Faith in Sport – opening the road to dialogue and reconciliation
Although I am currently in Kuala Lumpur for the IOC session, I feel the need to bring the attention back to Europe in order to highlight the event that is currently unfolding in Berlin, Germany. This week, Berlin is hosting the 14th edition of the European Maccabi Games also known as the Jewish Olympics. With this historic moment taking place half a century after former ‘West’ Germany established diplomatic relations with Israel, the event offers a great sign of reconciliation. It is a sign we need to learn from but also one that brings me conviction we need to invest further in interfaith dialogue through sport mega events and games.
Let me elaborate. Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, stadiums built by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics are currently hosting Europe’s biggest Jewish sporting competition, bringing together over 2,000 participants from 30 countries.
For those who are hearing about the Maccabi games for the first time, one may question why there is a need for these games and also challenge that religion is something that is personal. Indeed, religion is personal, but we must understand the context. The games are being staged in the Olympic Park near the stadium where Adolf Hitler opened the 1936 Summer Games that barred Jewish athletes and aimed to showcase “Aryan” athleticism, and this at a time where the exclusion of Jewish athletes had been a worsening trend and the peak of the anti-Semitism tide had swept Europe.
When it comes to structural and cultural discrimination, the challenge becomes one of identity and the right for individuals to exist in their plurality. Oren Osterer, former basketball player and head of the organization of the 2015 Games has explained that the ban on Jews in many sports clubs was at the root of the Maccabi movement founded in the late 19th century.
This example has been seen to apply to many marginalized groups who have found sport to offer a space of relief and justice in that they exist and are subject to the rules of sport which apply to everyone without discrimination. In Australia for example, the Australian Sikh Games are an annual event which attracts thousands of athletes. The Islamic Cooperation also organised in 2005 and 2013 the Islamic Solidarity Games, a multi-sport event for which the next event is expected to take place in 2017 in Baku.
We are living in a complex period in terms of identity, with a growing access to mobility and communication across the globe, our personal beliefs are constantly being challenged and structures put in place do not always correspond to the fast pace of this plurality. In addition we have inherited much violence and pain that needs to be transformed. The combination of a growing refugee crisis, increased terrorism and extremism has reinforced my conviction that one of the global priorities for education is the respect of the other which includes that person’s differences. The games in Berlin serve as a powerful reminder of the tough reality that is reconciliation. For this reason, we have to act in prevention and we must act now.
Intercultural and interreligious dialogues are a necessity and are among the central elements required to develop a better understanding of the contradictions and divergent approaches that exist in societies today. Terrorism is a manifestation of extremism, intolerance and violence – the antithesis of all religions. Compassion, respect and tolerance are common values and beliefs among all major faiths of the world, and therefore, we must learn to live our faith with integrity while respecting and accepting each other.
The main message I wish to develop here, is that there is a growing need for inter-faith dialogue and I believe sport has a major role to play.
This edition of the Maccabi Games will include for example the “Let’s Play Together” initiative, a series of friendly games in which Jewish participants play against non-Jewish athletes and celebrity teams in sports such as basketball and hockey.
This is an issue that I commit to addressing in November during the 8th edition of the Peace and Sport International Forum. I hereby invite you to join us to nourish this important debate and to learn from both positive and negative experiences in order to build the future together in diversity.