Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends of the Asian Football Confederation,
Let me begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for supporting the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations through the Asian Football against Hunger initiative.
FAO had the privilege to sign a cooperation agreement with the Asian Football Confederation in May 2010, to work together for one shared goal: the eradication of hunger by offering concrete solutions to people in need, helping them to feed themselves and build a better life.
We are extremely proud of this partnership. Last year, the Asian Football Cup recorded a notable success and collected USD 413,000 to assist small farming communities across Asia.
Over the past three months, the Asian Football Against Hunger campaign has returned to stadiums across the continent, this time for the knockout stage of one of Asia’s most prestigious football championships: the AFC Champions League.
Eight of Asia’s top football clubs have actively supported this solidarity campaign. Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai and Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli will compete tomorrow in the grand final and I would like to thank their players Kwak Tae Hwi and Mansour Ateeq S Alharbi for acting as campaign ambassadors throughout the competition. I wish them all the best in the final and although tomorrow’s match will mark the end of the competition, FAO hopes that it is only the beginning of a fruitful alliance with one of Asian football’s biggest sporting platforms.
Nearly 870 million people live in chronic hunger. That is one in eight people in the world who struggle to get through the day on an empty stomach. Children are too hungry to learn, they can’t go to school. People are vulnerable to disease.
This is morally unacceptable because ending hunger is an achievable objective, not a dream. Thanks to the Asian Football Confederation, we are sending out this message to citizens across Asia.
AFC and FAO are currently running 43 projects throughout Asia using the funds raised during last year’s Asian Football Cup. Six of these projects are based in Korea. Activities include the creation of school gardens teaching children about smarter ways to grow crops and simultaneously improving child nutrition. Korean farming communities are also being provided with livestock such as superior breeds of goats and pigs, and with the financial assistance to set up frog farming to diversify food production, improve diet and generate household income.
According to the hunger report recently released by FAO, the number of hungry people in Asia and the Pacific has fallen nearly 30 percent over the past 20 years – from 739 million to 563 million. Asia has already taken a step forward but still, over half of the world’s hungry live in this region and there is a lot of work to be done.
We need to mobilize the political will and the resources needed to stop hunger by building public awareness of the issue. Citizen support is key to steering political attention towards the plight of the hungry people in the world. The Asian Football Confederation’s Champions League has succeeded in bringing to the attention of millions of football fans to the unacceptably high incidence of hunger in the region.
Collaboration between humanitarian organizations and the world of sport is therefore vital to engaging the public’s attention but it is equally important that partnering organizations share a similar spirit. Playing good football and fighting hunger require similar values: fair play, commitment, team work, patience and perseverance.
You are all champions in the global drive to end hunger and we are proud to stand united with you for this greater goal.
My thanks to all of you.