One of my favorite „Sport and Peace“ stories is that of the football (soccer) match between German and British troops on Christmas Day in 1914, the first winter of what later would be christened the “Great War”. I’ve never read a detailed account of the match, but you have to wonder, don’t you, what was it like to be there? Who approached whom? Was there a referee? Was it scary, to risk playing with someone you know wants to kill you? What about playing with someone you have been trained to hate? And what did it feel like, going back to the trenches?
As an American citizen of the 21st century, let me heartily thank those women and men who worked toward an armistice that resorted peace and cooperation after the 1st and 2nd World Wars. Thanks to their dedication, our countries now enjoy a rich and beneficial cooperation, and I get to learn from some of the most incredible thinkers in this field through my research in peace education this summer. (This is not to mention Schwarzwalderkirschtorte, tiramisu, and crepes with Nutella, all of which I plan to enjoy in the next few weeks, thanks to something called peace).
But there’s more to this story: Remembering the “football truce” on Christmas day was brought on because of a news briefing a friend of mine sent me the night before I left DC for this summer project: Days after bin Laden’s capture by the US, British troops and Pakistani federal police officers were playing soccer together in Helmand Province, Pakistan, when something suddenly went wrong and one of the Pakistani officers opened fire on the British soldiers, killing one and wounding three others.
And you have to wonder, don’t you, what was it like to be there?
How did it feel as a simple game became a survival match?
When the rules stopped applying?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve started to study sport and peace, it’s that intentionality counts. A lot. Sport itself is not a way to guarantee peace. It’s an experience, it can almost feel like magic sometimes, and if you’ve read any Tolkien, Lewis, or Rowling, you know that magic can be used powerfully for good and for evil.
There are a lot of people in the world who think sport is a unique and powerful tool for achieving peace. (Sarah, Sarah, Meeghan and I are 4 of them). Our team’s work this summer wants to connect these folks and ask: “How?” “Why?” and “What’s it like to be there?”
As for me, spending the summer here in “Old Europe”, I hope to learn something from a people who in the space of 60 years have moved from a life at the epicenter of fear, bloodshed, and animosity to an established and competitive economic, social, and political union.
And if you don’t think there’s something to learn from that, well…
So what does it take to start a football match with your greatest enemy on Christmas Day? What about if your enemy doesn’t celebrate Christmas?