Friendship Games, a force of unity in the African Great Lakes
The African Great Lakes region, especially Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has witnessed decades of war and ethnic conflict since their independence in the 1960s. Hostilities continued throughout the 1990s and early 2000s leaving community relations severely weakened. The escalation of regional tension in recent months has made the use of sport for peace more necessary than ever.
In this region sport has been lately used as a tool for youth education and inclusion. Its positive impact has encouraged the creation of peace initiatives lead by civil society and implementation of sport for development and peace. For instance, Promo Jeune Basket, a locally run grassroots organization, based in DRC is focused on educating the youth through daily basketball practices, basketball camps and clinics. Ping sans Frontière works to develop table tennis as an educative tool and a vector for social cohesion in Africa.
Peace and Sport has also been working in the region by organizing the Friendship Games in cooperation with local communities and six sport centers since 2010. The Friendship Games are a symbolic, sporting and cultural gathering bringing together qualified youth in the areas bordering the three countries. The event unites youngsters around the values of friendship and fraternity through sport.
This year’s the 8th edition of the Friendship Games that took place in Bujumbura, Burundi from the 11-13 August, was special due to the great investment of a variety of actors. On this occasion, the Burundi National Olympic Committee in cooperation with nine International Federations and high-level athletes joined the cause.
Across the three days of sport, workshops and exchanges children and qualified athletes participated in 12 sports disciplines, all of which were designed around the concept of ‘Sport Simple’. Sport Simple is a concept that sees sporting practice areas, equipment and rules adapted to resources, environment and aims to promote a ‘sport for all’ approach. For example, boxing demonstrations were held on a Sport Simple boxing ring, handmade with old tires, rope and foam, while elsewhere an exclusive demonstration of Street Baseball was proposed by the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC), which sees the sport played with equipment found in day-to-day life.
As a tangible legacy of their involvement, the WSBC and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) organised seminars to help train Burundi coaches on how to get the best of the resources given. These coaches will then replicate those teachings around the country in order to share their experience.
Additionally, it was great to see three successful athletes and Champions for Peace joining us for the Friendship Games this year. Double Olympic medalist in Taekwondo, Pascal Gentil led the martial arts competitions and a Peace Workshop in front of 60 children. French Athletics Paralympian Jean-Baptiste Alaize, fresh from his bronze medal winning performance at the London 2017 IAAF Para World Championships, returned to his country of birth and spoke about the experiences in war torn Burundi to the youngsters. Elsewhere, Jean-François Tordo, former French Captain of the National Rugby Team, gave his technical expertise during the construction of the ‘Sport Simple’ facilities.
Once again, it was remarkable to see International Federations, the Burundi National Olympic Committee, local and international media coming out in support of the Friendship Games and their engagement in spreading Sport Simple practices. This year’s Friendship Games were a practical demonstration that Sport Simple can transform basic materials found in local environments into sports equipment and facilities for the benefit of a community. I warmly invite more international federations and athletes to join us for the next edition and to spread the power of sport.