Beijing, China (BBN)- Sport is increasingly recognized as an important tool in helping countries achieve their development goals, the United Nations envoy for sport said on Friday in Beijing, where athletes from around the world are currently competing in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

“Sport has an important role in improving the lives of people around the world. It builds bridges between individuals and across communities, providing a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of development and peace,” Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to UN Secretary General on Sport for Development and Peace, said in a statement marking the mid-point of the Olympic Games.

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in China added that sport can catalyze advances in poverty reduction, universal education, gender equality, prevention of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, environmental sustainability, as well as peace building and conflict resolution.

The Office cited Chinese basketball star Yao Ming and former Olympians such as swimmer Luo Xuejuan, ping pong player Deng Yaping, diver Gao Min, long-distance runner Wang Junxia and skater Yang Yang as athletes who have collaborated with the UN to promote poverty alleviation, public awareness on HIV/AIDS and environmental protection, according to the statement.

The UN Resident Coordinator in China, Khalid Malik, also praised the Chinese authorities’ efforts to create an Olympic Games with an emphasis on environmental sustainability, the statement said.

BBN/SI/SI/AD-15August08-10:08 PM