The world in turmoil: Promotion of peace and international understanding through sport
For many centuries the potential role of sport in promoting a culture of peace and understanding has been of topical interest. The earliest attempt of sport being used to achieve this goal could be traced to the ancient Olympic Games which started in 776 BC, in which the Olympic truce or Ekecheiria was observed by ancient Greek city-states before, during and immediately after the Games. Before the Sydney 2000 Olympaid, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) resurrected the principle of the Olympic truce. However, according to the United Nations (UN) peace should not be misconceived as only referring to the absence of war or violence. Peace should also be defined in the context of absence of oppression or discrimination, racism, poverty, disease and gender-related inequalities, inequality among nations, and respect for human right and democratic principles. To what extent has the ideal of Olympic truce survived? Is a culture of peace and international understanding attainable through sports? What setbacks and challenges do we face in our quest to achieve this lofty ideal? Based on critical analyses of documentary evidence, this article examines the challenges facing international sport in promoting peace and understanding from a multidisciplinary perspective, i.e. covering international relations, politics and diplomacy, sociology, social psychology of sport, religion and economics. A review of major international sporting events which detract from this ideal is presented. Critical highlights include episodes of violence and hooliganism in sport, politics, over-commercialization and exploitation in sport and doping. A number of global sport-for-peace initiatives including the UN charter, are also reviewed. Other positive indicators include athletes marching together at closing ceremonies of major sporting events, the famous ping-pong diplomacy of 1971 that paved the way for better diplomatic zones, e.g. Sierra Leone, introduction of FIFA’s Peace Cup competition in 2003, the UN’s recent launch of inter-agency task force on sport for development and peace, the Magglingen declaration and recommendations on sport and development in 2003 as well as the United Nations’High Commission for Refugees’role in organizing sporting events for refugees in Uganda. To expect these factual but fragmented initiatives to have any significant impact on promoting peace and international understanding on a global scale is indeed a fantasy. Rampant episode of world-wide violence in sport, version of the arms race, excessive influence of commercial interests and misuse of sporting events for political aggrandizement offend the values of fair play, friendship, justice, and solidarity; grossly undermine the role of sport in the promotion of international understanding. It is concluded therefore, that there is a gap between the sport we want and that which we have. Strategies should be developed that would translate the symbolic role of sport in the promotion of peace and understanding to that in which it addresses more sustainable issues such as its role in easing or preventing political conflicts and improving quality of lives of refugees as well as preventing racism and inequality, protecting human right, alleviating poverty and enhancing the principles of democracy.
Keywords: Turmoil, peace, sport, international understanding.