U.N. diplomats play soccer for Sierra Leone victims

United Nations Ambassadors Sir Mark Lyall Grant, left, of Britain, and Ron Prosor, of Israel, are seen on Randall's Island in New York City April 21, 2012.
CBS/Pamela Falk
Diplomacy can be achieved in the U.N. Security Council or on the soccer fields of New York City.

(Watch at left)

After the United Nations voted Saturday morning to expand the observer mission to Syria to monitor a shaky cease-fire, the secretary-general and ambassadors swapped business suits for soccer shorts in the afternoon to benefit the victims of violence in Sierra Leone.

Did they achieve more than they do at the U.N.? Not clear but they put aside politics for a good cause on a sunny day on Randall's Island.

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor squared off in the match to raise awareness and funds for areas affected by war and conflict in Sierra Leone. The match, sponsored by an organization called Play31, featured ambassadors and officials from more than 15 countries, including Sierra Leone, Angola, Austria, Britain, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Morocco and San Marino.

"We are here to help the Sierra Leone people," said Ban. "This is a real way to help."

Play31 was launched by Jakob Lund, who as a Columbia University graduate student spent the summer of 2008 in a rural area of Sierra Leone working with a post-conflict organization. The country was torn apart by civil war, leaving thousands dead or wounded.

Lund named the non-profit organization after Article 31 of a U.N. convention on the rights of children, also known as the "right to play." The organization aims to use soccer to bring together a community still affected by the aftermath of the civil war.

British Ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said he was playing for the benefit of Sierra Leone's children.

"It is fair to say so far we have had more success over the last 10 years after the bitter conflicts in Sierra Leone," said Grant. "Things are going a little bit better although there are still many children traumatized, amputees who suffered because of the conflict, lost their parents. Nonetheless, we feel that the country is on the road to a better future."

He added that the Security Council will be visiting the war-torn country next month.

"Syria is still a work in progress," said Grant. "The resolution this morning marks a step forward. Nonetheless we wait to see whether the Syrian regime will actually stick to its commitments this time. It hasn't done so in the past, but we hope that they will this time."

Back to the match, it was won by the team of Ambassador Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein. (Ever the diplomat, the secretary-general changed teams at halftime.)

"We are promoting the culture of sports as a means of promoting peace and awareness of the situation in Sierra Leone and the commitment of the secretary-general," Wenaweser said.

"It is nice to come together outside of the U.N. for a good cause to help the children of Sierra Leone," Prosor said.

"This is tiring after returning from a dozen countries the past two weeks," said Ban, "but it is worth it for the children."

More pictures from the match can be seen here.

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.