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Pele and IDB to promote investments in soccer for the development of Latin America

"This is the first time that a bank opens its doors to 'the family of sports' so that business executives and club presidents can discuss soccer as a professional sport and as a commercial activity in Latin America," Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, said today at a news conference inaugurating a seminar on "The Future of Soccer Business in the Americas."

The event was held in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Inter-American Development Bank.

"Years ago it would have been unthinkable to have a meeting of this type," said Pelé, who is the former sports minister of Brazil in addition to being considered the greatest soccer player of all time. He said he was glad to be part of an initiative promoted by the IDB and the Brazilian embassy in the United States.

Pelé said that sports as an economic activity was underdeveloped in Latin America and that there existed great potential for its further development as a commercial activity. He said sports represents less than 1 percent of the gross domestic product of the region, whereas in developed countries it represents 4 percent of the GDP.

Pelé, IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and the Brazilian Ambassador to the United States, Rubens Barbosa, inaugurated the seminar, which was attended by 300 personalities, investors, journalists, and representatives of soccer federations and clubs and businesses associated with the sport.

Pelé and Iglesias emphasized the importance of promoting soccer as an alternative investment for economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Because the region has a young population, with more than 50 percent of its inhabitants less than 24 years old, the sport offers a path for socialization and can be used as a way to prevent youth violence and drug addiction.

"Soccer is a sport with multiple dimensions," said IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias. "It offers opportunities for investment because of its economic return, and it is also a sport whose popularity transcends the limits of social class, race, religion, gender, and educational level. That is why soccer is an important instrument for regional development and integration."

Iglesias praised Pelé for his values and for the model he has set as an athlete, public official, businessman, and citizen, as well as for his commitment to work on behalf of poor children through sports programs. He added that the Bank expected to take advantage of the experience of Pelé in launching a new line of activity using sports as a vehicle to help achieve economic progress and social justice.

"Economic growth must be supported by care for the environment and cultural heritage, and it must conciliate the benefits of world integration with the preservation of national cultural values and economic, social and political freedom. Liberty is achieved by a solid democracy and the elimination of poverty."

Pelé has promoted sports in his country and throughout the world in several ways, from commercial activity to supporting Olympic games for the handicapped, "showing there are no barriers where human passion is concerned," Iglesias said.

Kissinger, who is backing the proposal, praised Pelé as the greatest soccer player of the 20th Century and stressed the importance of capturing and organizing the enthusiasm generated by the sport, which is available to persons of all social stations.

Among those giving their views on a panel on opportunities for investment in soccer were Don Garber, president of Major League Soccer of the United States; Jack Warner, president of the North and Central American and Caribbean Football Confederation (CONCACAF), and Nicolas Leoz, president of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL).

During the afternoon panelists on a roundtable were scheduled to identify ways to promote commercial relationships. Among the scheduled speakers were international investors and representatives of national and international soccer federations, clubs and teams of the Americas, and firms dedicated to commercialization and communication in sports.

The Inter-American Development Bank supports and explores new areas of activity to encourage ideas, projects, and associations that result in making better use of the economic activity of the sport of soccer in view of its easy popular access and its potential for the development of youth, particularly those who are most poor.

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