So, what is it about sport that can make it an effective entry point and vehicle for peace building?
Sport’s universal popularity: In every culture there is some sort of sport activity. This does not mean that a particular sport code may be popular everywhere or with everyone, so there are limitations, but with a good understanding of the local community it should be possible to identify a popular sport that can serve as a great entry point to engage youth.
Sport as a universal language: When people play sport together, it doesn’t matter too much whether they speak the same language or have other common interests – they can all understand the rules of the game, share the excitement and energy of play, and cooperate together in teamwork to achieve their objective.
Sport’s ability to empower, motivate and inspire people: Sport has an energy that gives people new opportunities and experiences to become empowered, motivated and inspired.
Sport as a safe space for interaction: Sport attracts people to come together to play, to spectate, to meet and interact and connect with each other. A carefully facilitated sport activity can provide a controlled “neutral” space for people to meet across conflict divides, to interact safely and to experience new types of exchanges and relationships together that may not be usual outside the sport situation. This allows breaking of old stereotypes and forming new perspectives and new relationships founded on shared experiences, deeper understanding, tolerance and trust.
Sport creates perfect “peer groups”: Sport situations automatically create perfect “peer groups” – people of similar age, sharing a passion and experience together, and having a unique relationship with the facilitator of the activity. That can be a different relationship than that with their parents, or schoolteachers, or community elders or faith-based leaders, so can provide space for different type of discussion. These peer groups are a powerful structure for discussion, learning, reflection and mutual support through a process of attitude and behaviour change.
Sport can teach life skills: Through participation in sport, young people can learn about health and fitness, goal setting and personal development, punctuality and time management, respect for rules and structure, respect for others, responsibility to teammates, commitment and pride, resilience and dealing with setbacks and defeats as well as successes.
Sport as a communications platform: Sport activity – even a grass-roots activity in a community – attracts youth participants and spectators and therefore provides a platform for communications.
Sport is cost-effective: Grass-roots sport activity is extremely cost-effective. It can support significant positive sustainable change in a community, at relatively low cost. Most resources needed (a simple space or venue, basic sport equipment, refreshments) are cheap and can be provided by local stakeholders as value-in-kind support.
This is an excerpt from a blog post written for Generations For Peace (GFP) by Mark Clark, GFP CEO, Jadranka Stikovac Clark, Director, Generations For Peace Institute, and Julia Kent, Director, Donor & Partner Communications.