Category Archives: Meeghan Z

Sport and Peace: What Does Sport Mean to Us?

UPDATE: This event will be broadcast live. Check it out from 12:00pm-1:3opm EST at the Sport and Peace Upstream Channel:

Feel free to participate via Twitter: @sportandpeace

We look forward to seeing you, online or in person!

Event Details:

Georgetown University’s Generations For Peace (GFP) Research Fellows will be hosting a brown bag luncheon on Wednesday, October 19th from 12pm-1:30pm.

We have spent the last year investigating and evaluating promising practices in sport, development and peacebuilding throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This panel will be an opportunity for us to present our research and engage in a dialogue about the implications of our findings.

An engaging discussion with current practitioners and experts in the field will directly follow the panel. Come prepared to contribute your thoughts!

Our team will provide light snacks and refreshments. There will be ample time for attendees to network and mingle following the discussion. Dress is business casual with your favorite pair of sneakers.

The session will take place on Georgetown University’s main campus, on the 7th floor of the Bunn Intercultural Center (ICC):

Space is limited, so please RSVP:

We look forward to seeing you there!


Meeghan, Sarah M., Amanda, and Sarah H.


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? 


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. 


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.


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?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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

For Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program visit

Reflections – Why Sport?

When I tell people I am researching sport and peacebuilding, it never fails that I get one of two responses – the confused look that usually signifies a predisposition to thinking of those two concepts as mutually exclusive or the sudden dawning of “oh that sounds cool!”

Throughout my summer research, the most important question I was asked, and asked frequently, was “why sports?”  Despite its simplicity, this is really the question at the core of our research, the question driving us to find and define the uniqueness of sport.

Sports draw people together even in places where “peace” has become taboo. It can provide an escape, a safe haven, even when surrounded by chaos. There are obvious and scientifically proven physiological benefits. Perhaps, most importantly, it gives children of all ages the chance to play. Sounds silly, sounds cliché, but I saw it again and again in the field. A soccer field can provide a bubble in time and space, a release from the world around. I saw this, I know this, but I am still struggling with how you share this, how you measure this, how you tell that story of impact so it reaches more people AND stays true to its origins.

When I was meeting with Generation For Peace delegates in the Middle East, this challenge of capturing these stories in the form of program evaluation nagged at me constantly. Their stories were so powerful, so unique, I almost felt like I was cheapening them by trying to fit them in my little box of measurement and evaluation. It bothered me that the story couldn’t just stand alone. As I return to my notes now, it is more and more apparent that this M&E element is what empowers these stories, these individuals and these programs to move forward, to adapt to the ever changing world, and to be sustainable. Beyond just the sharing of the stories, it allows for critical self-reflection for practitioners, stakeholders and participants. The M&E continues the story, rather than rewriting it.

At the same time that I was being asked “why sports?”, I had to ask myself the equally important question “why not sports?” There are several debates in the field revolving around the use of sport, particularly competitive sport, for peacebuilding. The skepticism is logical. If anything, sport is a neutral tool. Any value or harm that comes from it is the result of the method of implementation. We cannot use sport without a plan, and we cannot use sport in every context. And, importantly, we should not only perceive sport as soccer or basketball – movement-based peacebuilding can be achieved through dance, as in the case with Dance 4 Peace, or through yoga, or through the arts. As outsiders, we cannot know what is the best tool, but in each community there is a space for movement to foster peace, whether that be individual peace, communal peace, or international peace. The worst thing to do is to stop asking questions; why? why not? how? As we set out to document our summer research, we will not be providing conclusions, but rather the questions that we uncovered. Questions that we will keep asking, over and over again.

Albert Einstein once said, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” A statement, after months of research, with which I can agree.

– Meeghan


GFP Training Camp

In the field - GFP Training Camp, Bethlehem

The When of Sport and Peace

Sport is used at many levels – individual, communal, and internationally. It is used in places all around the world from soccer fields in South Africa to basketball courts in Jerusalem. Where and who a program works with are usually fairly evident. What is less often discussed is the “when” of sports programs. What temporal space do these programs fill? Where along a transition from conflict to peace are the being used? When are they most effective?

For must of our research this summer, we are dealing with “post-conflict” settings. I, like most in the field, tend to avoid the term post-conflict knowing how insufficient it is in describing reality. However, I use it here to suggest that these areas are in a state past full-out combat or are in a period following the peak in violence. 

That being said, “peace” is also a misnomer. The “peace” walls in Belfast are the most stark example I have seen of Galtung’s “negative peace.” To “keep the peace”, these physical divisions are topped with spikes and barbed wire, they are decorated with sectarian murals, messages of peace, and graffiti. They are besieged by litter. The walls create a backdrop to small suburbs around the city, they cut through school yards and stand ominously between the narratives of both sides. They bar cross-community violence and reconciliation at the same time. 

Sports are currently being used in this “when”, a timeframe of negative peace, to change the nature of community relations. To move through and beyond the walls, both literally and figuratively, to bring young people together and then send ripples of change through the community, from the children to their coaches and teachers, to their parents and families, to their friends and their families. All the while, this “when” remains very important as it is a lull of violence and illusion of peace that enables programs to bring groups together but it is the proximity to renewed violence that calls for peacebuilding. When I visited PeacePlayers International in Belfast, they showed sites where they had crossed the street between two schools or through a Peace Wall to hold “twinnings” – joint basketball practices with Catholic and Protestant youth. These short distances represented huge leaps for the community. To an outsider, it almost seemed to easier, but I soon realized that in order to have an hour long basketball practice they had to overcome invisible barriers, held up by longstanding narratives of the “other”, to work towards reconciliation and friendship. 

As I continue to explore sports and peacebuilding in various contexts, I will keep in mind that it is not just the “where” and “who” that we need to consider, but also, to explore the “when”. 

– Meeghan (notes from Belfast, N. Ireland)

Meeghan’s Prologue to Summer Research

As we all set out on our field research to diverse corners of the globe, I have been thinking about what aspects I am drawn to and what, on an individual level, I hope to observe over the course of my journey.

Two things have stood out to me in my preparations – partnerships and measurement. 

On partnerships, I owe this project and opportunity through Generations For Peace’s partnership with Georgetown and their generosity. This type of partnership between academics and practitioners is particularly interesting to me, as I believe there is even greater potential for academia and peacebuilding organizations to collaborate in the future. Graduate students can gain much needed research experience and hands-on learning partnering with organizations, while organizations seek to fill a gap in knowledge and improve best practices through more rigorous research and evaluation. I’ve had the privilege of exploring this partnership firsthand with Dance 4 Peace in DC and now with PeacePlayers International as the host for several of my summer research sites. I believe that sports and peacebuilding programs have the capacity to lead the waybin innovative partnerships and a new culture of sharing and dialogue in the field. Why S&P programs? Even though competitiveness is implicit in sport, so is teamwork. In order to achieve their goals of promoting peace, often in deeply divided communities, these programs must embody their mission of collaboration and cooperation, not just in their curriculum but in their relationships with the wider field.

As such, my preliminary musings, leave me with some questions to explore further: How are partnerships with academic institutions, other organizations, donors, etc. being leveraged currently? What new types of partnerships could benefit these organizations based on their needs and the needs of the communities they work in? How can we alter the competitive culture of non-profit work to promote more collaboration?

Measurement is a whole other puzzle, though, the two are undoubtedly intwined. Coming out of my resent work and research on monitoring and evaluation, I have more questions than answers when it comes to how best to measure peacebuilding. In the field, I hope to observe not only how M&E is currently being carried out at the different sites, but uncover ways that existing models can be amalgamated and new models integrated to create more effective practices. By asking practitioners what challenges they face in conducting and analyzing M&E, I hope to have a more comprehensive understanding of the remaining gaps in this area. I imagine that many of the challenges include capturing the anecdotal evidence, pairing that with quantitative data when appropriate, and longitudinal evaluation. In regards to M&E, the partnerships discussed before will be extremely instrumental in reaching higher levels of achievement. And, again, the field of sport and peacebuilding has the opportunity to impact the wider peacebuilding field with innovative practices. 

I set out for this research with a blank notebook and many questions. Through observation and listening, I hope to fill the notebook and find my own measurements. Through dialogue and partnerships, the answers and new models will come.

And so the journey begins….


Researcher Profile – Meeghan Zahorsky

Before setting out on our field research this summer, each of us had to ask ourselves one question – why sports and peacebuilding? What about the combination of these two had drawn us together and compelled us to pursue this research project. My research started last summer with my application and selection for the Generation for Peace’s HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Scholarship. That was the glue that brought a life-long love of athletics together with an enduring pursuit to promote peace in the world. I was uncertain how the two were connected or how the research would play out, but the connection between two passions was enough to propel me into the field.

For a variety of reasons, I have come to focus largely on the monitoring and evaluation of programs. I’ve had the great privilege of working with Dance 4 Peace locally in DC, as well as rapidly developing contacts and relationships with a variety or researchers and organizations in the field. It is not hard to see that sports and peacebuilding has become a new hot topic in the world of conflict resolution and development, but as part of my research, I want to ensure that we’re seizing this moment to fully pursue the potential of sports, rather than watch it become a passing fad. Simultaneously, though, it is essential that we evaluate the impact of programs and ensure that we’re accounting for positive and negative externalities. As an athlete, I’ve seen both sides of sports, and I know first hand the potential for good and the potential for harm.

Generations for Peace has enabled the group of Georgetown graduate students to explore the relationship between sport and peace further through field research. As part of this group, I will be visiting sites in Northern Ireland, Israel, Cyprus, and Jordan. I will have the wonderful opportunity to meet with practitioners in the field particularly from one of the field’s leading organizations, PeacePlayers International, as well as observe these programs in action. Though my scope is limited this summer by time and resources, I hope to continue the research and dialog with practitioners around the globe. It is a privilege and an honor to be part of the wider community of sporty peacebuilders.