Beatriz Mejía
Director of Grupo Internacional de Paz

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28/05/2017 par Beatriz Mejía

Sports in contexts of Conflict and Post-Conflict: Beyond healthy use of spare time and the promotion sport values

In social contexts with a history of conflict, sport for community development transcends the idea of a healthy alternative to use spare time and becomes a tool to develop skills among the community to respond assertively to social threats. Besides, sports favor spaces for coexistence contributing to common welfare and peace. Therefore, there is a need to imprint sport practices with an intentionality, as it is considered to be a mean to reach development objectives and not the end itself.

The relation between sports and the adequate use of spare time is usually well supported on available literature. Sports have the capability of taking in unoccupied time of children and young people and use it to promote healthy lifestyles, this is undebatable. Endeavors on this purpose are generally well justified by the necessity to protect this population, as it is assumed that the inadequate use of spare time exposes them to the risks on their surroundings. Without pretending to undermine the benefits of such endeavors, when it comes to communities affected by armed conflict, this approach is somehow reductionist and finds limitations in the fact that violence is not an external element, but instead it permeates the most basic ways of socialization, ranging from immediate environments such as family and school to more complex social structures.

The attempts to favor the rupture of intergenerational cycles of violence are paramount to projects and programs using sports as a mean for social transformation. However, suppressing the problematic is not enough, and sports create an opportunity to move towards the promotion of a new kind of society, evolving from containment to action. This is especially valuable in societies experiencing periods of transition or post-conflict.

The extensive inventory of studies demonstrating the relationship between sport and social capital gives insides on how a community can develop cooperation skills based on mutual trust, the norms and networks that can be promoted through sports. For a society facing the challenge to consolidate scenarios favoring peace (Colombia, could be an example after signing a historic peace deal in 2016 with the guerrilla group, FARC), sports can play an active role to the extent its potential to act as a tool to build social capital in disintegrated communities. If the perspective of Robert Putman[1] is considered, sports can not only be taken as a bond between fellow men and women (bonding), but as a bridge between contraries (bridging). Reconciliation, as a fundamental element in a post-conflict phase, can be reinforced not only by the sport practice, but also by environments of sports, giving a new meaning to spaces for the encounter of citizens, the social networks that are favored in its immediate context, and its influence on the prevailing referents and role models of a community.

Nonetheless, if social capital is conceived as that facilitating cooperation among groups, it should be mediated by ethical principles favoring welfare-ambiences within the community, in a manner that it won´t be fruitful to practices provoking further social fragmentation. Bearing in mind that some values traditionally used in the sports discourse, such as discipline, teamwork, leadership, solidarity, are also values boasted by some social groups that come together and cooperate for causes that are not always noble (as in the case of illegal armed groups and drug bands). Hence, sports face the challenge to influence the roots and not only the fruits (the manifestation) of the tree. The capability of sports to create social fabric is an opportunity that must be channeled and intentionally directed; such direction cannot be given by sport itself, but it definitely represents a high impact opportunity.

Now then, it is very important not to be mistaken about the concept of values, by acknowledging that sports can transcend a simplistic axiological thinking, and lead to more complex issues such as motivations and paradigms (understood as archetypes or reference points) laying the foundation for individual and collective actions and decisions. Consequently, the question of how SDP can influence these decisions arises. The development of critical thinking is one of the main challenges that sports-oriented practices affront, insofar, it favors the denaturalization of daily practices and opens a conscious perspective of the own world, in which actions have a source and consequences on the self and the surroundings.

Reflecting on the potential scope of sports is an invite to transcend traditional approaches and think over the role of sports organizations and leaders in territories affected by armed confrontation, especially, in those facing a transition towards peace. The Sports for Development and Peace (SDP) Sector has as its main challenge to demonstrate the real impacts of sports as an engine of social transformation, and thus, make national and transnational governments make of sports a priority on their agendas.

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.

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