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(Yonhap Feature) U.N. agencies take advantage of Olympics to promote sustainable development

2018/02/08 09:00

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By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Feb. 8 (Yonhap) -- While athletes gather in PyeongChang to pursue their dreams of Olympic glory, U.N. agencies here are using the spirit of sports as a tool to make a pitch for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are meant to achieve a better world.

They pointed out that both the Olympics and the SDGs are based on humanity, as they co-hosted a talk concert for a set of mini-presentations by four figures who have inspired many people around the globe.

"When you lose vision, when you lose dream, you are nobody," Yiech Pur Biel, a refugee track and field athlete originally from South Sudan, told the audience of around 250 at the KT Square Dream Hall earlier this week.

He was selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the Refugee Olympic Team and competed in the 800-meter event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He's now living and training in Kenya, having fled from his home town of Nasir in 2005 to escape a civil war.

Yiech Pur Biel, a refugee track and field athlete born in South Sudan, speaks at a talk concert hosted by U.N. offices in South Korea. (Yonhap) Yiech Pur Biel, a refugee track and field athlete born in South Sudan, speaks at a talk concert hosted by U.N. offices in South Korea. (Yonhap)

On his first trip to South Korea, he shared his view on Goal 16 out of the 17 SDGs -- Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

"To talk about the Sustainable Development Goals we must start it with peace," Biel said, noting that there are more than 2.5 million refugees from South Sudan, with seven million people there in need of emergency aid.

"Because without peace, there's no development in a country," he stressed. "It's important to provide refugees with such basic necessities as shelter and food, but it must begin with peace. When we have peace, we might have justice and we might have development."

   Seven U.N. offices in South Korea co-organized the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics & SDGs Talk Concert as part of a two-day campaign to raise public awareness of the key U.N. initiative.

Those offices are UNDP, UNESCAP, UNHCR, UNICEF, OHCHR, WFP and UNGC.

It's unusual for the regional U.N. offices to join forces for such a public event.

It reflects their efforts to help make the SDGs a reality by drumming up support, especially among the youth in South Korea.

An image of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the U.N., in this photo posted on the UNESCO's website (Yonhap) An image of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the U.N., in this photo posted on the UNESCO's website (Yonhap)

Adopted by 193 U.N. General Assembly member states in 2015, the SDGs, or Agenda 2030, came into effect the following year with the aim of ending poverty and fighting inequalities, while protecting the planet, through actions by all the countries.

The broad goals include No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Quality Education, Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Reduced Inequalities and Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The initiative builds on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that started in 2000 mainly as a global anti-poverty effort.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized that sports and the SDGs are intertwined.

"Sports have long played an important role in bringing people together, which is the value of SDGs. Sports and faith can help us achieve these goals by driving social change and fostering tolerance, understanding and peace," he said in a video message. He was visiting PyeongChang to report to an IOC conference as the chair of the IOC Ethics Commission.

He said, "Sustainability is closely linked with the U.N. agenda and it's also one of the three pillars of the Olympic Agenda 2020." Two other pillars are credibility and youth.

Lee Hee-beom, head of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Games, in a file photo (Yonhap) Lee Hee-beom, head of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Games, in a file photo (Yonhap)

Lee Hee-beom, head of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympics & Paralympic Games, said PyeongChang has its sights set on "sustainable" Olympics.

"The Olympics have grown as a comprehensive global festival to discuss various issues of common concern for mankind, which include culture and citizenship, beyond a simple sports sector," he said via video.

All new facilities constructed in PyeongChang and Gangeung for the Olympics to open this week have obtained "green-building" certifications for renewable energy use, he added.

In the talk concert, Lee Duck-hee, a 20-year-old South Korean professional tennis player who was born deaf, said his hearing is no limitation on the court and in life. He's currently ranked 205th in the world, according to the Association of Tennis Professionals.

A file photo of Lee Duck-hee, a South Korean tennis player who was born deaf (Yonhap) A file photo of Lee Duck-hee, a South Korean tennis player who was born deaf (Yonhap)

"Disability is not about overcoming. If you live with it and live as hard as you can, in no time you will not feel any disability," he said with the help of his mother's lip reading. "I am deaf but I do not want to be treated differently. Some day, I would like to be a tennis star like Chung Hyeon." He was mentioning Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities.

Touching on Goal 5, Gender Equality, Jin Sun-yu, an Olympic short track speed skating gold medalist, expressed hope that there will be more female coaches in sports.

"As a former member of the female short track skate national team, I think female coaches can better understand the physical and emotional troubles of female athletes," she said.

Jin Sun-yu, an Olympic short track speed skating gold medalist, in a file photo (Yonhap) Jin Sun-yu, an Olympic short track speed skating gold medalist, in a file photo (Yonhap)

Edward Kwon, a World Food Program partner chef, called for a reduction in food waste, addressing Goal 2: Zero Hunger.

"Why are you throwing away cash by dumping food that can feed children and others in need around us?" he said. "If we cut food waste, it will quite lower food prices as well." He recently developed 10 special recipes on the occasion of the PyeongChang Olympics.

Edward Kwon, a World Food Program partner chef, speaks at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics & SDGs Talk Concert in Seoul on Feb. 6, 2018. (Yonhap) Edward Kwon, a World Food Program partner chef, speaks at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics & SDGs Talk Concert in Seoul on Feb. 6, 2018. (Yonhap)

Lee Seo-won, a student at Ewha Womans University, said the talk concert was helpful.

"Honestly, I have paid little attention to the SDGs so far. I am gonna Google related information after going back home," she said.

U.N. officials said Lee and other participants have already helped them take a step toward achieving the SDGs by attending the talk concert.

"But you can do more. You can help us increase the momentum. These goals have humanity at the core, because we target people, like the Olympics," Miroslav Lajcak, president of the U.N. General Assembly said via video. "And you can promote the Olympic spirit even after the games end. Despite many divisions or differences in politics, economics, migration, security and religion ... there will be always a place for humanity."

   He held out expectations that the PyeongChang games will be conducive to bringing peace to Korea.

"We will see athletes from both Koreas marching together under one flag. And that's why we will, I hope, watch momentum build for a peaceful and nuclear-free Korean Peninsula," he said.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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