More than a decade ago, Nelson Mandela proclaimed, “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. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
In their first ever Sports Summit at the 2014 Global Peace Convention in Asuncion, Paraguay, a number of high-ranked personalities and key figures of the Sports for Development and Peace initiative gathered to look at sports as a catalyst for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (sDGs) and developing a culture of peace. The event provided a platform for various stakeholders to renew their commitment, strengthen their relationships, and foster cooperation between sports associations around the globe.
Some might ask in what ways competitive sports can contribute to peace. As panelists pointed out, sports have a unifying force—from uniting the mind and body, to bringing together diverse races, religions and cultures. Sports also support the development of moral and innovative leaders.
Moderator Ingil Ra, the Global Peace Foundation’s (GPF) Regional Partnership Coordinator for Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, said, “If we focus on raising moral youth, it will benefit everyone else.” Carlos Julio Camacho, President of Pan American Muaythai Union and a Muaythai World Champion, commented on the potential of sports to facilitate peace. “Martial arts is a tool for mental and emotional change.”
Sports have been especially essential for young people, particularly for at-risk youth. Panelists from Kenya and Malaysia both referred to programs that help guide misdirected youths “off the street” and “on the ball.” Dr. Su Thye Teh, President of GPF Malaysia, described Midnight Football in Malaysia, a program targeting youth of lower economic status. Many youth who drop out of school engage in unhealthy activities at night. Youth are drawn to the program because of their love for football.
“With sports we can make significant contributions to the vision of one family under God and create a world of lasting peace.”
The outcomes are incredible; participants have a renewed sense of purpose, exposure to new ideas, and gain confidence through unleashing their hidden potential. Dr. Teh emphasized the importance of working with the local government. In Malaysia, they received a grant from the Ministry of Education Director “to expand this model to all sports to save lives.”
Paraguayan Minister of Sports and former world-ranked tennis player Victor Manuel Pecci agreed that sports is a strategic way to reach large numbers of troubled youth. “What will they do if there are no sports?” he asked. “They will turn to violence in the streets.” In calling on a need for sport educators and effective programs, he added, “It’s not very expensive, but very sustainable.”
In Kenya, the “land of athletes,” sports is considered one the most sacred events, said Daniel Juma, President of GPF Kenya. “We use sports to empower young people and break down barriers.” He works with UN Habitat, Safaricom and others to reach young people using sports to organize mentorships and donate used sports equipment to those that need it most. Juma hope to promote universal values, combat discrimination and encourage peaceful coexistence through sports.
Dr. Chun Hwan Kwak, Honorary President, Korean Professional Football league, gave a presentation on the importance of the mentor-mentee relationship. He noted that there are already many mentoring programs for academics, but not for sports.
Over the past four years in Korea, his organization has been developing a six-month sports mentoring program, pairing college students with primary to middle school-aged children. They discovered the program benefited both parties. The mentees developed character skills like confidence and teamwork and mentors learned to raise their own standards and deepen their level of care.
“I am confident that taking part in sports cultivates a sense of community and cultivates character,” Dr. Kwak said. “With sports we can make significant contributions to the vision of one family under God and create a world of lasting peace.”
The Global Peace Convention, Roadmap for National Transformation: Liberty, Prosperity and Integrity through Moral and Innovative Leadership, concludes on November 21.
by: Karilee Aoki