Current definitions of ‘peacebuilding’ go beyond an exclusive focus on the post-conflict phase and emphasise the building of relationships between people as a key component of peacebuilding.

For example, Lederach (the well-known conflict resolution scholar) has defined ‘peacebuilding’ as:

…a comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates and sustains the full array of processes, approaches and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships…

Building relationships and the role of civil society

The Institute for Multi-track Diplomacy has highlighted the need to build strong interpersonal and inter-group relations throughout society and considers this to be a key principle in peace-building efforts.

Lederach has emphasised the importance of creating safe and accessible social spaces or ‘relational spaces’ as part of peace-building. In this sense, the creation of these social spaces (through the use of sport) can be innovative in broadening and deepening peace-building initiatives.

Increasing attention is being paid to the role of civil society in peacebuilding processes, emphasising a ‘relational’ response to reducing violence and tension between competing groups by fostering positive relationships.

Linking sport and peace - a word of caution

Research and practical experience on the use of sport in peace-building efforts warns against the essentialising of sport as one of the greatest dangers when designing and implementing sports programmes in a conflict or post-conflict situation.

As emphasised in a vast amount of practical experience in peace-building, a holistic approach is needed to build sustained stability and peace in communities and nations facing conflict – a holistic approach that is sensitive and tailored to the political, economic and socio-cultural context. Sport, as such, should be considered as just one among many components of this approach.

Promoting sport as a tool in peace-building may seem surprising when contrasted with the phenomenon of hooliganism, most commonly associated with professional football. Fan violence in sport cannot be explained by solely focusing on the sport itself.

Research has shown that football hooliganism is a ‘peripheral phenomenon’ to the game and is ‘primarily rooted in the changing nature of post-industrial society, rather than being specifically caused by the game itself’. If anything, this serves to remind critical thinkers that sport will produce positive or negative outcomes, depending on how it is carried out.

Image by Chang Duong