27 Apr 2010

SportAccord 2010

President Jacques Rogge, and Mr. Hein Verbruggen,

Your Royal Highnesses,

Your Excellencies,

Dear Friends from the Family of Sport,

On behalf of my husband, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and the people of Dubai, it is my honour to welcome the global family of sport to first SportAccord in the Middle East.

It is a joyous occasion to have you in our home.

Sheikh Mohammed has asked me to convey his thanks to the young men and women of Dubai who have worked so hard to make this event a success. This convention has already done what sport does best — pull people together.

I would also like to note the passing of a man who had a powerful and positive impact on the world of sport.

Juan Antonio Samaranch left us a great legacy. He is with us in spirit.

Dear friends, you have come to a Region as old as time itself, with a timeless history. Arabia cradled the Prophets of the world's three monotheistic religions. Arabia nurtured the dawn of science and learning.

Many of the great men and women of history have traveled across our sands and sailed across our seas. We have been blessed with riches of thought, trade and resources.

But history has also burdened us with a legacy of strife, struggle and bloodshed. That strife is too often the only image that the rest of world sees.

It also influences how we see ourselves.

Dubai is one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet. And yet this region is often viewed — by you and by us — as a land apart, a place separate from the wider world.

You, my friends, are part of a process that is breaking that cycle. Nothing can match the power of sport to break down barriers.

Sport reminds us of our common humanity. It helps our children learn life's lessons in a healthy environment. But sport is another area where this region has sometimes been a world apart.

Sport has always grappled to find its place in Arab Society. It has not been a priority for governments that are often focused on more pressing problems. Those passionate about sport have largely been left to pursue their interests on their own.

The time has come to address that oversight. The United Arab Emirates has undergone a remarkable transformation since its founding four decades ago, and that modernization process continues under the leadership of our President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.

Modernization has delivered many benefits. But it has also encouraged more sedentary lifestyles. Today, we rely on sports for the physical activity that used to be part of daily life. That is one reason Sheikh Mohammed has made sports an integral part of Dubai's growth strategy.

He understands the value of sport to society and to the individual. He lives it. My husband is happiest when he is on horseback for a 100-mile ride across the desert, just as his grandfather did.

As our leaders seek to increase participation in sports, you can help us find our place in the world of global sport. Your presence here is a bridge to a better understanding between cultures and a chance to build new partnerships. This gathering reminds our young people that we are part of a global sport family.

It is fitting that SportAccord has come here for this historic session. The UAE has always been a crossroads where cultures meet, a bridge between East and West, old and modern.

That is what we hope to offer you during your stay here.

While we may speak different languages, practice different religions and adhere to different traditions, we share the same values of friendship, respect and a desire for peace.

We also have a common interest in using sport as a force for good — for society in general and for our children in particular.

Let us make the most of this opportunity.

Thank you for coming to Dubai.