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UN sports envoy calls for match in Middle East

Oct 22,2009
New York - A football match between Israelis and Palestinians could be one way to help end the long-running conflict in the Middle East, a United Nations adviser on sport and peace said Tuesday.

Wilfried Lemke, a German who serves as UN special adviser on sports for development and peace, is optimistic such a proposal could be realized. He said he has supporters ready to provide 1 million euros ($1.5 million) or more to finance such a game in less than two days, provided politicians would agree to it.

The match could be held in Ramallah in the Gaza Strip or in Tel Aviv, said Lemke, a former manager for the Werder Bremen football club in Germany for 18 years. The club was one of the best in Europe.

“Right now we are far away from realizing it,” Lemke told reporters waiting at the German House in New York City for him to explain the particulars of his job advising UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on matters dealing with sports as a contribution to the advancement of development and peace. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has lasted more than six decades.

Lemke said he has talked to Israeli and Palestinian officials but admitted that the project is a tough one, as neither side seems to be able to overcome politics for the sake of sports.

“I won’t stop fighting for the idea,” Lemke said. “Ramallah could be the first match, but it could take a long time to realize.”

He said other countries like Brazil and Switzerland could assist in breaking the ice between Israelis and Palestinians by joining in the matches.

“We have to show that there is another way to live in peace,” he said.

He said his other “dream” would be to organize an athletic event between China and Taiwan, the opponents on each side of the Taiwan Strait, divided by politics but not by commerce.

Lemke was appointed special adviser on sports by the UN chief in March 2008 and has since crisscrossed developing countries seeking young talent that can be developed into role models for other youth around the world and to imbue them in the goals of development and peace. After leading Werder Bremen, Lemke became involved in local politics as a senator of the interior and sport and for education and science in the Bremen state. DPA



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