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Johann Olav Koss

© UNICEF/HQ 96-0877/Mera

Norwegian Olympic speed-skating champion, Johann Olav Koss, was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador on 19 December 1994. Since then Koss has been a strenuous and highly-visible advocate for UNICEF’s work on behalf of children everywhere, emphasizing the particular needs of children with disabilities and children affected by war. In recognition of his efforts, Koss was presented with a special award for Outstanding Support to Children during UNICEF’s 50th anniversary celebration in December 1996.

Olympian effort

In his first field mission in February 1995, Koss travelled to Ethiopia, visiting UNICEF-supported projects for HIV/AIDS education and for children living or working on the streets. Later that year he also visited projects in Viet Nam.

Koss is the President and CEO of Right to Play, a humanitarian, non-governmental organization (NGO) committed to improving the lives of the most disadvantaged children and their communities through sport and play. During the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, Right to Play (then known as Olympic Aid) raised US$13 million for UNICEF-supported immunization, education and psychological rehabilitation projects in developing countries.

In the same year, Koss undertook another mission to support a UNICEF programme bringing sports and recreation to children suffering from trauma as a result of war in Rwanda.

"Some children have suffered so badly that all joy seems to be extinguished and you see only hate and anger in their eyes," he said of his visit. "Yet I have also seen how even extremely traumatized children can be transformed when their lives are normalized – not just through education, but by giving them strong, positive role-models and by engaging them in sport, art and music – in activities that give them a real sense of pride in themselves."

Johann Koss laughs with a girl at a UNICEF-assisted school in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1996.

In addition to travelling to UNICEF projects, Koss has continually helped promote the work of UNICEF National Committees and the organization's worldwide initiatives. "I have a real belief that the United Nations Special Session on Children [of May 2002] can result in new commitments from governments," he said at the time. "I came here because I want to be part of this new energy, this new Global Movement for Children."

An extraordinary career

Johann Koss was born in 1968 in Drammen, Norway. He has had an extraordinary career as a speed-skater, which peaked with three gold medals at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.  He had previously won a gold and silver medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

Koss’s interest in children’s welfare is well known in Norway, where he has been involved in exercise and sports programmes for children with disabilities and has raised funds for Redd Barna (Save the Children Norway). He is also a member of the Board of MOT (Courage) – an organization that promotes healthy lifestyles and behaviours to the youth of Norway.



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