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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
Steve Montador (Right to Play)
With spring desperately trying to make an appearance, the bustling of parents driving their kids to youth sports is about to hit a flashpoint. Whether its youth hockey playoff games, little league, soccer or sudden pick-up whiffleball games, the rite of spring is upon us.

Parks, arena facilities, baseball diamonds, running tracks and soccer fields are relatively close by. Organized youth teams are full of boys and girls looking to have fun with their friends, enjoying the warmth of sunshine and blue skies. At the same time unknowingly improving their communication skills, gaining new friends through participation and utilizing problem solving that will be invaluable later in life.

Now close your eyes and imagine if there were no local organized youth athletic leagues. Picture the lack of available facilities suited to host organized sport as well as the absence of sufficient equipment.

Unforutnately, this is reality for communities in 23 countries affected by war, poverty and disease in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America.

Conversely, there is an international humanitarian organization on the forefront growing an ambitious network of volunteers, coaches, teachers and world-wide athlete ambassadors assembling sport and play programs to disadvantaged areas of the world.

Right To Play, founded in 2000 by four-time Olympic gold medalist Johann Olav Koss, uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most underprivileged locales on the globe.
Sabres defenseman Steve Montador has been a Right To Play athlete ambassador since early 2007, witnessing the organization’s work firsthand.

“Seeing the program work in person, by bringing sports and games to kids around the world is a gross over-simplification. I think it was a great opportunity to have an unbiased opinion and see it in action,” Montador said.

Steve Montador (Right to Play)
In the summer of 2007, Montador received a text from friend and former Boston Bruins teammate Andrew Ference asking if he wanted to join him on his journey to Africa to work with Right To Play.

“I met up with him in London and we continued on from there,” recalled Montador.

Montador would end up in Tanzania, a nation the size of Wisconsin, on the east coast of Africa. The population distribution is extremely uneven - more than 80 percent of the population is rural. Health issues are abundant, the leading cause of death in children is malaria; for adults the problem is HIV/AIDS.

One of the more memorable revelations Montador had in Tanzania was the fact that even though he could not speak the native language of Swahili, the common acceptance of non-verbal communication helped bridge any language barriers.

“When I’m on a soccer field, I don’t have to speak Swahili to let them know that I’m open. We can communicate with observations and reads that are universal in sport,” said Montador. 

Right To Play programs are guided by The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Two program specific principles are inclusion and sustainability.

Inclusion promotes the involvement of youth who may be left behind for reasons of gender, disability ethnicity or religion. Almost 50 percent of children participating were girls, and more than 50 percent of coaches/teachers/leaders were female according to figures from 2008.

Sustainability ensures programs have a lasting, fruitful impact that centers on building the capacity of communities, partner organizations and individuals to deliver learning objectives through sport and activites.

Montador shared the same sentiment: “Each locale, we want to leave striving to be self-sustaining; all of the local organizations work to keep all the traditions in place by incorporating local coaches which hopefully will foster the local spirit of the value of sport in those communities.”

Steve Montador (Right to Play)
Athlete ambassadors, volunteers and coaches use sport and play as tools for learning in four development areas:
•    Basic Education and Child Development
•    Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
•    Conflict Resolution and Peace Building 
•    Community Development and participation

“One hundred years ago, you would have seen drawings of countries and continents and said ‘that doesn’t affect me, it’s on the other side of the world.’ With the globalization of the world, you can get anywhere in a day. Now that we have the resources to see further outside of our own backyard, in a way makes it our responsibility to help,” said Montador.

In early 2009, Right To Play reached more than 620,000 children in weekly regular sport and play activities. These activities were facilitated by more than 14,000 local coaches/teachers. The goal for 2010, will be to reach one million children on a weekly basis.  

Right To Play is headquartered in Toronto, Canada and has eight national offices including an office in the United States. These national offices raise funds, build awareness for Right To Play programs and advocate for Sport Development. For more information visit

Tim Bulmer |

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