“Now, it’s for footballers to play their part”
What a year! Less than four months have gone by since the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, but the world has already fixed its attention on another global sporting event. The Football World Cup in Russia gives sport another occasion to show its strength and its impact on society to bring peace and solidarity between nations. Transcending all hopes, the PyeongChang Games sparked a historical rapprochement between North and South Korea. Will the 2018 World Cup in its turn leave a legacy that’s more sustainable than the simple mathematic results?
Many people think this is unrealistic. They underpin the financial issues of modern football, which have become so important that they force organizing bodies to barricade themselves behind a wall of silence and reserve. They point out the insulation in which leading figures in football are today forced to live locked in a closed environment to avoid the limelight. At Peace and Sport, we believe too strongly in the power of sport – all sports – to circumvent the most mediatized of them. Football can add its bit to the peace effort. History reminds us that it has done so in the past. The facts prove that its players constantly commit to good causes. Similarly, mega sporting events have been and should be used as a means of building and renewing cooperation between countries and trust between adversaries.
In December 1914, at the height of World War I, British and German soldiers put down their weapons for the time it took to play a football match on a frozen field in a far-flung corner of Flanders. A century later, a British military team met its German counterparts to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this historical ‘Christmas Truce’ wearing football boots to demonstrate the pacifying power of sport. During the World Cup in June 1998 in France, Americans and Iranians posed arm-in-arm for an official photo after a match between the two countries at pool stage. The two nations had not experienced diplomatic relations for nearly 20 years.
At Peace and Sport, we are well aware that many football players use their fame to make the world a better place. Didier Drogba from Ivory Coast, Marco Simone from Italy, Sabri Lamouchi, Sébastien Squillaci and Christian Karembeu from France, Elias Figueroa from Chile, Kashif Siddiqi from Pakistan and Honey Thaljieh from Palestine are all ‘Champions for Peace’ for our organization. Two of them, Kashif Siddiqi and Didier Drogba, have made a further commitment in creating their own Foundations to promote peace through education and sport. They diligently play their part of role-models for youth of their country, their continent and the entire world. Some of these Champions have already seen the valuable contribution of Peace and Sport’s methodology Sport Simple, which consists in teaching positive values by adapting sports equipment, venues and rules so that sport can be played with limited resources or in harsh environments.
In my eyes, Didier Drogba is one of the most outstanding examples of the impact that football and its players can have on the world. In October 2005, his celebrated ‘Appeal for Khartoum’ launched from the changing rooms of the Ivorian national team after they qualified for the 2006 World Cup, changed the history of his country. That day, Didier Drogba called on his fellow countrymen to lay down their arms. He asked political leaders to hold elections. He was heard. He made a significant contribution to peace.
Will the World Cup in Russia see the emergence of new “role models”? I fervently hope so, because sport needs them. Now, it’s for footballers to play.”