At a time when there are so many problems in the world, it was refreshing to be in attendance at this week’s Peace and Sport Forum in Monaco.
Around 500 delegates from all corners of the globe descended to the principality for three days of panel discussions, workshops and general debate on the progress of the many programs and projects that are trying to achieve peace through sport.
“This year’s Forum came at a time when the world as a whole has been getting incrementally less peaceful,” said a document from Peace and Sport that was given to delegates.
“Widespread violence and extremist activities are threatening to undermine global stability in all echelons of society, with the most innocent sectors often the hardest hit.
“Geopolitical tensions on a massive scale are generating forced migration and displacement of people in and out of countries.
“It is against this backdrop of growing global concern that the Forum aims to use sport as a means of improving the lives of those deeply affected by humanitarian crises that we read about on a daily basis.”
The sacrifice and selflessness of the people involved in these projects became immediately apparent when I met a man named Tarek Alsaleh, who works with refugees in Jordan. on the shuttle bus to the Forum.
Tarek is the founder and program director of an independent humanitarian organisation called Capoiera4Refugees (C4R) which uses capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, to promote development for children and youth, many of whom are impacted by conflict.
They currently run community-based programs in Jordan and have so far worked with more than 50,000 children and young people in the region, in a bid to provide them with some happiness in what has been a troubled life so far.
Proceedings were officially opened on Wednesday (November 23) night where every delegate at the event was invited to a rather windy but soul-warming Peace Walk.
After tracing the word “Peace” with an olive branch and holding up a white card for a group photo, Prince Albert II of Monaco led the walk alongside the organisation’s 30 “Champions for Peace” who were attending the Forum.
They included track and field athletes Yelena Isinbayeva, Paula Radcliffe and Wilson Kipketer; cyclist Philippe Gilbert; tennis player Tatiana Golovin and rugby players Imanol Harinordoquy, Jean-François Tordo and Dan Luger.
Also in attendance were three Nobel Peace Prize-winners in Abdessatar Ben Moussa, Mohammed Fadhel Mahfoudh and Ouided Bouchamaoui, who walked together in a demonstration of upholding the values of peace.
Prince Albert was once again at the forefront of the Forum as he officially opened proceedings alongside Bouchamaou and the United Nations (UN) Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace, Wilfried Lemke.
“Since 2007, the forum has been a platform of exchanges, presentation of innovative ideas and tangible actions to advance the peace-through-sport movement,” Prince Albert said.
“The positive impact that sport makes at local and international levels demonstrates its capacity to bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religion of political beliefs.
“Sport can empower young people to pursue their dreams and become agents of peaceful change within society.”
Perhaps the most definitive and captivating piece of diplomatic work in the last few days was carried out in the form of a friendly taekwondo demonstration.
Representatives from the Russian and Ukrainian national teams fought each other in a friendly poomsae rules contest.
Tensions between the two countries have been extremely high in recent years, but this unified demonstration of the martial art gave a tangible example of what sport can do in establishing peace.
“It’s a big occasion to see two athletes from two nations in disagreement facing each other,” said founder and President of Peace and Sport, Joël Bouzou.
“This is evidence that sport is a solution and a vehicle for bringing people together.
“What we are experiencing here today is a reflection of our combat where each step – from the smallest to the largest – is important.”
The showpiece of the Forum was the glitzy and glamorous Peace and Sport Awards. Created in 2008, the annual ceremony recognizes and rewards organisations and individuals who have made “an outstanding contribution to peace, dialogue and social stability in the world through sport.”
Awards were given to various people, from specific field programs to global initiatives, and the winners were all crucial components of projects that are proof of sport’s ability to bring together failing or opposed communities.
The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) collected the award for Initiative of the Year following their World Table Tennis Day on April 6, held in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. The city held the main event of the program at the Khagendra New Life Jorpati Training Centre, which was damaged by last year’s devastating earthquake, where around 8,000 people were killed.
Meanwhile, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) also picked up a prize in the Federation of the Year category after they established the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation and the “World Taekwondo Cares” program. The latter is intended to help promote the sport in developing countries and supports them with infrastructure, equipment and related educational programs. These “teach the values of Olympism, global citizenship and world peace.”
During his closing remarks on Friday, Bouzou declared the Forum a success and paid tribute to the efforts of all those involved in what they are trying to achieve.
“Thank you all for your participation and commitment this week,” Bouzou said in his closing speech.
“On Wednesday I spoke about the peace movement from all corners of society and the need to accelerate this.
“I have been struck at this Forum at how many projects there are from International Federations, our Peace and Sport champions and Non-Government Organizations in the most diverse and remote areas of the globe.”
I too am also struck at the quantity of initiatives spread across the globe and am left with a feeling of optimism from the Forum that at least some effort is being made to improve the quality of life for those who have been affected by the number of issues the world currently faces.
After being in the presence of humanitarian giants, I can confirm that sport can definitely be a tool for achieving peace.
By Max Winters
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.