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What is sport’s role in the peacebuilding process?

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What is sport’s role in the peacebuilding process?

As the Peace and Sport Forum 2016 takes place in Monaco this week, we take a critical look at how sport can foster peace in some of the world’s most divided regions.

The story of the Christmas truce is well known. In Belgium, during World War One, soldiers from both sides laid down their weapons and played football on Christmas Day 1914.

In South Africa in 1995, the Rugby World Cup became a beacon of hope for a nation emerging from apartheid. Sport galvanised the country toward a better vision of South Africa.

Sport is not simply a unifying platform; it can be divisive too. Recent articles on basketball in the Balkans and cricket in India/Pakistan shed light on how sport has sometimes exacerbated cultural divides. On many occasions in the last few decades there has been violence at football matches or at international tournaments when opposing fans come together. This side of sport can be damaging to its reputation as an inclusive part of society.

However, when used correctly, it contributes to reconciliation, unification and integration. Peace Players International works in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, bringing together communities that have found it so difficult to coexist over many decades. Fight for Peace uses boxing as a tool for peace in communities affected by crime and violence. Generations for Peace have a number of sport-based projects in conflict zones, including Cyprus, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

Key to sport’s role in peacebuilding is the integrative process; bringing people together from different nations, religions and races. At the grassroots level sport can become a neutral platform where an individual’s background is irrelevant. This requires careful planning, the involvement of the local community and people working together with a common purpose.

FIFA rules prevent teams using political or religious symbols on football shirts, and UEFA promotes inclusion through its RESPECT campaign. Governing bodies can be highly influential in the promotion of global values. Many now accept this and have developed corporate social responsibility programmes that include peacebuilding activities.

The United Nations recognises the power of sport as a vehicle for change:

“Sport has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible tool for promoting peace and development objectives”.

With such backing, sport has the freedom to create multi-organisational platforms of change. In a modern era of conflict and humanitarian crises, sport can assist in the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 16 which promotes peace, justice and strong institutions. This year’s Peace and Sport Forum promises to raise awareness of activities using sport to promote peacebuilding, break down barriers and build friendships.

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Monday, November 21, 2016 - 00:00

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