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Sport as a model for peace
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Sport, through an emphasis on positive peace, relational ecology, and peacebuilding, may offer a holistic approach to achieving a more positive and socially just society.

The concept of sport as a model for peace education is not new. A focus on curriculum for global peace has an important and rich history. Peace education promotes peace not only on macropolitical levels but also on micropolitical levels of everyday relationships, including sporting contexts.

However, an important overlooked role for sports as a model for peace is that it can transform the places where participants teach and learn into places that reflect peaceful structures, that is, where human rights are attended to, and conflicts are resolved non-violently. Concepts and experiences such as cooperative learning, conflict resolution, structured controversy, and sport team or club mediations are essential to efforts in creating a peaceful sporting environment.

When sports and peace education are combined, they offer structures specifically focused on promoting outcomes of nonviolent behaviour, a sense of community, and student ownership or empowerment within the sporting context. If I were to answer the question: ‘How can sport better serve society and contribute more effectively to development and peace?’ I would emphasise that we should introduce the following three peace educational concepts into the continuum of our community practices and our international sporting institutions:

  1. Positive peace
  2. Relational ecology
  3. Peacebuilding pyramids

These, I believe, will advance sports as a clear contributor of societal and peace development.

Sports as positive peace

Sport as a pathway to building relationships during times of relative peace is an important path to building healthy, safe, and just societies. But what is the role of sport in ending violence during times of conflict? After the violence, can we look into sport to also build the relationships that can heal harm as well?

Introduced into academic literature by the Norwegian pioneer of peace research, Johan Galtung, Galtung distinguished two types of peace – negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace is generally defined by the absence of war and violence, and does not capture a society’s tendencies towards stability and harmony. Positive peace is defined by a more lasting peace that is built on sustainable investments in economic development and institutions, as well as societal attitudes that foster peace.

Sport should be perceived and utilised as a tool for positive peace, which has the potential to develop and shape a society. Through sport, a society can shape a structured culture which can absorb shocks without resorting to conflict. Thus, sport as positive peace may oppose the known structures and cultures of violence. Sport as positive peace can help to behave respectfully, or avoid harm on others, as normative for systems of peace.

Sports as relational ecology

Framing sport as a relational ecology recognises the importance and the necessity of relationships in addressing harm and injustices. A key assumption of sport as a peacebuilding process is that it should address conflicts and harms in sport at the level of interpersonal relationships. When there is significant interpersonal harm created by sport, it is important to reflect on and address the inter-connected ecology of relationships, because these constitute sporting climates and cultures. Thus, by addressing interpersonal level changes, we may find that we are also examining sporting climates and cultures, and this requires many individuals in relationship to get involved to address issues and harms.

By systematically attending to the relational nature and impact of interpersonal relationships within sports communities, we begin to shape ideas about conflicts and their transformation of harmful sporting climates and cultures. Relational ecology in sports is an important approach for conflict analysis in sports, and its practice lifts up each person’s and community’s responsibility in contributing to positive peace. 

Peacebuilding pyramid

The peacebuilding pyramid intentionally stretches the relational ecology of sporting institutions, cultures, and climates, so that they can become tools and practices for conflict transformation and accountability at higher level conflicts.

Higher level conflicts that exist at the institutional and the global levels may be mediated through sport institutions and organisations that structure and influence relationships and are, at the same time, reliant upon such relationships. Through a peacebuilding pyramidal approach to sport, inter-personal, institutional, and systemic issues are seen as mutually reinforcing and intersectional. By integrating the concept of a peacebuilding pyramid with sports, we can begin to integrate our conflict transformation practices with sport institutions, national and international organisations, and potentially conflicting countries. 

Closing

By advancing these peace educational concepts within sport, I believe that we approach sport in engaging ways, which connect individual experiences on the field with real life experiences, social growth, and a sense of connection within the sporting relational ecology. Without a balanced, focused, and economic investment of both the international and local sports cultures, we cannot appropriately move toward civil society peacebuilding.

Where a relational ecology in sport concentrates the centre of building, sustainable justice and peace on the quality and nature of people's relationships, a peacebuilding pyramid allows us to model a web of approaches for effective peacebuilding. Positive peace in sports correlates well with a peacebuilding pyramid because they advocate for working through conflicts at multiple settings, that is, elite, middle, and grassroots tiers.

Effective sport as a model for peace advocacy not only requires action at multiple levels, i.e., vertical and horizontal capacity, but it also requires us to reimagine ecosystem of all our sporting relationships as avenues for peacebuilding. Sport, through an emphasis on positive peace, relational ecology, and peacebuilding, may indeed offer a holistic approach to achieving a more positive and socially just society.

______________________________________________________________________________

Santos Flores is a Research Associate, and earned his Doctorate in Community and Youth Sports Development and a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of North Carolina,Greensboro.

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