Speech by Goodwill Ambassador Mr. Dragan Stojkovic
Ministerial Conference on Peace Consolidation and
Economic Development of the Western Balkans

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to be given a chance to perform this responsible role as the Goodwill Ambassador of the Ministerial Conference on Peace Consolidation and Economic Development of the Western Balkans. Since I recognize Japan as my second home country, it becomes much more special and once again an honor to me to be counted upon with such an important mission.

I have spent my life as a football player for 20 years. As many of you may well know, football is one of the most popular sports in the world, and that is especially true in the Western Balkan region. The word 'football' is a common word that every one of us can understand. And ethnic groups, religions, borders and languages do not matter when we speak of football.

Football teams around the world are made up of players from each and every nationality, race, religion and language. Every player takes this situation for granted; I myself was never aware of the nationality or the ethnicity of my team mates. As a matter of fact, my team mates who have shared joys and sorrows with me are from various Western Balkan countries. Mr. Ivica Osim, who is currently a coach of the J-League team "JEF ICHIHARA," is from Bosnia and Herzegovina and he is my football master as well as my best friend. Prosinecki, Suker, Boksic, Jarni, from Croatia, a Macedonian player, Pancev, Hadzibegic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lori Cana of Albania are still good friends of mine. Truly, football itself is the bridge that can cross over national, ethnic and language barriers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What is needed to accomplish ethnic reconciliation? It would be nothing but words if we simply keep on saying that "Ethnic reconciliation is important." What is most important is the bridge I just mentioned. Without interaction among people, there will never be any reconciliation. Football is contributing greatly to the promotion of ethnic reconciliation. It is a trigger for the interaction of people, a vital vehicle for reconciliation.

For example, thousands of football supporters from the other side of the planet get together in Tokyo for the Toyota Cup games. The magic of football is that it has the power to bring people traveling beyond borders and continents. I often wonder whether we can use this magic to remove the barriers between different ethnic groups.

Western Balkan countries can host Goodwill Games on a regular basis. Even though official games between neighboring countries are already held, when it comes to official games, winning starts to override everything; and thus I strongly believe that Goodwill Games are far more important in bringing about ethnic reconciliation. Goodwill Games between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro have already been held. One by one, I am planning for more Goodwill Games between various countries within the region in the future. When the national teams move over the borders to neighboring countries to play, supporters will follow. It is vital that those people move and interact with one another. Little by little, I hope the barriers will melt away.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has also played an important role. It has supported the establishment of a multi-ethnic league in Bosnia and Herzegovina and refused ethnically segmented football leagues within each entity. The creation of multi-ethnic league will speed up the exchange of people, helping ethnic reconciliation.

Japan is also playing a role in ethnic reconciliation through sports in this region. A Japanese NGO, the Sarajevo Football Project, established a multi-ethnic football team called "KRILO" for children in Sarajevo. At first, it seemed to be difficult to overcome the barriers between different ethnic groups, however, interaction slowly started to take place. Today, Bosnjak, Croatian and Serbian children are all on the same team. The other day, the Japanese government donated a bus for this football team to move beyond its borders. It is important that interaction between entities is carried out and it is even more vital that those children who will lead the future understand the importance of this interaction. I am visiting Sarajevo this coming October for the Goodwill Games between Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and am looking forward to visiting "KRILO." "KRILO" means wings. I hope that these wings will fly high into the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have always thought that "Sports must be separated from politics." I still hold the same position. I am not a politician and cannot change the national system or the economic policies. However, I strongly hope for football players to contribute to world peace through football, a common language that anyone can understand and a theme that everyone loves. I am confident that this is possible.

There is such a phrase in my favorite movie "Underground": "The story will never end." Western Balkan countries have finally started to move forward toward peace and stability. The story has just begun. I want to join this story of ethnic reconciliation through sports. I wish that many people, especially children who are to lead the future, will join as well.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Goodwill Ambassador
Dragan Stojkovic

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