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Exploring the role of sport in conflict resolution and peacebuilding


Exploring the role of sport in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

sportanddev talks to Professor Tom Woodhouse, one of the founding academics of the Peace Studies Department at the University of Bradford to ask him about what role he considers sport has in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

Despite sport sometimes only appearing to engender negative human traits, Woodhouse believes, sport also has the power to support important work in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Too much is written about the negative (competitive-aggressive-nationalistic) aspects of sport. Sport is also a powerful tool for uniting people, crossing boundaries, and developing tolerance, respect and social inclusion - all important values supporting peacebuilding and conflict resolution processes.”

Sport has been playing a role in conflict resolution for Millennia. The Olympic Truce or ‘Eikencheiria’ of the 9th Century BC, is emblematic of the power that sport can have in uniting people, crossing boundaries and helping to bring about peaceful relations.

According to some interpretations the purpose of the original games was to stop war between the Peloponnesian city states, when a formal agreement was signed declaring all wars should cease, arms should be laid down and competitors and spectators allowed to travel to and from the games safely,” states Woodhouse.

This spirit of conflict resolution as part of the Olympics can be found in Olympic Truce Centre (OTC) today. The centre is focussing its efforts on sport as being a 'peace inspiring tool for our age'. The global appeal and wealth of resources means the OTC is well placed to realise this ambition.

Football as a tool for engaging with people
Football is possibly one of the most popular choices when it comes to using sport as a tool for engagement. At both ends of the football spectrum there are people attempting to use football to bring about peace.

Great efforts have been made to use football at the grassroots level to engage participants in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes. Football has a trans-cultural and universal aspect that offers a practical entry point for conflict resolvers that can sometimes be lacking in certain contexts. Its positive effects have been studied in various peace projects from Sierra Leone to Bosnia Herzegovina. Find out about the Open Fun Football Schools initiative established in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Current World Club Football Champions, Football Club Barcelona’s involvement and donations to UNICEF are well documented ways football has helped in the area of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. But it is perhaps less well known that they also have partnership agreements with The Open University of Catalunya, whereby the club makes it support network available to promote the peace and development education programmes of the University.

The future of sport as a tool for peacebuilding and conflict resolution
Sport has proven itself to be a useful tool in supporting conflict resolvers and peacebuilders. The task of building on past and current successes in the field is something that academics and practitioners are keen to do.

The future goals of sport as a tool for peacebuilding and conflict resolution are clear according to Woodhouse, “We need more networking to promote the positive impact of sport on community welfare, with better awareness of inspiring case studies, of which there are many. We need also to improve on lessons learned and good practice.”

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Thomas Howie


Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 23:00