Recognising the importance of sport for development and sports diplomacy, Australian Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris George Mina spoke about the power of sport and its role in showcasing Australia’s identity, values and culture.
“Sports diplomacy is a growing aspect of diplomatic practice. The values of sport, competition, team work and fair play help to build trust between countries and bring people together. But we rarely have opportunities, like the one today, to showcase the remarkable role of sport to achieve development outcomes,” Mina said at the exhibition opening.
“We stand here today and applaud the work of the Just Play team across Oceania, recognising their outstanding contribution to reaching over 200,000 children in 11 Pacific Island countries since the programme’s inception in 2009. It is a source of great satisfaction for the Australian Government to see that our investment in this programme of 5.9 million dollars has made such significant impact on so many young lives.”
The Australian Government was one of the foundation partners for the OFC Just Play Programme when it was launched as a pilot project in 2009. UEFA was also an early supporter of the social responsibility programme with support now continuing through the UEFA Foundation for Children which was established in May 2015.
Further acknowledging Just Play’s outstanding contribution to the Oceania region, administrator of the UEFA Foundation for Children Cyrill Pellevat highlighted the important role Just Play and football is playing in helping to address critical issues facing children throughout Oceania.
“It is with great pleasure that I stand here today to showcase the hard work and dedication of the Just Play team in Oceania,” Pellevat said.
“The UEFA Foundation for Children believes in the power and potential of sport. By leveraging football’s core values – solidarity, sharing and teamwork – and focusing on the holistic development of children, the foundation seeks to nurture, protect and foster potential.
“UEFA believes that children are the future and through investments in programmes like Just Play, we are helping children in Oceania and around the world to reach their extraordinary potential.”
This year, in an attempt to recognise outstanding contributions to the development of children through sport, the UEFA Foundation for Children has launched a series of awards. Just Play, as an inaugural recipient is being bestowed an award in the amount of 200,000 euros to support the continued work of Just Play throughout Oceania.
“It is a huge honour for Just Play to be chosen as one of the recipients of the first ever UEFA Foundation for Children awards,” says OFC Head of Social Responsibility and International Relations Franck Castillo.
“Making a meaningful impact on children in Oceania is one of the guiding philosophies of the Just Play Programme.
“At the Oceania Football Confederation we believe that football is a powerful vehicle for change and that through Just Play we are reaching out to children across our Confederation, helping them to grow, learn and explore sport in a meaningful way,” Castillo says.
“Just Play would have never existed without the strong support of the OFC President and all the Presidents of our Member Associations as well as our sponsors; the Australian Government, the UEFA Foundation for Children, UNICEF, Football Federation Australia and the Government of New Zealand.”
Cook Islands Just Play Project Manager Michelle Paiti spoke in front of the exhibition guests on behalf of the six OFC project managers present in Paris, explaining the passion and commitment required to be a successful project manager.
“The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the world’s oceanic divisions, consisting of 63.8 million square miles in area,” Paiti said.
“People may think of our beautiful Pacific Islands as idyllic, peaceful and laidback, but beneath all that lies a struggling population spread across isolated and remote areas. Faced with high levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, violence and discrimination of children with disabilities, girls and women, the children of the Pacific face an everyday, uphill struggle.
“All of our countries are very male dominated societies and it is difficult for women to have leading roles.
“Through our positions as Just Play project managers, we have been trained in management and given the confidence to lead this dynamic programme. Through hard work and dedication we are now seen as positive role models in our countries, and not just for young girls and women within our communities.”
The Just Play exhibition will travel to the majority of French cities hosting EURO 2016 matches and is expected to give exposure to the power of football in the Pacific region and beyond.