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Peace Education and Fair Play

Peace Education and Fair Play – Sports and International Civil Society
The Use of Sports for Refugee, Development and Reconciliation Work
A school girl who survived the unimaginably cruel acts of violence during the 1994 Rwandan civil war said: “When one is active in sports, one does not commit genocide” - a seemingly simple observation. Four years later, she participated in a traineeship program from the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Olympic Committee. In the program, young people interested in volleyball were taught how to be trainers. After their traineeship, they should all work towards ensuring that children and young people learn how to overcome their war trauma through sports and team spirit.

Sports have also been successfully implemented after violent conflicts in order to complement the necessary reconciliation work. Above all, in ethno-political conflicts, sports bring together people from different conflict parties, who have very few opportunities to meet and get to know each other when there is no specific reason to do so. Sometimes these meetings have to take place abroad in order to be protected from outside pressures.

Millions of refugees have to compete against each other for some sort of normality and even for just short-term hopes for the future, which completely depend on foreign aid. “Sports and free-time activities are essential for the survival of all children. They are irreplaceable when helping the refugee children rebuild their destroyed world,” said Sadako Ogata, The High Commissioner for the UN refugee organization, the UNHCR. Since 1998, The UN has supervised a camp in Tanzania, where over 20,800 young refugees are cared for. No one can predict how long they have to live there. In such cases, the UNHCR asks international and national sport clubs to support their work. This leads to interesting cooperative projects. The National Olympic Committee in Germany has been working, for example, for years with the refugee relief organization. In 1999, the refugees in the Tanzanian refugee camp also received sports equipment from Germany (including volleyballs, footballs, and sports clothing).

Non-governmental organizations like the Christian group “Bread for the World” support self-help projects in many countries in which sports are very important. Their project partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America or also in Eastern Europe know that sports can help strengthen self-confidence and overcome social rifts. In addition, sports encourage the societal integration of street children and teach skills, which are necessary for entering professional life.

Sports and Conflict Prevention
Sports do not only contribute to reconstruction and the formation of civil society in crisis and war regions. As we have seen, democracies are in no way completely excluded from the possibility of conflict escalation and violence. In the USA, there are particularly impressive examples about the implementation of sports as a form of youth conflict prevention. The “midnight games” have become a symbol for preventing violence and crime through sports. The basketball games, which take place between 10pm and 2am, are supposed to protect the young American participants from getting involved in drugs and crime. After the first start-up programs began in 1986, the Midnight Basketball League (MBL) was established – similar, in some ways, to the National Basketball League. About 10,000 young athletes belong to the group. Most MBL players are African-American and come from the most densely populated areas of the poor neighborhoods in big cities. The players do not earn any money, and they have to participate in a one-hour discussion before each match. They discuss different topics, including: how do I interview for a new job? How can I solve conflicts non-violently? How can I protect myself from AIDS and avoid the allure of drugs? Garry A. Sailes, Professor for Sports Sociology at the University of Indiana, said: “For young people from poor districts, the MBL does not only offer the opportunity to play basketball, but also it makes it possible to find your identity and self-confidence.”

In the meantime, the midnight games have arrived in Germany, in different variations. The host and the sponsors are usually the city government together with sports clubs and even frequently with the police. Dominik Hermle, one of the “founders” of the midnight games in Stuttgart believes that: “Our project tries to counteract the social problems young people face, including criminality, poverty, drug addictions, and unemployment. Sports cannot solve all problems, but it can make a very positive contribution to people’s lives. It can have a positive influence on other areas of life, help to limit aggression, strengthen self-confidence, teaches tolerance, and shows us how to take responsibility. The young people in Stuttgart have accepted what sports can give them.”

The “midnight games” are also a spectacular foundation stone, which can be used for any youth groups on the topic of “sports and conflict prevention.” Nowadays there are a series of publications, which show how sports can effectively teach us to handle each other fairly, and to constructively work on conflicts.

Fair Play in One World
The sports scientist Ommo Grupe wrote: “Besides the principle of ability and performance, which are intimately connected to fairness, there is also the enormous variety of sports, which characterizes the Olympic Games. We must cultivate this diversity, which reflects our multicultural world. International Olympic sports plays a role in furthering this diversity. The Olympic values of peace comply with this diversity, mutual respect and the internationality. They are clearly not enough to resolve conflicts, but they are enough to offer us ways of coping with conflict. Olympic-oriented sports require us to accept differences because they are against discrimination of race, religion and sex. This philosophy is Couberin’s old rule.”
Fairness means following the set rules, denying unlawful advantages, equality of chances, considerate behavior, regard for the opponent and acceptance of others. As a basis for sports and morals, fairness is threatened in today’s world, not only in sports, but also in other areas of societal coexistence. At the same time, the rules of fairness offer us comprehensible possibilities for orienting ourselves in a competitive world.

Uli Jäger, Institute for Peace Education, Tuebingen, Germany

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