By Nancy Gillen |
I didn’t quite know what to expect from the 11th edition of the Peace and Sport Forum, this year held on the Greek island of Rhodes rather than in its usual home of Monaco.
Events such as these can sometimes fall into a habit of producing meaningless rhetoric and self-congratulatory statements without actually creating any decisive action. The Peace and Sport Forum managed to not fall into this trap, however, and, if anything, it demonstrated that sport is being effectively used around the world to tackle global issues.
An overarching theme emerged throughout the day, with most of the discussions revolving around the refugee crisis and how sport can help change the lives of those fleeing from war or persecution.
The refugee crisis is undeniably one of the biggest challenges the world is currently facing and a plethora of speakers gave examples of how sport can ease the situation and improve the lives of those impacted.
Retired Greek basketball player Lazaros Papadopoulos played a video demonstrating how his network, Athlenda, helped refugee Christ Samba sign with a professional team. Samba arrived in Greece from Congo in 2016 and used Athlenda to earn a trial at Greek team Aris Thessaloniki, before signing a professional contract with them.
World Cup winner Christian Karembeu spoke of his own experience of moving from the Pacific island of New Caledonia to France when he was 17, before going on to forge a successful career in football.
Petros Kokkalis, the President of Hope Refugee FC, discussed how his organisation had benefited and changed the lives of the refugees involved. They received recognition for this when the club was named regional sport organisation of the year at the Peace and Sport award ceremony later in the evening.
Kokkalis emphasized how the participation of refugees in his football team helped them integrate into their new community, eradicating some of the divisions that can exist in a society where refugees and local residents live side-by-side.
This discussion was enhanced by Rimla Akhtar, chair of the London-based Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation. She was excellent in explaining the necessity of making sure that sport is diverse and encourages participation from all backgrounds, as a way of forming inclusive societies and peaceful communities.
The general consensus on the day was that sport can change lives for the better and promote inclusion, making it an effective tool for dealing with prominent challenges such as the refugee crisis.
What set the Peace and Sport Forum apart from similar initiatives, which often produce empty talk, was that action had already been taken to tackle global issues.
The attendance of regional politicians and the hosting of a decision-making round table also gave me hope these leaders would be motivated and inspired enough to take certain ideas back to their Governments, implementing them at the highest levels of power.
For fear of sounding too idealistic, however, I am not arguing that Peace and Sport will end the refugee crisis or bring about world peace. I also found that certain topics were alarmingly absent from the discussion.
Although not the most obvious threat to peace, climate change is a serious risk to security and stability around the world. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issuing a final warning on the issue, I was surprised to see little mention of this throughout the day.
When I put this to Joël Bouzou, founder and President of Peace and Sport, he responded with his belief that sport could be used to help with problems such as climate change.
“What is fantastic with sport is that you have the network,” he said.
“It’s present everywhere.
“You have clubs, National Federations, International Federations, National Olympic Committees, IOC.
“This is a very powerful network, and we also now have internet tools and role models.
“These can be used to promote issues other than sport.”
Nonetheless, I still felt the lack of discourse around the issue of climate change at the Forum perhaps showed Peace and Sport’s limitations in tackling certain threats to peace.
Despite this criticism, the Forum reminded me that sport can be so much more than a recreational activity or something to watch on TV on a Sunday afternoon, especially so at the awards evening.
Some of the nominees had achieved things through sport that politicians are yet to deliver, whether this was the Fundación Rugby Sin Fronteras organizing a friendly rugby match between the United States and Cuba, or Budo for Peace producing collaborations between Arab, Jewish and Christian martial arts clubs in Israel.
The clearest reminder came when the International Ice Hockey Federation won the Special Jury award for bringing together the South and North Korean women’s teams at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
If sport can bring together two countries which have been in conflict since the 1950s, then it has the capacity to deal with the majority of global peace issues.
Though I felt the Peace and Sport Forum was limited in the topics up for discussion, the organization is thriving in facilitating the use of sport to promote peace.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.