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On eve of World Cup final, Annan extols football

On eve of World Cup final, Annan extols football’s ‘universal language’

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Berlin to attend the World Cup final, today compared the state of world football with the state of the world at large, and the most popular sport on Earth came out on top, with its equality, level playing field and transparency affording a shining example.

Giving just some of the reasons why the World Cup “makes us in the UN green with envy,” he cited the sport’s “universal language,” its multifaceted role in bridging ethnic, social, cultural and religious divides, promoting teamwork and fair play and empowering girls.

“As the pinnacle of the only truly global game, played in every country by every race and every religion, it is one of the few phenomena as universal as the United Nations,” he said at a ceremony at the unveiling of the emblem of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for the 2010 World Cup, to be held in South Africa.

“You could even say it’s more universal. FIFA has 207 members; we have a mere 192. The World Cup is an event in which everybody knows where their team stands, and what it did to get there. Everybody loves talking about what their team did right, and what it could have done differently.

“I wish we had more of that sort of competition and conversation in the family of nations. Countries openly vying for the best standing in the table of respect for human rights, and trying to outdo one another in reducing the number of new HIV infections. States parading their performance for all the world to see. Governments being held accountable for what actions led them to that result. Citizens consumed by the topic of how their country could do better,” he added.

“With that kind of public scrutiny, good governance would not be an option; it would be a necessity. And with that sense of public ownership, countries would better ensure that their own resources are used in a way that benefits their own daughters and sons.”

Citing more reasons to be envious, he noted that the World Cup takes place on a level playing field, where every country has a chance to participate on equal terms and only two commodities matter: talent and team work.

“I wish we had more levellers like that in the global arena. Free and fair exchanges without the interference of subsidies, barriers or tariffs. Every country getting a real chance to field its strengths on the world stage,” Mr. Annan declared.

The World Cup illustrates the benefits of “cross-pollination” between peoples and countries, with more and more national teams welcoming coaches from other countries and more and more players represent clubs away from home between the Cups.

“They all bring new ways of thinking and playing. Everybody wins by that cross-pollination,” he said. “I wish it were equally plain for all to see that human migration in general can create triple wins – for migrants, for their countries of origin, and for the societies that receive them.”

He, for one, would be migrating briefly to South Africa in July 2010 to see the next Cup, he concluded.

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