Is sport a veritable peacebuilding tool?
GCSP, 7th Floor Library, Maison de la Paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Geneva
The speakers began their interventions explaining how they became involved in the field of sport for development and peace and elaborated on how sport, according to their own experiences, can contribute to peacebuilding and post-conflict scenarios.
Ms Jutta Engelhardt stated that sport as a tool for development and peace needs to be approached from an interdisciplinary perspective and highlighted that, when employed in a responsible and sustainable way, sport can contribute to character development and life lessons for youth. She also stated that sport can promote collaboration and cross-cultural understanding.
Dr Alexander Cárdenas further stated that, when properly managed and articulated, sport can serve as an important ice-breaker between clashing sides and as a venue to lead to dialogue. Inclusive sports provide a platform for social networking to take place, and this can be the first step to taking conversation to a different level. Referring to specific case studies in Serbia, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, Dr Cárdenas also spoke about the effect of sport as a tool for rehabilitation for those affected by war and conflict. He moreover referenced his research in Northern Ireland and Colombia, and how “sport can be an icebreaker and can open up channels of communications that have been dormant.”
Ms Sylvia Poll shared her experiences as a former Olympic Medalist for Costa Rica and elaborated on how the values that Olympism and sport embody can be applied to the peace arena. In addition, she also elucidated on the role of athletes as community role models and advocates for peace and brought to the attention current initiatives on this front including “Champions of Peace” where she has been actively involved as a member since 2010. Additionally, she spoke on the ability of sport in supporting children in traumatic situations. Sports used in refugee camps offer a way to maintain mental and physical health and build cooperative relationships.
When asked about the future of sport and peacebuilding, the speakers agreed that they would like to see a stronger commitment by relevant players in the field, as well as more venues, both virtual and physical, to connect more effectively the diverse stakeholders active in sport and peace. They also spoke of the need for a greater overall realization of both the full potential and the limitations of sports as a diplomacy and peacebuilding tool. The speakers also highlighted that there is still a lot to be done in terms of knowledge-sharing and policy development in the field, and that there needs to be greater recognition of the social role of sport at the governmental level.
Although it was clear that sport brings many advantages to peacebuilding, there was also recognition of a ‘dark side’ of sports. However, the speakers all agreed that this should not prevent organisations from advocating the benefits of sports in peacebuilding and post-conflict support for children. Moreover, it was agreed that sports are a contributive tool and not a general solution. Sport is not a “magic wand,” but it can provide a neutral and natural platform for learning.