A new United Nations-backed campaign is giving all Olympians a chance to be winners in the eyes of refugees.
The “Giving is Winning” programme, which seeks to encourage athletes to donate their surplus sportswear to refugees in Asia, was launched last week by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the Olympic Village in Beijing.
“The gift of sportswear from Olympic athletes around the globe inspires refugees and connects them to the world of sports,” said High Commissioner António Guterres. “Beyond happiness it brings them hope.”
In the run-up to the Olympic Games, which begin this Friday, some 50,000 articles of clothing have been collected and distributed to refugees in Rwanda, Tanzania, Chad, Moldova, Georgia and Panama.
Speaking at the scheme’s launch last week, IOC President Jacques Rogge voiced hope that many more items will be collected, saying “the bigger impact we can make with this campaign, the better.”
Veerapong Vongvarotai, UNHCR’s Regional Representative for China and Mongolia, said that athlete’s uniforms inspire refugees and connects them to the world of sports.
“For them the gift of sportswear associated with famous athletes from across the Olympic spectrum can be an enormous morale-booster and a sign that the world does care,” he said.
The “Giving is Winning” initiative was first set up for the 2004 Athens Olympics, when over 30,000 items were collected for young refugees in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Kosovo and Tanzania.
It was announced today that Wilfried Lemke, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, will represent Ban Ki-moon at the Games.
Mr. Lemke will attend the opening ceremony on Friday, along with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General Koïchiro Matsuura and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner.
Also representing the world body at the Games will be Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).
While in the country, she plans to hold talks with Government officials and visit Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province which was rocked by a devastating earthquake in May.
Ms. Tibaijuka, who carried the Olympic torch when it passed through her home country of Tanzania, is also expected to visit Shanghai, Nanjing, Shaoxing and Zhang Jiagang.
In a related development, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is coordinating with China and other nations to provide up-to-date and accurate weather information.
The Beijing Games are the third in row in which WMO is organizing the effort to use forecasting techniques to improve weather predictions, in increments ranging from minutes to days, near Olympic venues.
For its part, UNEP has been working in concert with the Beijing Olympic Committee for the past three years in a bid to help make the Games environmentally-friendly.
The Chinese Government has poured $17 billion into efforts to “green” the upcoming Olympics, including using solar power to light lawns, courtyards and streets at several sports venues.
“Anybody who knows what the situation was like 10 years ago in Beijing will clearly acknowledge that an enormous amount has been done,” said Mr. Steiner, the agency’s head. “The legacy of this Olympic Games will be in part that it has left in place an infrastructure for public transport and cleaner vehicles that will benefit not only the Olympic Games but also the population of Beijing and, hopefully in due course, other parts of China.”