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"Winning is important but not at any price": interview with Justine Henin

  • © UNESCO / Michel Ravassard

Justine Henin, UNESCO Champion for Sport, addressed on 9 July an audience of a hundred 13 to 14 year old athletes from more than 60 countries. She spoke to them of ethics in sport and of doping. These young tennis players are participating in the Junior Open of the “Stade Français Paris- BNP Paribas Cup” (9 - 15 July), the international tournament organized for the fifth consecutive year by the tennis section of the Stade Français under the auspices of UNESCO.

You were appointed UNESCO Champion for Sport last December. Is this the first time that you are taking an official stand on behalf of the Organization’s ideals?

Yes, this is my first initiative and I find it particularly important because it involves 13 and 14 year olds. This is a vital age to understand many of life’s ins and outs. What I tried to convey to the teenagers is that sport has to be nurtured by passion, by love of the game. I have of course, made it my profession, but sport remains something I love beyond everything. I obviously also love to win, I’m a competitor, but I also love the sacrifices that I must make to succeed. Believe me, there is no greater satisfaction than to succeed when you’ve invested everything you’ve got.

Your mission as UNESCO Champion consists essentially in raising the public’s awareness to the problem of doping in sport.

To dope one’s self is to cheat, and that is something I cannot conceive of either in my private life or in my career. Winning is important, but not at any price. Doping is obviously a question of ethics, of honesty towards one’s self, of integrity and dignity, but above all of health. Endangering one’s life to win is something I don’t agree with at all.

Unfortunately, it is true that we evolve in an environment with money and numerous vested interests, but it should never be forgotten that sport is first and foremost a game. It helps us forge tools for an entire life – this is what I tried to explain to the children. I said to them: “You see you are involved in your activity now and that is very good. Give it all you’ve got, but only to a certain point. There are limits never to be crossed. Be careful. Don’t let anything influence you».

Were the young people receptive?

I noticed that certain young people are better equipped than others. There are incredible differences. Some already have a well developed personality and have adopted certain values. Others don’t. What struck me most, is to see to what extent some children are receptive, feel concerned, whereas others are less interested and take the discourse on doping lightly. For them, the road will be much longer.

Interview by UNESCO's Bureau of Public Information.

  • 10-07-2007
Europe and North America Latin America and the Caribbean Africa Arab States Asia Pacific