Ski legend helps kids to play 

Steve Podborski selected as a spokesperson for Right To Play program

There are a lot of reasons why athletes get involved in charities like the Olympic sponsored Right To Play, says Whistler’s Steve Podborski, a spokesperson for the group.

As a former elite athlete, Olympic medal winner, and as a parent, Podborski knows that sports have a positive impact on a person’s life, building self-confidence, team spirit, and physical fitness.

He has also seen the power that sports and athletes can have in communities, countries and on the world stage, uniting people in a peaceful and meaningful way.

And, like most athletes, he understands what it means to give something back.

"There’s a reason athletes try to give something back all the way through their careers and afterwards. Athletes get it," said Podborski, who won eight World Cup downhills during his ski racing career.

"Early in our careers, most athletes are charities themselves, and we can understand how someone lending a helping hand can make all the difference in the world."

Along with dozens of other Olympic athletes, Podborski has become a spokesperson for the Right To Play organization, which was created out of the Olympic Aid legacy project.

Originally founded in 1994 for the Lillehammer Winter Games, Olympic Aid was created to support sports and development in war torn countries around the globe. With countries and families divided and infrastructure in disrepair, a return to sports is seen as part of the healing process.

Children are the hardest hit by conflicts, and are the main focus of Olympic Aid programs, which generated $18 million in revenues from 1994 to 2000. The money was mainly raised by athletes and supporters.

Early this year, Olympic Aid evolved into Right To Play in order to expand the fundraising base even more, and tap into the public and private sector more effectively. A number of recognized athletes were recruited to help with fundraising efforts, acting as spokespersons for the charity.

Although it is still an extension of the Olympics, Right To Play is also endorsed by the United Nations.

Athletes have signed up to represent Right To Play in almost 30 countries, from Argentina to Zambia, with American and Canadian athletes making up the lion’s share of participants.

Along with Podborski, the list of Canadian Right To Play athletes includes Wayne Gretzky, Donovan Bailey, Charmaine Crooks, the Canadian World Cup Women’s Soccer Team, Daniel Igali, Silken Laumann, Catriona LeMay Doan, Marnie McBean, David Pelletier and Jamie Sale, Beckie Scott, Brian Stemmle and Simon Whitfield, to name just a few. In total, the list includes 31 Canadian athletes, not including teams.

Not only do Right To Play athletes get involved by bringing public attention to the charity and participating in fundraising, many of the athletes will visit war torn countries to help set up sport programs for the children.

Although he is happy to play any role he can with the organization, Podborski hopes to be one of those athletes making a difference on the ground.

"I’m involved because I have the opportunity to make a difference just by being who I am, mainly because of the (public relations) aspect," said Poborski.

"That said, I think I can be as effective as anyone else on the ground delivering sports, and I’m hoping to have a chance to do some work abroad as well.

"Right now we have programs going in 21 different countries, working with youth that have been child soldiers, or that have been stuck in refugee camps. Some of them are orphans, most of them are living in poverty. These kids don’t have any proper role models. They don’t understand athletics, or know how to work with each other with respect.

"Sports can provide these role models, and give these kids a chance to play. I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to give them."

Right To Play programs are currently underway in Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Israel/Palestine, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Belize, Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand.

For more information on Right To Play visit the Web site at www.righttoplay.com.

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