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Thursday, April 26 News

jUNe Day: Another banner day for United Nations visitors to Westport

Brazil has captured the attention of the world as host of this year's World Cup soccer competition. Americans, who were slow to follow the most popular sport in the rest of the world, this year are watching matches in record numbers, some people shirking work responsibilities to stay glued to their television broadcasts of the matches.

On Saturday, World Cup play even dominated Westport's 49th annual jUNe Day celebration, which attracted to town about 290 United Nations' staff and dignitaries and their families, representing 42 nations. The annual event features among its many activities soccer matches between a UN league team and the Westport Late Knights at the field behind Saugatuck Elementary School.

The athletes were quick to wrap up their match so they could watch World Cup action live.

"We set up a computer (using) the school's Wi-Fi and we had about 50 people watching the soccer matches. We hurried our match so people could watch the World Cup," said Michaela MacColl, long-time chairwoman of the annual jUNe Day celebration, which began in 1965 to commemorate the signing of the United Nations charter on June 26, 1945.

One woman brought with her the flag of Brazil as jUNe Day celebrants watched the host nation's vaunted team compete against Chile. The woman was not able to stay through the end of the game, "but she left the flag because she said it would be bad luck to remove the flag before the game was done," MacColl said.

Perhaps there was something to her superstition as Brazil moved on to the quarter finals in a dramatic penalty kick shoot-out win.

Brazil's was one of the many UN member nations' colorful flags that unfurled in the strong breeze on the Post Road bridge over the Saugatuck River that bears the name of Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, founder of the United Nations Association and jUNe Day to promote understanding of global issues and promote peace through hospitality.

Some of the UN visitors sought out their home nation's flag as they crossed the bridge for a walking tour of downtown, and UN Ombudsman Johnston Barkat presented First Selectman Jim Marpe with a framed photograph of the span adorned in the world's banners.

The annual event began with an opening ceremony where Barkat read a statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who wrote in part: "Even at this peaceful and bucolic setting in Connecticut our thoughts are never far from the suffering of people who look to the United Nations for hope and help." Ki-moon mentioned the conflict in Syria and the "deadly fighting and instability" in Iraq.

"All of you are part of these efforts to protect our planet and its people," he said in his message, in which he also praised Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, under-secretary general and special advisor to the UN secretary-general, "for continuing to be a driving force behind this wonderful annual event."

Visitors also had the opportunity to go to the Westport Historical Society, Earthplace nature center, Wakeman Town Farm and other town amenities.