During the World Cup and Elsewhere, Football Breaks Down Barriers
“No other sport is quite like Football. It undoubtedly has the capacity to break down barriers more than any other sporting discipline. Between peoples, between nations and between communities. I experienced this during my playing career, first in Britain – my country of birth – then in the United States where I continued my studies, and finally in Pakistan, the country where my family and my origins are. Today, I see evidence of this ability through the foundation that bears my name, founded in 2011, and through actions carried out around the world by Football for Peace, the organization that I launched two years later with the Chilean football legend Elias Figueroa.
Its universality and its ability to generate passion enables football to serve the cause of peace through sport. There are many examples where it has done just this, but I like to tell the dramatic story of the match that took place between German and British soldiers on a battlefield during the Second World War. They put down their weapons for the time it took to complete the game. They united around a football and forgot their fear of the enemy. For many years, I’ve got into the habit of recounting this historical event whenever I have the opportunity to illustrate the role of sport, especially football, as a tool for peace and reconciliation. If football can silence the sound of bullets, it can most certainly bring divided communities together.
In its own way, the Football World Cup in Russia also illustrates this power. Nobody has forgotten how the event and its host country were presented by the media in the lead up to the cup. Russia was decried. The worst was forecast. Yet ever since the opening game, the entire world has seen an open, warm, and welcoming country where the competition is taking place in an untainted atmosphere. Thanks to football, Russia has presented a very different image of itself to the eyes of the world than the one portrayed by politicians.
I’ve been lucky to play at an international level several times for Pakistan, my country of origin, an experience which has left an everlasting impression on me. It has also confirmed my belief that sport can change people’s lives. Cricket, football and squash have all in their own way contributed to move Pakistan in the right direction. These three sports, the most popular in the country, have given hope to the Pakistani population who has known many tragedies and conflicts.
With my organization – Football for Peace – I work for a better world by using football as a diplomatic tool. With Peace and Sport, for whom I’m a Champion for Peace, my image as a former player profoundly helps me to transmit my message. Peace and Sport supports me in my actions and my engagement. It gives resonance to my voice. It helps me to make me heard. And this help is invaluable.”