Dame una de azúcar
Dame dos de azúcar
Dame tres de azúcar
Blanca y morena, blanca y morena
The above lyrics to the chorus of “Azukita” roughly translates to “give me one sugar, give me two sugar, give me three sugar, white and brown.” The singer Daddy Yankee says it’s supposed to refer to racial and cultural unity, and this incredibly catchy song is a Zumba instructor favourite in multicultural cities such as Toronto and New York.
I was in New York this week not only to do Zumba, but to attend an event at the United Nations Headquarters regarding sport and the Sustainable Development Goals in advance of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace celebrated every April 6th. I represented the Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace (CYSDP) Network, which is made of regional focal points around the world, with plans for expansion to have local focal points in all 53 Commonwealth countries. The 2019 theme for the Commonwealth organization is “A Connected Commonwealth,” and I generally still hold the same nuanced youthful idealism from 2015, the previous time I visited the United Nations when the Commonwealth theme was “A Young Commonwealth.”
Many of the speakers at the event this week shared that sense of idealism. The speakers ranged from the permanent representatives from Qatar and Monaco and senior officials from the Peace and Sport organization, the ESPN / espnW sports network, the UN Mine Action Service, the International Paralympic Committee, and (my hometown NBA basketball team) Toronto Raptors. It had an aura similar to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and while I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the speakers, my educational background in the sociocultural aspects of sport has ingrained critical thinking about some of the claims made.
For example, H.E. Hasan Al-Thawadi (Secretary General: Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy of the 2022 men’s FIFA World Cup) appeared on video addressing the conference, stating that his country is committed to “accelerating positive change for the workers that build our infrastructure.” It was likely carefully scripted to omit recent reports that critique problems regarding worker deaths that occurred in the first few years of constructing these new football stadiums. Perhaps it was also convenient for him to miss the event when Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch Director of Global Initiatives, stood up and directed a question to the other speakers in the short question-and-answer session. As I stated in my previous article about the 2018 Commonwealth Youth Forum, we need to have people who ask, in respectful ways, difficult questions that challenge our thinking.
While we need to recognize that there have been (and there still are) numerous controversies surrounding mega-sporting events, my fondest sporting memory was attending the 2016 Paralympics opening ceremony. In response to Worden’s question, International Paralympic Committee board member Juan Pablo Salazar discussed the Kazan Action Plan and the necessity of generating indicators that monitor and evaluate the success of development initiatives (the Commonwealth has done extensive work on this matter). Agnès Marcaillou, Director of the UN Mine Action Service, also added that it would be “misconstrued and misleading” to say that sports can cure all problems and that for issues such as converting mine fields to play fields, the onus is on the 193 United Nations member states to do their part.
It’s the year 2019 and these 193 UN member states (and 53 Commonwealth member states) have the power to be more connected than ever before due to virtual meetups anytime. Electronic communication is the norm – for example, fellow CYSDP executives Richard Loat and Jacqueline Njeri wrote about esport being the next major undertaking – and in developed, industrialized countries, there’s an expectation that everything would be available electronically. In my other day job, I am a teacher and guidance counsellor at a private high school, and I am proud to see two students receive offer letters to attend a university in Manhattan. Because there was (surprisingly) no electronic way to accept their offers and pay the deposit, I decided to take their signed acceptance letters and cheques directly to that university and also speak with the university admissions office about other logistical issues in the morning, before the UN meeting took place in the afternoon.
It was around that time that I received an email from the United Nations potentially offering me time to speak, depending on question-and-answer time allotment. Unfortunately, I did not check that email (and subsequent messages from the CYSDP Network) in time. By missing this potential opportunity (even though there were many raised hands in a short 9-minute audience feedback segment), I not only disappointed myself but likely let down many people who worked hard to ensure that, on the record, I appropriately represented the CYSDP’s goals and missions.
But this is where I suppose being involved in sport helps as a tangible tool for social development. Many people in competitive sport will face disappointment, but the method of knowing how to handle disappointment is important. For me, I’ve maintained that the first goal, in sport and in life, is having fun. And looking back at my short trip to New York, I am happy to be part of a supportive CYSDP Network that strives to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. Together in the 53 connected Commonwealth member states and 193 United Nations member states, hopefully with the collective zeal and energy seen in Zumba group fitness classes, I long to see continued serious discussions of sport beyond one calendar day of the year so that we all can, to quote Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed, “Score 17 goals for humanity.”