Sport, the international community and the peace talks in Colombia
Sport in all its varied forms have played a prominent role in Colombian society for decades. Ranging from improvised pickup games to professional leagues, sport is practiced massively across Colombia. A game like football has captivated the collective imagination of a large sector of society, while other disciplines such as cycling, roller-skating, athletics and weightlifting continue to bring pride and medals to Colombia at international sport competitions. The country is fast becoming a regional sports powerhouse. Yet, in recent years sport has also been used as a vehicle to foster social cohesion and promote peace amid the longest running conflict in the Western hemisphere– that has caused a profound fragmentation of society and a devastating loss of human life for more than five decades.
Led by civil society, and in more recent years supported by the national government and the international community, sport has been purposely employed as a strategy to tackle a variety of problems some of which are directly related to the internal conflict. Working in conjunction with a growing number of sport-based interventions, these social actors have contributed to improving the lives of thousands of children, youth and their families. Some of these programs have also transformed many communities across Colombia that have been severely affected by the vicious cycle of war.
Interest in exploring the role of sport as a tool for social cohesion and peace within the particular conflict context of Colombia is gaining momentum. Evidence of this is provided by the upsurge of newspaper and magazine reports, TV and radio shows, seminars, forums and Internet sites informing the public of the use of sport to foster peace and reconciliation.
As the country undergoes a recent peace process – which could lead to a peace deal as early as this year – the support of the international sports community to Colombia and its peace talks is becoming more evident. For example, on April 10th Diego Armando Maradona, a football icon, joined legendary footballers from Colombia and abroad to play a match for peace in Bogota. More recently, the United Nations designated Mariana Pajón, a Colombian Olympic medalist, as a champion for peace and sustainable development.
In line with these examples, I, as a peace advocate from Colombia and researcher in the field of SDP, wish to send out a call for all members of the international sports community to continue expressing their support to the peace talks in the country. This could be done in several ways. For instance, signing the manifesto in support of peace in Colombia, reporting on the sport for peace phenomenon in the country, inviting more Colombian athletes to join advocacy campaigns, or sending messages of peace and solidarity via social media.
Further concrete action on this front could include the strengthening of international cooperation schemes via sport and sports diplomacy, extending technical and material support to local NGOs and governmental agencies, supporting sport for development and peace organizations in areas such as capacity-building and training, and fostering the exchange of experiences and knowledge between Colombia and the international sport for peace sector. There are many ways for the international sports community to support the efforts of local individuals and organizations that use sport to create a more peaceful and inclusive nation. I truly hope that the SDP community will soon realize and get further involved in supporting and bringing attention to these talks as the everyday impact they could have on the lives of Colombians or the urgency to reduce violence in the region cannot go unnoticed.