Amid the hatred, sport becomes more vital than ever
A week ago, the world woke up with devastating news: a deadly explosion in Belgium left 35 people dead and 270 wounded. Three days later 32 people, among them many young boys, were victims of a suicide attack during a trophy ceremony after a football tournament in Iraq. The horrific level of violence overwhelms me with its immediacy.
Today again, I am outraged and deeply saddened by these senseless acts of violence on innocent civilians. As we mourn for Belgium and Iraq, my thoughts and solidarity are with all the victims of terrorism and conflict everywhere: in Turkey, Burma, Lebanon, France, Nigeria and elsewhere. Yet, I am writing here to question whether it is possible to break these circles of violence all around the world. Moreover, I want to reflect whether it is possible to stop sharing the same feeling of hate that seems to prevail in our societies.
The recent terrorist attacks shattered people’s notions of what constitutes as a safe place. Schools, restaurants, supermarkets, stadiums and daily life places have been targets of insidious terrorist attacks. However, the specter of terrorism is also a paralyzing psychological effect on our society. The fear and threat of terrorism comes with a dose of hate and intolerance that keeps feeding these cycles of violence.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, the Royal Belgium Football Association stated with sorrow, “Football is not important today”. This announcement comes just a few days after the Istanbul derby between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce was called off due to security concerns. In contrast, Didier Deschamps has called on his team to “move forward” as they prepare to make an emotional return to the Stade de France.
Today, I am not writing with the answers to reply on how sport should react facing a terrorist attack. Nor to tell people that they should not fear of attending sport matches. Yet, today I want to express that it is time to put in place sustainable actions that are able to transform the feelings of hate, sorrow and sadness into tolerance, dialogue and understanding. As president of Peace and Sport, an organization that promotes the sporting values to educate young generations and help foster social stability, reconciliation and dialogue between communities, I believe sport is an effective tool countering the narratives of hatred and mistrust. Moreover, sport and civil society has the potential to contribute in stopping the cycles of violence.
On one hand sport is a major force in eliminating gender and multicultural barriers and can build bridges across lines that might otherwise divide by narratives of hatred. Sport can serve as a tool to advance social development and peacebuilding processes. As James Stibbs, head of communications for the Britain’s Sport and Recreation Alliance claims, sport “reflect many of the values that civil society requires: fairness, equality, aspiration, hope”. Therefore, sport can be used as a tool to stand up to terrorism and hate in a society. Furthermore, civil society has the responsibility and capacity to empower our human capital and material resources; put pressure on decision makers and political leaders to unite so that we may move forward from the culture of violence to a culture of dialogue, engagement and peace.
Sport projects have proven to be a powerful tool for social change and peacebuilding, so I wonder why leaders are resilient of fostering sport initiatives, particularly in marginalized areas and suburbs. Is it a question of money and funds? Perhaps, it is question of not understanding the benefits of the sport promotion within the society. From my perspective, I believe sport is able to transform cycles of violence into more tolerant environment. Now, more than ever is the time for both, civil society and leaders to bear the responsibility for ending hatred narratives.
I believe that the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, on April 6 is a perfect occasion to come together for a constructive dialogue. This day emphasizes the role sport can play in achieving sustainable progress and change. It is a day that highlights the values, feelings and emotions that our society is much in need of. I hope you will join the amazing actions that will take place in Monaco and in different countries from the 27 March until 17 April.
Today more than ever, it is time for reflection and to support all efforts aimed to foster dialogue, community resilience and integration.