His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani,
His Excellency Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani,
His Excellency Sheikh Faisal AL-THANI,
Excellencies, My Fellow Heads of State,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a real pleasure to be back in Qatar for another Doha GOALS Forum. Allow me to thank the organisers of this unique initiative for their inspiration and vision and in particular to thank His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and the government and people of Qatar, for the warm welcome and exceptional hospitality my delegation and I have received since our arrival.
Sport is one of the few activities that transcends politics and offers all nations on our planet a chance to shine on a level playing field.
In Africa, sport is one of the truly unifying experiences that sees people from all corners of the continent cheer together when our football teams play at the world cup, or our athletes’ race in the Olympics. It is one of the few platforms where African nations compete and share the spotlight with other nations as equals. As such, it is a vital part of changing perceptions about individual countries and about wider regions.
In my own country, Gabon, we experienced the power of sport to impact positively on the economy, infrastructure, culture and public spirit, as well as to strengthen ties with other nations, when we co-hosted the African Football Cup of Nations in 2012, with our neighbour Equatorial Guinea.
Our team played well and were unlucky to go out on penalties in the quarterfinals, but the Gabonese public turned out en mass to celebrate the final and made it truly a night to remember. The CAN brought the world to Gabon and took Gabon to the World. Through sport we clearly demonstrated that we are open for tourism, business and investment.
We hope to repeat the exercise in 2017!
Our elite sportsmen and women are a powerful cultural and social export for Africa, with great players in Europe's elite football clubs, the NBA's best basketball teams and African runners dominating long-distance running globally. In Gabon, we are immensely proud of people like Anthony OBAME, World Gold and Olympic Silver medallist in Taekwondo, and Pierre-Emerick AUBAMEYANG, our football striker, who currently plays for the German club Borussia Dortmund - you may have seen his goal against Arsenal the other day!
Many of our stars have become positive role models for youth, encouraging them to aspire to great things, and some have adopted and become champions for humanitarian and environmental issues, using their renown for the greater good of humanity and to promote actions in favor of the health of our planet.
My friend Samuel ETO'O serves as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, focusing on issues relating to HIV/AIDS, whilst Didier DROGBA serves in the same role in the fight against poverty.
Yaya TOURÉ, who plays for Manchester City as well as the "Elephants" of Ivory Coast, recently became the United Nations goodwill Ambassador for elephants, which tragically have almost disappeared from his country, which bears their name, and from much of their previous range in Africa.
Sport is an important contributor to the health both of individuals and of nations, which is why we are currently actively promoting the participation of school children and the general public in the upcoming Libreville marathon, with the objective of seeing 12,000 people participate. Indeed, in Gabon, we have a national policy to integrate sport into education, so children learn fair play, teamwork and motivation from an early age.
Advances in sports medicine make an important contribution to health care generally. Our newly opened sports medicine facility in Libreville will allow us to provide specialist care not only to sportsmen, but also to the general public suffering from similar and related injuries.
I congratulate the organisers of Doha GOALS for their vision and energy and fully share their belief in the power of sport to be a motor for global progress. It is important that Heads of State and CEOs around the globe demonstrate their personal support for sportsmen and women, by making the effort to attend sporting events and to encourage them to aspire to compete with dignity and to excel on their chosen field, court or pitch.
I am proud that my country was one of the pioneering partners for a Doha GOALS Forum initiative: you have seen the pictures of a new basketball court and soccer field being built in Port-Gentil, our second city and economic centre, at the heart of a major infrastructure development to regenerate the port.
This simple act has forever linked our two countries, and there is a corner of Port-Gentil that will always be thankful to Qatar and to the Doha GOALS Forum.
Furthermore, thanks to remarkable efforts like Global Watch and the Doha GOALS Forum initiative to eradicate racism in sport, today sport is uniting to fight the darker side of human society, to build a safer, more integrated environment for people of all backgrounds to come together.
Sport truly can make a difference to everybody's lives and together we can make a difference to sport.