A Piece of Our Journey in Sports & Peacebuilding

The Georgetown University and Generations For Peace Summer Research Fellows have all returned to DC after three months in the field. As we begin to digest our research and experiences, we wanted to share a piece of our journey with you.

What was the most surprising thing you found?

From Amanda Munroe: 

Connection! I was surprised (and encouraged!) to find out how well the organizations and the academics I was interviewing were connected to one another. Whether it is because the field of sport and peacebuilding is relatively small or because the community is so supportive and open to sharing information, a real, effective, and supportive network for information and practice sharing exists – at least within Germany and to the extent that I experienced it, also within the EU.

From Sarah Moran:

Sport and development is a huge field in South Africa – everybody has a friend that is involved in the field of, either directly or indirectly. Whether in casual conversation or in official interviews, I would leave with more people to contact or organizations to “check out” than I ever imagined. In the Western Cape of South Africa alone, I counted over 50 organizations that were directly or indirectly using sport for development ends – and that was not including government initiatives. (This is not necessarily a good indicator – it is, insofar as it is exciting that people have begun to recognize the power of sport as a facilitator of positive social change; it is worrying because I fear that sport and development is a fad that will fatigue or be diluted by overexposure.)

 From Meeghan Zahorsky:

DIVERSITY – The diversity of programs even within the same umbrella organization was unexpected. PeacePlayers International (PPI) in Belfast was distinctly different from PPI in Israel or Cyprus. Generations For Peace pioneers, delegates and trainees from Lebanon and Palestine had a broad diversity of interests, backgrounds and outcomes with the programs they implemented. This was a powerful reminder of the importance of being context-sensitive and showed the ultimate range of sports as a peacebuilding tool.

 The most important thing? 

Amanda:

Consciousness. To think long and hard about your program’s aim, its location, and theory of change. To realize that investment in peace is a long-term process that requires participation on macro, meso, and micro levels. To know that dealing with conflict requires talking about things others may wish to ignore. And that your job as a coach is to encourage that consciousness – by modeling it yourself and asking it of your players. 

Sarah:

The most important lesson I learned is to retain the integrity of “sport” in “sport and peacebuilding” lest it lose its relevance or efficacy. Sport doesn’t have to be the most important thing in a program, but nor can it be the least. Compromising sport – or believing that sport is all you need to run a successful program – is dangerous. A lot of organizations seem to believe that by including “sport” in their titles (or “soccer”, more commonly) they will attract participants, coaches and donors more easily. In actuality, including sport superficially in your program is not a sustainable solution, nor is it goo for the field.

Meeghan:

PEOPLE – At every research site I visited, it was individuals who inspired, motivated and determined the success of the sports and peace program. The successful leaders and/or coaches had the right blend of local respect, passion for the game, compassion for the community, energy, and determination. They had some sort of intangible quality that made them the fuel for the program’s mission, and without them, there is no such thing as sports and peacebuilding.

The most inspiring moment?

Amanda:

Hearing stories. It was fun to watch kids enjoy sport and play, but inspiring to hear their stories — about how they grew up within the organization (s), or the personal account of one kid becoming more self-confident, self-aware, and aware of others. It was inspiring to converse with practitioners, to learn what led them to the work that they do and to hear them share humbly of their investment in and knowledge of the local community.

Sarah:

Generally, I was inspired to see how much can be done with so little. I visited an organization that was running soccer camps for girls and boys ages 6-16 in Khayelitsha, one of the most populated and impoverished townships outside of Cape Town. For the entire duration of my visit, the kids used a soccer ball only once – their resources were limited and there were not enough balls to go around. Instead, the coaches came up with teambuilding games and lessons that did not require equipment.

Meeghan:

LOVE OF THE GAME – I had the opportunity to watch and join in a PPI leadership development session and basketball practice for a group of Palestinian girls. They were the first generation of female athletes in their communities, and they were exceptional. Their heart, their hustle, their teamwork, was what I had always aspired to as a young athlete. Having the chance to play with them (and believe me, they made me sweat), made me realize how familiar the game was, even thousands of miles from my home gym, even speaking a different language.

What would you recommend for someone interested in sports and peacebuilding?

Amanda:

Focus. If you are interested in using sport as a tool for peace, think about what you want to do and where you want to do it. It’s important to decide how important sport is for you – is your goal to raise interest for a sport, to encourage peace through sport, to increase health through physical fitness or to increase skill in a certain sport? How connected are you within the community where you are practicing, and what is your vision for your program’s role within that community? Keep focus on your goal. A precise understanding of what you are doing will help you decide how to do it, where to do it, with whom you’ll do it and how you’ll fund it.

Sarah:

To think long and hard about what inspires you about sport and how that can be translated effectively into either a development or peacebuilding goal. It’s not automatic, nor is it always appropriate – I saw many examples of sport used badly to promote reconciliation, peacebuilding, and/or development.

Meeghan:

INTENTION AND CONTEXT – During Dr. Sarah Hillyer’s course on Sports & Peacebuilding at Georgetown, she repeatedly reminded us of the importance of intentionality in using sport. Sport, after all is not a solution in itself, but a tool. It can be a powerful tool at that, but when we set out to use it, we should have clear intentions and an understanding that it needs to fit organically into the context. Also, connect with others who know the field and know the context. The more we can collaborate in this field, the greater the impact we will have.

As the summer draws to a close, we want to thank everyone who has supported this research, read and commented on our blog, participated in our discussion, challenged us to think differently, and participated in our field research. We want to extend a special thanks to Generations For Peace for their support, Professors Craig Zelizer and Sarah Hillyer for their guidance and encouragement throughout this journey.

For more information on Generations For Peace visit http://www.generationsforpeace.com/

For Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program visit http://conflictresolution.georgetown.edu/

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