoy the World Cup

, by Sport et Citoyenneté

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Andris Piebalgs Wants to Enjoy the World Cup

The European think tank, ‘Sport et Citoyenneté’, interviewed the European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, just days before the start of the World Cup in South Africa.

1. South Africa are hosting the FIFA World Cup, one of the major sporting events in the world. In your mind will it be an asset for the whole African continent especially when thinking about development issues?

Definitely. I really believe in the virtue of sport, not only for you or me but also at a collective level. People around me will tell you how fond I am of all sports. I follow the results of any competition closely, from Olympic Games, football cups, ski or curling! I can’t be accused of sole patriotism since my country, Latvia, is not represented systematically! I think sport is one of the very few areas that bring people from different background and different cultures together.

Football World Cups represent one of these unique moments triggering a collective feeling of passion, joy and emotion. It can create social link and a sense of cohesion that will deeply mark a country and memories. Everyone remembers some matches such as Argentina - England in 1986 or Brazil - France in 1998! I deplore the kind of events we face in Europe or in Africa when football matches generate violence. This is mainly due to minority groups, but it undermines the “raison d’etre” of sport. We definitely have to fight against such reactions.

The World Cup taking place in South Africa represents a strong political symbol. I’m confident it will play a role in reinforcing the identity of the country. It is remarkable that Africa is hosting one the major sport events in the world. In any case, the World Cup will put the spotlights on the African continent during one month in a unique way. As EU Commissioner for Development, striving to have African countries’ voices and realities heard better, I can only strongly support such event.

2. In your mind, does sport have a role to play in implementing international cooperation and promoting Development?

It has a role to play and is an emerging theme in the field of development cooperation. It is considered as a complementary area to our policy, which mainly focuses on bringing developing countries out of poverty and helping them to create sustainable and job-creative economies. Still, it can be considered as a high impact tool for the transmission of important values on human and social development. Through sport activities and projects, we can convey different messages on education, gender, health but also on peace and understanding between peoples culture. We all know that famous sportsmen and sportswomen can represent excellent role models, particularly for young people from disadvantaged communities, who are difficult to reach by traditional channels.

Through sport activities and projects, we can convey different messages on education, gender, health but also on peace and understanding between peoples culture.

3. FIFA had launched a programme named “Win in Africa with Africa” and the European Union came on board on 9th July 2006. Could you give us other examples of EU funded projects using sport as a vector of peace and development?

There are indeed some exemplary projects. We work usually in partnership with other organisations to ensure a good outreach of targeted people and an accurate implementation of the projects. In view of the World Cup in South Africa, we have launched a project of training of African journalists and photographers with a view to ensure good coverage of the event. It is co-funded by the Commission, Agence France Presse Foundation and FIFA, and already supported by 200 participants who were trained all over Africa.

Another much larger scale programme, launched in March by Germany and the European Commission, runs in South Africa. It aims at empowering disadvantaged youth in South Africa and other African countries through culture, arts and sports activities. Young people are involved in organising community life and in making a positive contribution to local development. Sport activities include support to the School Sport Mass Participation Programme, development of training materials, training of sport coordinators, testing and dissemination of school football leagues and organisation of “football for development” events before and after the FIFA World Cup 2010. This project also includes, in a second step, the financing by the German Ministry of sport, for infrastructure needed in disadvantaged communities.

I now look forward to enjoying the World Cup matches. If you want to know which team I will support, well, of course I’m usually a European supporter…but this time, I wish an African team will win the World Cup!

Image: Andris Piebalgs on March 31, 2010, by the United Nations Development Programme. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

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