"Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have a widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and development."
– Ban Ki-moon
Peacebuilding can take many forms. At the grassroots or community level, sports are increasingly becoming a part of the peace builder's toolkit worldwide. Sports can bring people together towards a common goal, while promoting respect and community with others. By building relationships between different groups, conflict can be transformed. In addition, sports can be used as a deterrent by teaching the values of good sportsmanship, teamwork, respect and communication skills needed to reduce tensions and prevent conflict.
How is Sport Defined?
In the field of peacebuilding, sports are defined broadly as activities that foster physical fitness, inclusion and mental health, including: free play, recreation, organized sports, casual sports, competitive sports, and indigenous sports or games (UN, 2003). Play refers to physical activity that is fun, and participatory and becomes more organized and structured as we move towards recreation and sports (UN, 2003).
Due to the popularity of the sport, the most commonly found peacebuilding programs involve football (soccer in the US) and are found worldwide (some examples are given below). Programs involving basketball, dance and martial arts are also common. However, the idea behind these programs can be applied to a much broader range of activities.
What Are the Advantages of Sports Peacebuilding?
According to the United Nations (UN), participation in sport is a fundamental human right and is essential to the healthy development of children (UN, 2003). Sports have the ability to reach a massive audience because of the large audience capacity of sporting events and the broad range of sports to accommodate many different nationalities and cultures.
Sports are about participation, inclusion, and bringing people together by highlighting commonalities between people (UN, 2003). Sport offers an avenue to learn skills such as discipline, confidence and leadership (UN, 2003). Tolerance, cooperation and respect for others are also fostered through the positive interaction with others. In addition, sports can empower individuals and help foster self-esteem (UN, 2003).
In addition to the advantages to peacebuilding efforts, sports also have positive implications for health. Non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes caused by unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity are preventable and on the rise (UN, 2003). The physical benefits of sport can lead to increases in human and economic development. Healthier, more active citizens can lead to healthier longer lives (UN, 2003). Incorporating sport into education can lead to better attendance, achievement and making youth more knowledgeable about the body and disease (UN, 2003). Economic development is enhanced by the manufacturing of sporting goods and sporting events, a more productive workforce due to the health benefits of sports, and a heightened capacity of the workforce through the teaching of skills such as teamwork and leadership (UN, 2003).
One of the most commonly talked about uses for sports peacebuilding is the use of football (US soccer) to reintegrate former child soldiers back into the community following war. Coaches Across Continents is one organization that has such a program in Uganda. Former child soldiers are taught life skills, health and wellness education, empowerment, and conflict resolution. In order to teach conflict resolution skills, coaches create games that intentionally cause frustration and arguments for the players. This allows for a safe place for participants to practice good communication skills and find a solution together as a team, without the use of violence. To see specific examples of games and to hear from coaches and participants of Coaches Across Continents, please see their informational video:
What Are the Disadvantages of Sports Peacebuilding?
Critics of sports peacebuilding claim that sports are a natural promotion of competition and aggression. As sports become more structured and elite, participants begin to be "cut" from the team as the goal becomes the need to win (Donnelly, 2011). Furthermore, tournaments are organized most often by single elimination, which promotes exclusion rather than inclusion (Donnelly, 2011). In this way, sports have the potential to break down bonds rather than build them. In addition, sports can involve negative aspects such as violence, corruption, discrimination, hooliganism, excessive nationalism, cheating, and drug abuse (UN, 2003).
Because the field of sports peacebuilding is so new, little formal evaluation has been conducted as of yet. However, extensive anecdotal evidence exists and the UN believes the potential for these negative aspects pales in comparison to the positive benefits that can be channeled by organizations and communities (UN, 2003). Careful and strategic design and implementation of sports peace programs, especially during times of war and violence, is necessary to ensure a positive outcome (Right to Play).
Online Resources: Sports Peacebuilding Programs
The field of sports peacebuilding, although relatively new in comparison to other branches of conflict resolution, has launched programs worldwide. Below are the links and brief descriptions to key online resources detailing the field of sports peacebuilding and specific programs:
- United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP)
In 2001 the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) was established. Their website highlights their work, including the history, news and events and various resources. Reports including the 2003 Report on Sport for Development and Peace: Towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and the 2011 UNOSDP annual report are available for download.
- The International Platform on Sport & Development
The International Platform on Sport & Development provides an information hub, including documents, manuals, reports, toolkits, statements, news updates and events, for those interested in or working in the field of sport and development, including peacebuilding. Users can also interact with each other in order to ask questions and collaborate.
SportsUnited is an international sports initiative through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State. The goal is to promote dialogue at the grassroots level among youth between countries through the Department's three programs. First is the Sports Visitors Program in which athletes, managers and coaches from abroad are brought to the US for sports and conflict resolution training. Second is the Sports Envoy Program in which athletes or coaches from the US are sent abroad to serve as ambassadors, visiting schools and conducting clinics. Lastly, the Department gives sports grants in which US non-profits can apply for funding for youth sports programs that support diplomacy. Sports included in the sports visitors and sports envoys programs include include: snowboarding, ice skating, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, track & field, swimming, football, baseball, softball, basketball, NASCAR, martial arts, rugby and disability sport and recreation.
- The United States Institute of Peace
The United States Institute of Peace held a symposium on the field of sports and peacebuilding in 2010. Videos of the presentations and panels are available for viewing including videos on the historical perspective of sports and peacebuilding, institutions and organizations in sports and peacebuilding, evaluating sports' contribution to peacebuilding, and sport as a tool to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals.
- Right to Play
Right to Play is an NGO founded in 2000 by Johann Olav Koss, a four-time Olympic gold medalist. The organization is founded on the premise that through sports, games and play, children can gain life skills and drive social change. Their programs can be found in over 20 countries and reach nearly 835,000 children a week around the world.
- Dance for Peace
Dance 4 Peace is a nonprofit founded in 2007 that works globally in the US, Colombia, Germany and the Philippines using dance and movement to promote social change. Specifically, they work to teach youth to transform conflict and bullying in schools.
- Fight for Peace
Fight for Peace was founded in 2000 and is now based in both Rio de Janeiro and London. The organization uses a combination of boxing, martial arts and education to help youth living in communities suffering from crime and violence to develop to their full potential.
- Generations for Peace
Generations for Peace is a global non-profit founded by HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein of Jordan working to transform conflict and build peace around the world. They strive to empower youth through education in conflict transformation and sports peacebuilding. Since 2007, Generations for Peace has trained and mentored around 6,000 delegates from over 45 countries and territories, impacting over 90,000 youth worldwide.
- OA Projects
OA Projects was founded by students in Canada in 2006. The organization uses football-based community building activities to help youth impacted by war. OA Projects has completed three overseas projects in Ecuador, Rwanda and Uganda. They are currently working to expand their project activities in Northern Uganda.
- Mifalot: Sport for Education, Development, and Peace
Mifalot is an organization founded in 1997 based in the Middle East, specifically Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Their vision is to promote peaceful coexistence through over 300 projects designed around the sport of football and teaching youth.
- PeacePlayers International (PPI)
PeacePlayers International was founded in 2001. Although based in Washington, D.C., PPI has year-round programs in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel and the West Bank and Cyprus. Their goal is to educate and unite the youth in divided communities through the sport of basketball.
- Ultimate Peace
Ultimate Peace was founded in 2008 in the Middle East to build community and unite the people. In 2011 Ultimate Peace expanded their work into Columbia. The organization uses the sport of Ultimate Frisbee and other disc games to achieve this goal. Ultimate Peace advocates for this sport because of its unique "spirit of the game" in which there are no referees and the game is officiated jointly by the players on the field. This places the responsibility of the game on the players themselves and teaches conflict resolution skills.
- Peace and Sport
Peace and Sport was founded in 2007 by Olympic medalist Joel Bouzou. Peace and Sport is based in Monaco but has initiatives worldwide devoted to promoting sustainable peace. Their programs include a variety of sports, including, ju-jitsu, ping-pong, baseball, gymnastics, badminton, judo, volleyball and basketball.
- The Peres Center for Peace
The Peres Center for Peace, founded in 1996, is a non-profit based in Israel that works to build relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Their current sports peacebuilding programs include football, basketball, cricket, wheelchair basketball, table tennis, Australian Football (AFL) and camps that include swimming and a variety of other activities. Over 14,000 children have participated in over 800 collaborative sporting events.
Donnelly, P. (2011). From war without weapons to sport for development and peace: the janus-face of sport. SAIS Review, XXXI (1), 65-75.
United Nations. (2003). Sport for development and peace: towards achieving the millennium development goals. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/wcm/webdav/site/sport/shared/sport/pdfs/Reports/2003_intera gency_report_ENGLISH.pdf
Use the following to cite this article:
Krafchek, Alex. "Sports Peacebuilding: The Basics". Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: December 2012 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/sports-peacebuilding-basics>.