Visit of young Colombian sportspeople

Friday, 06.12.2013 – Sunday, 15.12.2013

Cultural event

Training with the FC Basel in Macolin (BE), 10 December 2013.
Training with the FC Basel in Macolin (BE), 10 December 2013. Caroline Marti

Colombia is a priority country for Swiss development and economic cooperation. The FDFA has invited 26 young Colombian sportspeople to train in their sport with Swiss experts. Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter met the young athletes in Neuchâtel.

The FDFA organised a sports-oriented tour of Switzerland for 26 young Colombians from 6 to 15 December. These football and basketball players found out about career opportunities during their trip thanks to elite Swiss sportspeople. The aim of the visit was to show young people from conflict-ridden regions alternative prospects to a life of crime and violence.

Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, who is supporting the initiative, met the young athletes on 12 December 2013 in Neuchâtel.

Sporting diplomacy

The visit is part of one of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ sporting diplomacy programmes. Fourteen cities from 8 Colombian regions have taken part in the initiative since its launch in 2011.

The ministry is seeking to promote sport as a positive way of using leisure time for young people and a means of personal and professional development. To be selected, the children and young people have to demonstrate outstanding academic and sporting endeavour and embody sport’s positive values, such as discipline, perseverance, respect, fair play and teamwork.

In Switzerland, the 10 girls and 16 boys aged 14 to 16 learned new football and basketball skills. They also were introduced to new sports, such as ice skating, floorball, climbing and Swiss wrestling. The Swiss champions in ice hockey (SC Bern), basketball (Lions de Genève) and football (FC Basel) were taking part in the initiative.

Swiss involvement in Nariño

The 26 young sportspeople to receive invitations from Switzerland live in the Nariño region in south-west Colombia. The region has produced many famous sports stars, such as Willington Ortiz, one of the best footballers in Colombia’s history, and Pablo Armero, who currently plays for the national team.

The Nariño region is one of the most badly affected by violent conflict between the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia) guerrilla fighters, the army and criminal gangs. Drug trafficking is widespread and the area is littered with anti-personnel mines. The violence forces more people to relocate every year. While 6,144 displaced persons were recorded by the authorities in 2000, they totalled 31,328 in 2007.

The SDC is operating in 10 cities in the region. It co-finances projects aimed at improving the everyday lives of the local population through international NGOs, such as Action Contre la Faim (Action against Hunger) Spain (ACF-E), Solidarité Internationale (SI), Geneva Call and Handicap International Belgium (HIB).

Operationally the SDC has prioritised the fight against anti-personnel mines through preventative measures and the provision of medical and psychological treatment for victims. It is also raising awareness among the population about the issues of the forced recruitment of child soldiers and sexual violence related to the domestic conflict that has been going on for over 40 years. The SDC’s contribution to the anti-mine campaign will reach CHF 505,390 by 2014.

The SDC’s other key area of activity is to provide assistance for persons displaced by the conflict and landmine barriers. The renovation of homes, water systems, sanitation facilities, food security and the prevention of renewed forced displacement are just some examples of its activities, amounting to CHF 1,336,500.

Human rights and economic sustainability

The FDFA’s Human Security Division’s (HSD) programme promoting human rights and peace aims to strengthen the office of the ombudsman of Nariño, an institution of the regional administration which protects the public. The HSD has also set up a memory process initiative to deal with the trauma caused by the domestic conflict, rebuild the social fabric and help to restore victims’ dignity.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has developed a sustainable economic system in the region providing alternatives to migration to the cities and combatting poverty. Specifically, SECO supports and improves Nariño’s cocoa production output and assists farmers in obtaining sustainable quality labels and increasing their exports both nationally and internationally.

This three-year project is costing CHF 5.6 million and will come to an end in 2015. SECO is contributing CHF 2.5 million, while the remaining CHF 3 million is being provided by local stakeholders.

Priority country

Colombia is on Switzerland’s list of priority countries for development cooperation. The SDC, acting through the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Department, opened an office in Bogotá in 2001 to better protect the civilian population from armed conflict. Access to drinking water and the efficient management of this vital resource are key elements of its activities.

The dispatch of experts, partnerships with multilateral agencies, Swiss NGOs, international NGOs and public-private partnerships are the various approaches adopted by Switzerland to meet its objectives. The SDC has 10 staff in the field a year. It received a budget of CHF 10 million in 2013.


After having implemented projects remotely since the late 1990s, SECO decided to send 4 staff members to the Swiss embassy in Bogotá in 2010.

Between 2009 and 2012, various initiatives supported by SECO have enabled the enactment of legislation simplifying trade and producing savings in the public and private sectors. SECO has also supported a risk management policy for national disasters. Finally, important legislation has allowed the private sector to take over the recycling of electronic waste.

SECO drew up its 2013-2016 strategy in collaboration with the Colombian government. A total contribution of CHF 55 million has been earmarked. Colombia’s access to the international market, sustainable urban development, the strengthening of the public institutions and the management of the risks associated with climate change are some of the new strategy’s priorities.

Campaign against child soldiers

In 2008, Human Rights Watch estimated that between 8,000 and 11,000 children belonged to armed groups in Colombia. Three hundred cases of the recruitment and use of children were recorded in 2011. According to a UNICEF report, the average age of recruitment in 2006 was 12 years and 8 months. It was 13 years and 8 months in 2002.

Switzerland is actively combatting the deployment of children by the guerrilla fighters. It is also involved in the reintegration of former child soldiers into civilian society, in particular by providing them with access to professional training.

In this respect, it supports two specialist organisations in particular, “Child Soldiers International” and “Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict” (it contributed CHF 20,000 and CHF 93,000, respectively, in 2013) and makes its child protection experts available to humanitarian organisations.