June 15, 2010 / 9:31 PM / 9 years ago

Sport combats conflict, change lives: Tony Blair

Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair plays cricket with children from the London Sports Clubs inside 10 Downing Street in London November 22, 2006. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Sport can change lives and help create social change in regions such as the Middle East, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday.

Blair, who is the Middle East envoy for the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, said that during visits to the region he had seen the power of sport in conflict resolution.

“One of the few things that works for young people particularly is to get them playing sport together,” Blair said in an interview to promote Beyond Sport, a nonprofit group that promotes the use of sport in creating social change.

“It’s amazing ... how all the different attributes that might bring about discord fall away,” he said. “What’s left is ... something that leads to a face being put on the other side, which is often one of the most important things.”

Blair is chairman of the Beyond Sport ambassadors, who include Yankees baseball player Derek Jeter, U.S. Olympic gold medalist sprinter Michael Johnson, British Olympic gold medalist runner Sebastian Coe and U.S. basketball star Tamika Catchings.

Beyond Sport will hold its second annual summit and awards in Chicago from September 27 -30.

Among the winners at the 2009 awards was an initiative to rehabilitate human trafficking victims in India through dance and a program that disarmed gangs in Venezuela and rehabilitated them through rugby.

In 2010 more than 350 projects from more than 115 countries and territories addressing issues such as obesity, poverty, the environment and conflict resolution have submitted entries for the awards. Six winners will be chosen and awarded $15,000 and a package of business support.

“I have always been passionate about sport and its capacity to change people’s lives,” said Blair. “Sport is often the best anti-crime policy, the best public health policy, the best way to bring people together.”

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