United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has designated 2005 as the International Year of Sports and Physical Education, saying sports can provide an important forum for global peace and understanding. 


According to Mr. Annan, sports play a role in diplomacy and can improve the quality of life for people in the developing world.


"Sport is a universal language," he said.  "At its best, it can bring people together no matter what their origin, background, religious belief or economic status."


The General Assembly has adopted two resolutions over the past year that encourage young people to play sports. The idea is to urge world leaders to back sports as a way to bridge ethnic and political differences for young people, and to make sure all children get an education.


Former president of Switzerland, Adolph Ogi, is the U.N. Special Adviser on Sport for Development. He says young people learn lifelong lessons from participating in sports.


"Sport can bridge conflicts," he said.  "Sport is the best rule of life. I learn to win without thinking I am the best. I learn to lose without thinking that is the end. I learn to respect my opponent. Maybe I don't agree with the ambassador of Switzerland, but I respect him."


Kenyan distance-running champion Margaret Okayo was on hand for the announcement of the U.N. program, as was Swiss tennis pro Roger Federer, who has set up a foundation in his mother's native country of South Africa to help feed children and host athletic programs.


"Through sports they will be able to benefit from more balanced education, which will build their minds and their bodies," said Mr. Federer.


UN officials say they will launch more than 100 projects worldwide as part of the 2005 program to link sports, health, peace and education.