Sarkozy Champions Sport at Doha Conference

W460

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday made his first public speaking appearance since May, championing the positive benefits of sport at a high-profile conference organized by the husband of his ex-wife.

Sarkozy, beaten by Francois Hollande in the race for the Elysee earlier this year, spoke for 20 minutes at the Doha Goals forum, telling delegates that sport had the power to inspire diplomatic, political and economic circles as well as society.

The 57-year-old said an "absolutely decisive" change was taking place in Qatar, which is rapidly becoming a powerhouse in world sport and is due to host the football World Cup in 2022.

Those changes included "how to reconcile identity and modernity... loyalty to Islam, to your culture, tradition and faith and at the same openness to the modernity of the 21st century", he added.

"Sport is a complementary element between national identity and modern life."

Qatari business is increasingly investing in world sport, including at Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain, while beIN Sport -- a global network of sports channels owned by Doha-based Al Jazeera -- owns the rights to top-flight French football.

Sarkozy said these realities reflected a shift in the power-base not just in sport but also world affairs, away from a handful of old, industrial, western countries to newer, younger, more diverse countries.

"The geography of major international events is an integral part of the thought we have to give to recalibrating world governance," he said, suggesting that major Arab and Latin American countries should have a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Sarkozy -- once nicknamed "Speedy" -- is often pictured on his racing bike and is a keen jogger, although in 2009 he was told to slow down after he collapsed while out running with his bodyguards and had to be taken to hospital for tests.

The Doha Goals forum, which brings together major sports stars from across the world as well as decision-makers, is organized by businessman Richard Attias, who is married to Sarkozy's ex-wife Cecilia.

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