The World War One Christmas Truce
The World War One Christmas Truce
On this International Day of Peace, we look back at the legacy of the First World War and how sport can continue to be a tool for peacebuilding today.
Football for peace and recreation in WWI
One of the greatest turning points in 20th century history was World War One (WWI). It involved most European countries, extending to include the United States and Japan as well. Further, due to the ongoing colonialism, many colonies of European countries were also directly and indirectly involved in the war effort. Thus, this war is considered to be the first truly global war.
The war started in July 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Since a war at this scale had never been fought before, armies on both sides witnessed many casualties and much trauma. In December 1914, a truce between the two sides was agreed on many parts of the Western Front – although fighting also continued in some places.
What this truce is most famous for, perhaps, is the friendly football matches that were played between the men of the opposing sides in no-man’s land, between their trenches. Some football matches were played among armies on the same side as well. This is perhaps one of the first recorded instances of sport being used as a peace-initiating activity in modern history. The truce and the football matches allowed the men to unwind, relax and enjoy themselves, after suffering through constant war for the past five months. The matches also allowed the armies to see the humanity of the men they were fighting, recognising their similarities rather than focusing on their differences.
The football matches were not part of any wider peacebuilding initiative, however. The war continued for almost four years, and the high command of both sides of the conflict were reportedly enraged by the actions of their officers along the frontlines over Christmas. They tried to prevent further truces thereafter, although there were isolated incidents of soldiers holding brief truces later in the war. Nonetheless, it is an example of the unifying potential of sport that took place before there was a more sophisticated understanding of it’s ability to be used on a larger scale and in a more deliberate way.
The peacebuilding power of sport
Sport is recognised by UNESCO to be a vital medium for peace and development, since it “disregards geographical borders, ethnic differences and social classes.” Indeed, sport allows for social integration, and has been used as a tool to promote harmony and peace among conflicting societies. Sport can be used as a tool of reconciliation, can help build bridges, increases tolerance among people and can be a tool to encourage meaningful dialogue between people.
Though sport is often seen as competitive in nature, creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality, it has to be used in a purposeful way to create a harmony and togetherness. If used properly, sport can be a powerful tool in bringing people together. Programmes around the world are using sport to foster peace in conflict areas. Whether it is working with kids, to ensure that future generations can cease hostilities and build peace, or working with adults and the elderly who have survived wars to rehabilitate them, sport is a versatile tool that should be harnessed to bring about peace.
Now more than ever, the world is in need of building sustainable peace. War has and continues to ravage many parts of the world. Recent news has been filled with reports of the wars in Afghanistan and Ethiopia. But disharmony is not just a feature of the Global South. Countries in the Global North are also caught in conflicts of ideals – the recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations around police brutality point to the need for peacebuilding in these societies too.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the impending climate crisis have only heightened the need for more peaceful societies that work together to ensure the viability of future generations. On this International Day of Peace, then, we must consider the ways in which sport can be harnessed to bring about sustainable peace in the world