Sport and Play #foreverychild: UNICEF Deputy Regional Director in Europe and Central Asia Visit to Belarus

Sport and play are the rights of every child. They are important for healthy development, self-esteem and confidence. Sport unites millions of people around the world, driving them to act and change the world for the better. In our work, we pay great attention to ensuring that safe and inclusive sports are available to every child in the region.

On 21–23 June, Deputy Director of UNICEF in the ECA region Philippe Cori paid a working visit to Minsk, Belarus, to join the opening of the 2nd European Games 2019. The multisport event takes place on 21—30 June.

The visit included meetings with the key government and international partners, civil society and sports organisations, as well as visits to UNICEF events held as part of our cooperation with the 2nd European Games as a non-commercial social legacy partner.

UNICEF in Belarus partnered with the Games to help ensure that all activities before and during the event promote inclusion, safeguarding principles in sports, children and adolescent participation as well as fundamental children’s rights. A major focus is placed on overcoming stigma against children with disabilities, whose number is at about 50 000 in Belarus.

“Leveraging social and political capital has been very important to place children at the center of the European games. In particular, children with disabilities, who are still stigmatized and among the most vulnerable. Making these children visible and giving them a chance to be empowered and engaged in this sport event is certainly reflecting our regional commitment,” — Philippe Cori commented.

UNICEF in Belarus has nominated 3 children from vulnerable groups to join the Torch Relay held prior to the Games and bear the Torch on behalf of UNICEF — Alexei Gaponchik, winner of the Fair Play award at the National football tournament for children deprived of parental care; Yuliya Stefnyak,a full-time university student with cerebral palsy and a UNICEF volunteer; and Tatyana Filonets, a young model with Down syndrome and the face of UNICEF in Belarus charity project “Family for every child”. 

For the period of the European Games, UNICEF in Belarus organized 10 children's fan zones in 7 Belarusian cities — inclusive space where children and adolescents, including children with disabilities, play together and practice various sports, while learning about their fundamental rights, declared in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In turn, parents have an opportunity to get acquainted with the principles of responsible parenting. 

UNICEF volunteers are actively involved in the work of fan zones, whose active participation and assistance was highly praised by Philippe Cori.

“I was very impressed by the thousands of young volunteers supporting the European Games and also UNICEF volunteers in the fan zones. Their active participation allowed us to engage with children, families, and people in Minsk and in other cities directly. For us, it is important to be closer to people in a tangible way and volunteers help us a lot to do it.” — he noted.

During the Minsk mission, Philippe Cori met with Ihar Karpienka, Minister of Education, to discuss joint work with the Ministry on mental health, deinstitutionalization and restorative justice. It was a great opportunity to emphasize once again the importance of a cross-sectoral approach to drive positive change for every child.

To discuss UNICEF-EU cooperation in Belarus and in the region, Mr. Cori met with the Head of EU Delegation to Belarus Ms. Andrea Wiktorin. Juvenile justice issues were high on the agenda during this meeting, while inclusion in sport was the main topic of discussion with representatives of sports organizations and Federations of Belarus — the Football Federation, Hockey Club “Dynamo Minsk”, the football clubs “BATE Borisov” and “Dynamo Brest”. All the parties expressed their desire and dedication to continue active work and sustain their commitments through sport for the most vulnerable children.

And, of course, UNICEF team together with Philippe Cori visited children's zones in Minsk, where the guests played sports with the smallest sports fans — children.