Sport as a Driver for Peace

Last year on the inaugural International Day for Sport for Development and Peace UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, "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 widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and for development."

The UN often uses sporting events as "door opener" opportunities between opposing parties in conflict, helping to alleviate tensions in what we call "peace between borders" or between two countries. These programs can both reduce violence traditional and teach young people conflict resolution skills. However, there are also several independent organizations that are going beyond that on a local level to forge social change in what we refer to as "peace within borders" or inside the same communities. These programs tend to focus on reducing gang violence, gun violence, and domestic violence through teaching similar conflict resolution skills and empowering youth.

Peace Players International (PPI) is a great example of peace between borders, as it uses basketball as a tool to bring children together and to teach them tactics for improving their communities. Operating in Africa, the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, the organization introduced the Sports and Peace Innovation Network (SPIN) in conjunction with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, to better share its institutional knowledge about conflict transformation and leadership development with other organizations around the globe. Through the network, SPIN provides training and consulting services to both for-profit and non-profit organizations to help forge a broader social impact beyond its own programs. This program helps kids break down stereotypes and provides positive, safe opportunities for people from conflicting communities to unite through sport.

When it comes to reducing gang violence and peace within borders, one of the best programs worldwide is Fight for Peace, a program founded in Brazil combines boxing & martial arts with education and personal development to help bring kids together and team them useful physical and personal skills. Fight for Peace has brought together rival gangs from the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most crime-riddled communities in the world, and has achieved amazing success in reducing violence in the community. The group has since successfully expanded its operations around the world with programs in London, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Freetown, and Northern Ireland.

Domestically in the U.S. to create peace within borders, organizations like A Call to Men are preventing sexual and domestic violence by educating men and boys about respecting and valuing women and girls. Organizations like Up2Us place trained coach in communities impacted by gun violence, like Chicago, to provide positive mentors for youth. Organizations like Playworks train coaches to play inclusive playground games to ensure there are reduced fights on playgrounds. The list of sport for development organizations using sport as a tool for peace within borders can go on and on, but only because the need is so pressing.

At the first ever Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco in the year 2000, Nelson Mandela said, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair."

Today on the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, I remember these words, look at the great things that independent sport for development organizations have accomplished, and know that we have accomplished so much but have a long way to go. I'd encourage everyone to learn from each other's best practices and together let's make this world a safer place for all. The sport for development sector needs to continue using sport to drive peace between and within borders.