Christian Karembeu
Footballer, Strategic Advisor of Olympiacos and Champion for Peace

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02/08/2019 par Christian Karembeu

Sport as a vehicle for unity

I grew up in a large family in New Caledonia. I had 17 brothers and sisters and we were part of the Nang tribe on Lifou Island. So I was educated with traditions, a culture that is different to the metropolis.

I started playing sport at an early age; my father was a school instructor and for him it was a means of quickly attracting children’s attention. We were given the choice of several different items we could use during recreation periods, including ropes, balls and footballs, so we could exercise during these few minutes. Sport has always been part of me, starting with athletics and later playing football.

I still remember a gift my grandmother gave me. It was a football. I shared this football with all my friends and the other students at school until it was no longer usable.

A football is a symbolic object in my eyes, to be shared with everyone. That’s why I particularly liked football. Playing with several friends, creating something friendly, forming a group, a community. We know that we have to win together – and lose together. This is where you really learn the values of sport. Even in an individual activity such as athletics, we had to win for the tribe, so we learned to give everything to our loved ones.

So I was mad about sport, but I never imagined making a career of it. Football was a hobby, a passion. We played every Sunday, but I also played tennis and did athletics. We competed in tournaments, but it was more for fun, without thinking of becoming a pro. Very few people then had televisions, and they were still only black and white. We didn’t have as many images as today to show us athletes’ careers and make us dream of putting ourselves in their places. Times have changed since my childhood and New Caledonia, which abounds with sportspeople and good potential, now gives them a better chance to have a voice.


I often talk about sport as a privilege because it enabled me to travel and meet many prominent people, both in my field and in others, and that had a great impact on my life. That’s why I often tell athletes to make the most of, and above all to respect, this privilege. Transmitting the energy and values of sport is part of our mission.

Given my education and the place where I grew up, its social aspect has always been innate to me. As a large family, we had to help each other out on a daily basis, so helping came naturally. Same thing in our tribe, our community. We helped each other to build huts for example. Help is ultimately sharing.

My travels have shown me that there is a need for this mutual aid in all corners of the world, from my island to Africa, Latin America, and even Europe. We are all born in the same way, then differences appear, but everyone has energy deep within them to help someone in one way or another.

As a Peace and Sport Champion for Peace, I went to Haiti in 2010. Joel Bouzou called me to ask me to accompany him and Peace and Sport, and I quickly said yes. After the devastating earthquake, Haiti needed international help. On a humanitarian level of course, with food, water and facilities. But we also had to deal with the “social lives” of people there. We sent a container filled with several tons of sports equipment that we distributed in partnership with the Haitian Olympic Committee.  The goal was to use sports activities to recreate links between the population, especially young people who had lost their loved ones. There was a need to give them back hope.

Haiti was the pearl of the Caribbean and to see it devastated and traumatized greatly moved us. We wanted to put in our share, especially using sport as a tool to alleviate sorrow and to rebuild people through games and activities for the community.

The emergency action in which I participated became part of a long-term program launched in 2007, aimed at strengthening the resources of local aid workers who organise peace-through-sport activities. In just a few years, sports centres have become autonomous in implementing athletic pastimes to boost social cohesion.

I can only end with an allusion to a person I admire more than anyone. Nelson Mandela used sport as a catalyst for social and political unity. He succeeded and I think that we should be inspired by this. This is what we do at Peace and Sport; we use sport as a vehicle to work for peace.

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