Sharing experiences from research on sport and peace building in Colombia and Northern Ireland
The use of recreational sport to advance peace building in highly volatile contexts has experienced a notable upsurge in recent years. This has been the case in conflict regions such as Colombia and Northern Ireland where NGOs (e.g. Colombianitos; Football for Peace, Peace Players International), sport federations (e.g. Northern Irish Football Federation), international organizations (e.g. Unicef), and government agencies (e.g. Coldeportes), have actively employed sport to fulfil their peace-related goals.
Recent research has looked into 29 sport-for-peace organizations and programs to assess the role of sport as a peace vehicle with special consideration to the reflections of practitioners and the state of the SDP sector in both Colombia and Northern Ireland. Some of the results of this study are presented in the following paragraphs.
Advantages and limitations of sport as a peace agent within the conflict dynamics
In Colombia, recreational sport was found to be useful in partially addressing some of the conflict-related phenomena, specifically by: 1) providing a safe space for at-risk children and youth, 2) teaching abilities and skills so that youth can say no if they face recruitment by illegal armed actors and criminal networks, 3) helping participants build a life plan, 4) creating economic opportunities, 5) fostering peaceful coexistence and tackling urban violence, and 6) promoting social inclusion.
In Northern Ireland, sport was seen as a tool to reach two primary goals: 1) promote contact among Catholics and Protestants, and 2) foster greater intercultural understanding between children and youth from both communities. Additionally, sport served as a platform to transmit values, which could be valuable in helping children and youth improve their personal lives and transform their communities.
Sport also poses some limitations as a peace building vehicle. When not managed properly, sport could potentially promote a sense of exaggerated competition among participants. In some contexts, young girls can feel excluded from sports. Moreover, in the case of Northern Ireland, sport has historically been associated with the conflict in a diversity of ways, and therefore it is imperative to be aware of any underlying cultural or political issues attached to sport when employing it as a social cohesion tool.
Sport for Development and Peace officials: Broadly speaking, SDP officials both in Colombia and Northern Ireland perceive themselves as peacemakers and drivers of change and strongly support the idea that they have made a tangible contribution to the creation of a culture of peace via sport in their respective societies. In order to expand their peace building skills and competences, –which have in many cases been acquired in an experiential manner through extended work with underserved communities– it is strongly suggested that academic institutions and practitioners in the field of peace building should get more actively involved in peace-through-sport activity. They could for instance build on the empirical knowledge gained by SDP officials and instruct them on how practical peace building approaches may be applied to their sport-based interventions.
The SDP sector: In Northern Ireland the SDP sector shows an adequate degree of cohesiveness and integration. This is reflected by the fact that there have been numerous opportunities for stakeholders to exchange ideas, promote joint efforts, disseminate information and inform the general public about this field. Nevertheless, for further consolidation, greater commitment by governmental agencies and the creation of clear public policy on sport as a peace tool is required in Northern Ireland.
By contrast, for the SDP sector in Colombia to become a more cohesive endeavor, it is still necessary to create more effective avenues (both physical and virtual) to disseminate information in order to share best practices and experiences, create a community of committed participants and increase the level of integration among relevant SDP stakeholders.
The full article on sport and peace building in Colombia and Northern Ireland can be accessed here.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Peace and Sport Watch are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Peace and Sport