Football 4 Peace on the Korean peninsula bridging North and South
Peace is much more than the absence of war and negative peace has endured on the Korean peninsula for decades. The continued division of the Korean people limits the realization of their full potential.
Although pessimism about the relationship is rife here, there is also hope. Organizations such as the Korean Sharing Movement (KSM) continually seek to bridge to the ‘other’. As a civil organization with experience of engaging directly with North Koreans at working level, and also encouraging participation at community level in South Korea, KSM is in a beneficial position to enact change that ordinary people can feel or see. It is through participation that normal citizens feel they have more of a stake in a process and then also feel invested in its outcome.
In 2013 KSM ventured into undertaking participatory peace education through sport based on a model developed by Football 4 Peace International (F4P International). This was undertaken as one way to get active and reinvigorate dialogue about partnership in an atmosphere where dialogue had been rejected for several years. By engaging young people in South Korea to think about their commonalities with the youth in the North and tell them that their opinions matter, children can start to believe that they could be active in defining this relationship in the future. Children are the journalists, teachers, military and politicians of tomorrow. The goal in our project is to instill in young people skills that are required to resolve conflict peacefully and also the belief that amicable solutions are possible, desirable and can eventually be achieved through their agent.
In football, the team is everything and in team sports certain values are paramount to success. These same values are also required when resolving conflict. Our programme focuses on five values which we emphasize when we play. These are; Responsibility. Trust. Respect. Equity & Equality. The beautiful game lends itself to teaching participants about these values. Nevertheless, the passions involved in football can lead to tensions boiling over on the pitch. Therefore, children must be prepared appropriately to allow the positive values to shine through. Our programme is not passive in its approach and uses a multitude of tools to draw out and emphasize the values. We then try to encourage children to reflect on these values in their everyday lives. We use techniques developed by F4P International and honed during their almost 15 years of existence in diverse countries such as Israel, Ireland, and Gambia. One example of a method we use is peer group review. This is undertaken through fair play points given to the opposition team based on their demonstration of the target values. These points can often count more towards the result than actual goals. The players discuss the points in a group which is also a great method to encourage critical thinking. Learning about these values and acting them out in a participatory manner where children have some control of the setting also allows participants to develop life skills which will help them at school, become confident when socialising, and become more aware of their actions’ consequences in their everyday life. That is why this programme is also utilized in Sport for Development programmes around the world. That in Korea we can link these life skills values back to resolving conflict is a massive bonus.
Since KSM had the vision to branch into this work, the programme has run twice a year and last April the 8th F4P Korea was successfully held. We consistently receive great reviews from the Seoul Metropolitan government who in part fund our programme. To propel development of F4P in Korea, KSM and F4P International have organized annual training camps for coaches since 2015 to teach the values based teaching methodology which is at the heart of our work. Participants include people working in reconciliation or North Korean related projects as well as members of wider society such as church leaders, students, teachers and youth workers. This diversity of participants highlights a possible network of people looking for an alternative path to peace which could engage a varied cross-section of society.
Changing the South-North relationship is a big task, and a streak of pessimism runs strong in society, but we cannot rely solely on politicians to enact change. Civil society has recently shown once again the great power it can muster here in Korea with the indictment of ex-president Park. Peace education projects can be the touching point for youth with civil society and this remains a focal point for bringing societies together. Inter-community relations are the aggregated sum, akin to a fishing net, of all the individual and collective relationships between the members of those communities and we are certain that sport can help positively shape these relationships.
Football, its more than just a game. Peace, it’s more than just a treaty.