Serious battles were waged Saturday on South African soccer fields during World Cup play Saturday, while a half a world away, a friendlier rivalry was contested on the field behind Saugatuck Elementary School.

Members of the Westport Late Knights Soccer Club resumed their yearly competition with their international athletic counterparts on the United Nations Soccer Club team.

The game was one component of a multi-faceted, day-long goodwill event: the 45th Annual jUNe Day, sponsored by the United Nations Association and International Visitors Committee of Southwestern Connecticut. The event promotes world peace and international understanding by reinforcing friendship between the visitors and their hosts. It honors the signing of the United Nations Charter on June 26, 1945.

"jUNe Day in Westport is a 45-year tradition of the community welcoming the UN and celebrating the UN's achievements and accomplishments; and the UN celebrating Westport and the support that the people of Westport have provided to the UN for these decades. It's a real mutual respect for each other and I think it's a wonderful event," said special guest speaker Michael Adlerstein, the assistant secretary general of the UN and the executive director of the UN's capital master plan renovation project.

During the opening ceremonies, Adlerstein delivered a message from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and he spoke about his role in the renovation of the UN compound and about the many challenges facing the UN and the nations of the world -- among them hunger, disease, abuse of women and wide-spread warfare.

"The United Nations is facing so many global issues. Climate change is the secretary general's highest priority. It affects everyone; it affects the entire globe," Adlerstein said.

Ki-moon's message, as read by Adlerstein, concluded by saying, "I seek not to downplay the challenges we face, but rather to focus our minds and energies on turning threat to opportunity. Thank you again for being part of our efforts to build a better world."

The day began with the placing of international flags along the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge in downtown Westport. Cohen, who died in 2002, was founder of the International Hospitality Committee of Fairfield County and created Westport's jUNe Day celebration.

Bill Hass, president of the UN Association and International Visitors Committee of Southwest Connecticut, also known as the International Hospitality Committee, said the event aims to continue Cohen's mission to promote international cooperation, international visitor exchanges and support for the United Nations.

Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, under secretary general and special advisor to the secretary general of the United Nations, called Cohen "Miss United Nations." Reed, who has attended Westport's jUNe Day at least 20 times, said it promotes friendship and interpersonal relations.

"It's a great day for this town of Westport. It's a great day for Connecticut and it's a great day for the United Nations ... It's a great American Day," said Reed, a resident of Greenwich, who was surprised and honored Saturday to receive the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Award.

About 325 UN staff and diplomats and their families -- representing about 35 countries from across the globe -- attended the informal day of recreation and celebration, and interacted with local residents, according to Michaela MacColl, jUNe Day chairperson.

"My favorite part about the day is seeing so many different kinds of people wandering around Westport," she said, noting that Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Columbia were all among the nations represented.

Dignitaries took guided walking tours of the town led by the Westport Historical Society, visited Earthplace, the nature center, spent time at Compo Beach, played a round of golf at Longshore, played tennis, shopped and visited the Westport Art Center.

"Through such jUNe Day activities, I think it's good for the people in America to know that the UN has been doing very important things for the world. On the other hand, the people at the UN could understand the lives of the American people a little better (by attending jUNe Day) because it's an enclave by itself in Manhattan. People at the UN need to go out to other places to know how Americans live," said Harry Dai, a former UN conference interpreter from China.

Nigel Williams, a UN security officer and president of the UN Soccer Club, said he was attending his second jUNe Day.

"The reason I'm back is because I fell so much in love with not only the place but the atmosphere and the camaraderie and the hospitality of the people of Westport," said Williams, who is from Trinidad and Tobago.