Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


High-Level Event: Tackling Crime in and through Sport
  14 September 2020


Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

 “Fair play”. “A level playing field”. “A good sport”. Our highest ideals and dearest values – justice, equality, respect and cooperation – are embodied in sports.

Sports bring joy and bring people closer. We feel a rush of pride as neighbours and communities unite, and divisions and tensions dissolve, as we support our national teams when they compete in regional and international tournaments.

Sports offer a powerful means to build bridges and support the healthy development of children and youth.

Yet the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in the biggest disruption to the international sporting calendar since the Second World War.

This has deprived millions of people in every country, not just of joy, but also of jobs and income.

The global value of the sports industry has been estimated at 756 billion dollars annually. The impact of COVID-19 on the sports ecosystem has been immense – on teams, broadcasters and advertisers, but also suppliers, retailers, the tourism sector, stadium staff, food vendors and countless others.

Young people account for a large share of those employed in sports compared with other sectors: in the European Union, for example, 35 per cent of people working in sports are aged 15 to 29.

Now one in six youth has stopped working globally due to the pandemic, according to ILO, while 42 per cent of those who have continued to work have seen their incomes reduced.

COVID has worsened inequalities, within and between countries and regions, and overwhelmed government capacities to provide assistance.

UNICEF estimates that at least one-third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million boys and girls – have been cut off from education.

Many may never return to school as the economic downturn pushes an estimated 75 to 100 million people into extreme poverty.

So we need the power of sports more than ever before, not just to make people healthier and happier, but to bring jobs back.

Young people without opportunities for education, without jobs and without hope may be at higher risk of unhealthy and self-destructive choices, and more vulnerable to criminal exploitation, violence and violent extremism.

But interventions through and with sports to develop life skills and build resilience can make a decisive difference in the lives of millions of youth.

That is why UNODC has focused on integrating sports into our programming, to contribute to peaceful, just and inclusive societies, towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

With this in mind, I am very pleased to sign today’s Memorandum of Understanding with our partners at FIFA.

Why FIFA? Because sports matter, and the most popular of all sports in most countries is football.

Football is life, the saying goes. But actually I agree with former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly, who said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”

With 211 affiliated associations, FIFA brings together even more members than the United Nations, and has been governing and developing football for more than a century.

I believe that the world’s game and the UN, the world’s organization, make formidable allies in striving for development and peace.

Football brings together players from different countries, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions in one team, focused on one objective.

Football is played by children in streets with the same excitement and the same equipment as the pros.

Football stars overcome poverty through talent and practice, to shine in the international arena, larger than life, providing inspiration and fostering a sense of pride and belonging.

Football in particular, and sports in general, thus offer an important tool for youth empowerment and inclusion.

The role of sports in youth crime prevention and criminal justice has been reaffirmed in General Assembly Resolution 74/170 adopted last year.

UN Security Council resolution 2419 adopted in 2018 also recognizes the growing contribution of sports to the realization of peace, and to health, education and social inclusion.

But in order to channel the power of sports to protect youth we need to protect sports from criminals who undermine the integrity of sports and exploit it for illicit gains.

It is the level playing field that gives sports its unique ability to inspire; if hope and the belief in the fairness of sports curdles into cynicism because of corruption and crime, we all lose.

Strengthened cooperation between UNODC and FIFA will support governments and sports organizations to pursue effective anti-corruption action, building on the strong foundation provided by the UN Convention against Corruption and multiple resolutions adopted by the States Parties on safeguarding sports from corruption.

We have an opportunity to advance these efforts with the first-ever General Assembly special session against corruption next June.

The ongoing negotiations on the political declaration for the UNGASS have highlighted corruption in sports as a priority issue.

To support Member States’ efforts on the ground, UNODC has a dedicated Programme on Safeguarding Sport from Corruption and Crime.

FIFA has contributed to this work, including to develop the Guide on Good Practices in the Investigation of Match-Fixing, and has supported awareness-raising events.

We are working to take forward our cooperation, including through the development of the upcoming UNODC Global Study on Safeguarding Sport from Corruption.

Through our MoU, UNODC and FIFA will also join efforts to strengthen youth and community resilience to violence, crime and drugs through football and sports, drawing on flagship UNODC initiatives in this area.

This work includes the global Youth Crime Prevention through Sport initiative under the Doha Declaration programme.

Through this initiative, we have engaged with national football federations and other stakeholders to offer technical support to Member States to use football and sports-based learning to prevent violent crime and substance use.

“Line Up, Live Up”, a sports-based life-skills training curriculum developed by UNODC with FIFA and other partners, is one pillar of this support and has been tailored to vulnerable youth in low- and middle-income countries. 

It aims to prevent both crime and drug use by helping young people develop their self-esteem as well as valuable personal and social skills, thereby enabling them resist pressure to engage in unhealthy and destructive behaviours.

To date, the initiative has been rolled out in 12 countries, taught over 13,000 youth and 900 trainers, supported over 550 schools, centres and community bodies, engaged more than 7,500 young people in sports festivals and awareness-raising events, and assisted civil society organizations, which has benefited a further 6,000 youth and other community members.

Sports can also be a powerful tool for preventing violent extremism and radicalization among young people.

The UNODC Technical Guide on Preventing Violent Extremism through Sports provides practical guidance on sports-based interventions, and addresses safe spaces, social inclusion, empowerment, education and resilience as five key areas of intervention.

Looking ahead, I am committed to expanding our work to bring in regional as well as national football associations and other partners to strengthen sports integrity, and to engage more with the private sector and NGOs in this endeavour.

Exploring ways to increase support for vulnerable and marginalized groups and communities to address risks associated with violence and crime is a critical priority, particularly in the context of the COVID crisis.

I also look forward to strengthening our work to safeguard children and young athletes from violence and exploitation in sports, as well as to harness the benefits of sports for women and girls, in line with GA resolution 74/170. 

FIFA has taken some very important steps in recent years with its first female Secretary General, its first women’s football division and first global strategy for women’s football, as well as the MoU with our colleagues at UN Women.

FIFA’s leadership has helped to inspire and pursue positive change, and I hope together we can build on this momentum to break down gender barriers still further, to empower women and girls.

More broadly, we can do more to enlarge the arena for women – athletes but also women referees, commentators and spectators, to encourage young girls who are today’s fans of football and tomorrow’s star players.  

Diversity and equal participation are a powerful protective factor against corruption, and can help us ensure that sports offer an inclusive space, and that the world’s stadiums are a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

I invite our FIFA partners to support us in these efforts. UNODC is here to support you to protect the integrity of football and bring the game to all.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The global pandemic has brought, and continues to bring, immense suffering and hardship that we must work to alleviate, through solidarity and a spirit of shared responsibility.

And yet these challenging times have also returned to us an appreciation for simpler joys, like being able to watch a football game with our family and friends.

Let us take nothing for granted, and commit to using this opportunity to reimagine the world, to build back better from COVID-19 and leave no one behind.

As sports teach us, with hard work and team work, we can overcome any adversity.

Thank you for joining us today. I am grateful to Australia, New Zealand, the Russian Federation and Qatar, and to the President of FIFA, for supporting this event.

Thank you.