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Sports can help promote peace, U.N. official says

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Sports can help promote peace, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said Saturday at a panel discussion that featured other global leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The group gathered at the LDS Conference Center in the name of Olympic Aid, the official charity of the Olympic Games, to discuss new ways to use sports to help the world's disadvantaged children.

"We need to free the children and give them back their destinies," Mitt Romney, Salt Lake Organizing Committee president, said during the nearly two-hour event.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said because of the high visibility of the Salt Lake Games, this is a prime opportunity for athletes to use their fame for good. "We are the best ones in teaching young people sports skills. I believe we should focus on that."

The discussion centered on Olympic Aid's mission, to give every child the right to play. Olympic Aid attempts to do this by using the high visibility of Olympic athletes to raise money and draw attention to children in war-torn countries who don't have the chance to play sports.

Olympic Aid chairman and four-time gold speedskating medalist Johann Olav Koss of Norway said he is taking this time when the world's attention is turned to Salt Lake to aggressively raise money.

Saturday, those efforts paid off as Olympic Aid was presented with a check for the equivalent of about $5 million. But the group hopes to double that amount before the 2002 Winter Games end on Feb. 24, Koss said.

"We are looking to raise (another) $5 million during the Games here in addition to what we received today," Koss said.

Koss also announced the appointment of Rogge as president of the newly created fund-raising arm for Olympic Aid, the Olympic Aid Foundation. Koss said it will be headquartered in Switzerland, where the IOC also has its offices.

The panel members discussed a variety of issues ranging from preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS to the need for vaccinations.

Angelina Jolie, U.N. goodwill ambassador and Academy-award winner, tearfully recounted her experiences working in refugee camps.

"To learn about how to be healthy and be fit and play on a team ? those things don't sound that important but to underprivileged kids, it's the most important thing in the world. It's crucial for children to have more than just food to start to get over the traumas they've experienced," Jolie said.

Rudd Lubbers, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, echoed her sentiments.

"Play overcomes traumas. These kids start to get self-confidence again when they participate in sports," Lubbers said.

"It's about people linking and connecting. Every child needs to play," said Coleen Menlove, Primary general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Other guests included Carol Bellamy, executive director for UNICEF; hockey great Wayne Gretzky; Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organization; Cheryl Healton, president of the American Legacy Foundation; Adolf Ogi, special adviser for the U.N., and Viviane Reding, European commissioner for education and culture.

The round table discussion was lead by Hilary Bowker, a former senior European anchor for CNN.

E-MAIL: sgiles@desnews.com