Category Archives: soccer

Positive Peace, Local & Global: Sport to Prevent Terrorism

A Norwegian Terrorist Surprises Europe

I’m assuming you heard about what happened in Norway last week?

A man named Anders Behring Breivik, under dramatic political and religious conviction, set a car bomb off near a building in downtown Oslo, killing 7 and wounding more, after which he took a ferry directly to a nearby island where, dressed as a police officer, he proceeded to shoot and kill 70 teenagers and young adults. Methodically.

The day it happened, here in Germany, terrorism experts were called in to news studios to report on the potential of an Islamic terrorist attack – but there was nothing conclusive to guess with. On the next morning, Europe discovered that the attacker was a Norwegian man. A right-wing, Christian extremist. “The Norwegian equivalent of Timothy McVeigh”, said the experts.

I tried to imagine the grief of Norwegian families and friends. The daughter of youth workers, I spent many childhood summers at “camp”. These summers are among the best in my memory — when I think of safety, security, or fun, I think of camp. Have you ever been to summer camp? Ever sent your kids? The whole point is that they are away from the rest of the world, right? Distanced from everything that is supposed to be terrible and unfriendly. Well.

Isn’t Europe Boring Compared to Africa or the Middle East?

If I needed a reminder that conflict resolution is needed in Europe as much as it is in the rest of the world, last week sufficed. I have had various responses to my work this summer – a number of people have asked me why in the world I wanted to spend the summer in Europe, while Meeghan and Sarah and Sarah were in Africa, the Middle East, and other “hot” conflict zones. Europe feels less exciting. If not boring, it feels at least comfortable and secure in comparison to these countries. I have a recurring nightmare where I return to campus in the fall and someone accuses me of using ‘research’ as an excuse for a European sightseeing tour.

I generally respond that there is a lot to learn about critical pedagogy and democratic decision making here, and I am lucky enough to speak two languages this research is published in. This has proven very true. But moreover, As Sarah alluded to in an earlier post, “peace” is not only the absence of war, it must also be defined as the presence of something positive; the presence of justice – or to paraphrase J.P. Lederach (who paraphrases the Bible), where “Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace” meet. And while it is absolutely clear that we must struggle to obtain peace in locations of prolonged, violent conflict, I am convinced we must also struggle to maintain and deepen peace in countries with high security. Norway is one of the most secure countries in the world, for goodness sakes! We students of peace and conflict resolution envy their Institutes and Masters/PhD programs. But they are not isolated from the rest of the world. In fact I would argue that it is precisely because of increased connectivity caused by globalization (see Fathali Moghaddam’s book, The New Global Insecurity for a more detailed examination of this concept) that research on peace and conflict resolution is as necessary in Europe today as it is in Israel and Palestine. Peace research, like action for peace, must “think globally” and “act locally.”

Battling Terrorism – Building Critical Consciousness through Sport

A second point that the tragedy in Norway convinced me of is the fundamental importance of local programs building global consciousness, self-awareness, and conflict resolution/democratic skills. An example: Three days after the attack, my research led me to visit a mini World Cup  (my second this summer!) near Stuttgart – running parallel to the FIFA Women’s Soccer World Cup, it was the finale of a month-long tournament featuring kids’ teams from all over Southern Germany.

The tournament was played based on “Street Football” rules. Street Football is an alternative approach to soccer that was first developed in (literally on the streets of) South America, in one of the most violent regions in the world. In Street Football, kids play on smaller-as-regulation fields, with teams of 4-6 players. Each team must have at least one girl, and a girl must score a goal during the game in order for the goals from the boys to be counted. Games last 7 minutes each. Before game begin, the opposing teams agree together on 3 “fair play” rules. (Examples include handshakes before and after the game, not insulting the other team, or high-fives on both sides following each goal). The kids referee the games themselves, according to the 3 rules they dreamed up.

At the end of the game, the teams re-group. “Teamers”, young adults who are trained in the Street Football approach, have watched the game and counted the points. They ask the opposing teams, “How did you feel during the game? Was it fair?” In this, the “3rd Halftime”, the opposing teams discuss fairness and decide together how many fair play points (1-3, depending on the rules they decided on before the game), to award one another. These points are counted together with the total goals scored, after which the winner will be decided.

With Privilege Comes Responsibility

Playing in the KickFair World Cup is a lot of fun. But “3rd Halftimes” can also be unpleasant. Even though they rarely last longer than 5-10 minutes, they require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Emotions are high after the game, and since each individual saw the game from his or her own perspective, it’s easy to disagree. But everyone must agree in order for points to be awarded. Teamers, even though they had an overview from the sidelines, have to do more listening to the participants than talking. Parents, by the way, are not allowed in the dialogue zone of the 3rd Halftime.

I was explaining “Street Football” rules to a good friend recently who replied, “But isn’t that challenging? I mean, I imagine it’s very hard for 10 year olds to come up with their own rules, referee their own games, and decide on the how to award points. That’s a lot of responsibility!”

I thought for a bit. She was right – it is a lot responsibility. But kids respond very well to this approach. They manage the responsibility without violence – in fact, with teamwork — and keep playing. It’s often the grown-ups looking on that make a big deal or become very upset. We’re the ones that are scared!

So I responded to my friend, “But isn’t that the point? Democracy is hard! Democratic societies require critical participation from responsible citizens. Aren’t we underestimating our kids by saying ‘here are the rules – go play by them’?”

Successful democracies are processes. They require people who are conscious about themselves and their relationships with others, who think critically about their positions and search for compromises with those who are different than them. We’re witnessing that right now through the budget crisis in Washington, the establishment of a new government in Egypt, and the discussions over the Euro in the EU.

The greatest threat, I believe, is raising children that see the world in black and white – who accept authority without questioning it, and play by rules because they are ordered to and not because they believe they are the best or most creative way to play. Encouraging responsibility, self-awareness, and democratic processes – my belief is that this quality leads toward security and away from fear, destruction, and terror.

This project is supported b a cooperation between Georgetown University’s Masters Program in Conflict Resolution and Generations for Peace.

To learn more about Street Football World in Germany or near you, check out StreetFootballWorld, KICKFAIR, and Integration Durch Sport

For more info on the recent terrorist attack in Norway, check out the following articles from the New York Times:


Oh the places we will go!


I had the most remarkable encounter last week at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Their Interdisciplinary Centre of Excellence for Sport Science and Development (a mouthful, but worth every syllable!) was hosting a two-day leadership conference for young women who were leaders and sportswomen. I was graciously invited to attend as an observer by Dr. Marion Keim, director of the Centre. Dr. Keim is an important partner in the Western Cape Sport for Development Network which includes leaders of 41 NGOs and community initiatives from around the greater Cape Town area and beyond. Young women from these organizations were invited to UWC to take part in two days of lectures, trainings, workshops and a soccer tournament during their school holidays. I couldn’t say for sure, but it seemed that nearly 300 young girls participated in the days’ events.

A bit of background, before I continue. When I first moved to Cape Town in 2007, I coached soccer and basketball at the American International School where I taught. Through my involvement with the sports programs there, I began to meet coaches from throughout the city, one of whom also coached a women’s club team in the Landsdowne community quite close to my house. When he found out that I played soccer, he invited me to try out for his development team.

The club was FC Santos, known as “the people’s team”, member of the Premier Soccer League and a middleweight contender for major national tournaments. On the men’s side, at least, FC Santos had a well integrated and hierarchical development program that drew from boys and young men from the age of 6+ to play club soccer. Every age group had at least one if not two teams, and multiple coaches devoted to the players’ technical development. Their under-18 and under-20 teams would often travel overseas or to different parts of the country for clinics. Again, it was only the men’s side that had that structure.

The women’s side was very different. Though Santos was consistently at the top of the log in terms of national play, they really only had two teams: a development team, or second-tier team, on which young women with potential and older women too old to play professionally were mashed together and competed in local leagues; and the elite side, sponsored by SASOL, which was a feeder team for Banyana Banyana. Because of limited space and resources, the two teams played and practiced together, and through the time that I played with Santos I got to know several women that were “called up” to train and try out for Banyana.

Now, mind you, there is a huge skill gap between what I was used to seeing in elite soccer in the States versus what I did see in this “elite” side in South Africa. Women’s sport here is massively underdeveloped, and the girls that do succeed often do so because they grew up playing with boys. There is next to no grassroot, consecutive, age-specific training for young girls. On this particular team, the young players were the target; we older players were there as mules; good enough to practice against, and strong enough to put up a fight. Among the older generation the girls smoked, drank; many of them had kids and played just for fun. Some had seen their day in the limelight and were either too old or too unfit to be considered serious contenders for a national team spot.

It was a bit unusual for a white, blonde, (relatively) tall foreigner to play for FC Santos. In fact, had I not brought my Canadian colleague and co-coach along with me to try-outs, I would have been the only one. It was trial by fire for me to even get acknowledgment at practice. I was viewed – understandably, I see now – with suspicion and a bit of disdain. The girls mocked my accent, my height, my build; they made jokes I didn’t understand in Afrikaans; they tried to teach me choice phrases which I was to employ on the field when there was a foul or a bad call. For the first two practices I was the outsider – the girls had played together before, having come from the same “Cape Coloured” community – and I just did the fitness drills we were instructed to do without complaint. Finally the day arrived when we had access to a pitch and had our first scrimmage. The coach put me in midfield, and by halftime I had two assists and a goal. All of a sudden, I was no longer an outsider. The girls jeered me all the same, but not in the derisive way they had before – I was legit, they could see; I built street cred and was now part of a team.

So, back to the original story. I arrived at UWC on the first morning of the conference and walked upstairs to where the girls and their coaches were having breakfast. I took one look at the group and immediately spotted three young women that I spent two years playing with nearly two years before. I immediately walked over to them and said hello. I could see they didn’t recognize me at first, but eventually they came around and I sat down to catch up on what was happening with the club. They’d changed coaches since I was there, and a few of the former elite players had moved back down to the development team. One of the girl there was coaching full time at a local primary school, as well as playing on the elite squad. The other two were young – technically maybe too young to even be considered for the elite team – but excellent players and up-and-coming stars for Santos. They explained that our former captain and manager had fallen pregnant again and would probably not be coming back next season. They’d once again captured the title at the biggest national tournament the previous year and were heavy favorites going into the next bout.

Perhaps the best part of our conversation was when the youngest girl, whom I played midfield with, said, “Hey, you know? I just got back from America.”

“Really?” I asked, wondering how on earth she would have made or afforded that type of trip. “What for?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, chewing gum and smiling wryly, “I was there for two weeks. New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC! We even had a tour of the White House!”

Clink. Things falling into place. “The White House? How did you organize that?”

“Yeah, we were there with the State Department… um, you know, Sports United or something like that. Yeah, I even got to meet Hillary Clinton! I mean, I didn’t know who she was at first, but then when we were walking through the White House I saw a huge painting of her on the wall and figured out she must be important.”

Um, yeah, just a bit. As it happens, my former teammate was sitting in the room when Hillary Clinton announced the Women’s World Cup initiative in early June. I was astounded, but excited beyond belief, that she had that opportunity, and that it was soccer that brought her there.

I wanted to retell this story because I think it demonstrates everything I have come to appreciate about sport in a real way. Through sport I have gained confidence, become fitter, faster, stronger, mentally and physically. I have crossed cultural divides. I have learned to stand up to men, to break gender barriers, changing perceptions about what women can do, what women’s soccer is all about. I have made friends and built networks, something that’s nearly as important in South Africa as it is in DC. Sport is a language that transcends other social structures. I am only grateful for having been exposed to it at an early age, and I am thankful that the women I met at UWC have had that exposure as well. I only hope that they are able to hold on to this opportunity and make the most of it; they won’t all be Banyana stars, but I’m sure they will be stronger women and better leaders for it.

[As an aside, as part of our membership in the Santos club we were expected to attend biweekly life skill sessions at the clubhouse. We constantly bunked and would come up with any excuse imaginable to get out of it. Ironic, I think, considering the nature of my research this summer.]

As always, many thanks to Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution program and Generations For Peace for their continued support.

And I can’t end this post without saying a huge CONGRATULATIONS to the US Women for their remarkable consecutive defeats over Brazil and France. They are an inspiration to women and soccer players around the world!

Egyptian turmoil carries onto the pitch

Broadcast locally in Xhosa, Sotho and English, Sunday’s 0-0 match between Bafana Bafana and Egypt demonstrated exactly how much times have changed for both countries. Egypt were playing for keeps, with a spot in the Africa Cup of Nations riding on the result. They are currently last in the group that has South Africa’s relatively inexperience team at the top of the log, and it is highly unlikely they will advance. South Africa must lose their next two matches against Niger and Sierra Leone in order for the Egyptian side to stand a chance of advancing.

The match itself was unremarkable, save for some aggressive tackling, shocking missed opportunities and a roaming Egyptian goalkeeper that appeared unhinged by his team’s performance. But the social context of last night’s game cannot go unnoticed. The match was relocated from Cairo International stadium to the Cairo Military Academy stadium after security concerns were voiced in the wake of March’s pitch invasion during a match between Tunisia and Egypt. It seems political upheaval did not end at the stadium gates. Cairo Military holds nearly 50,000 fewer supporters than its larger cousin, but perhaps the decision was for the best… the image of the head referee leaving the match surrounded by military security reinforces the sense that Egypt remains in turmoil.

The match also demonstrated exactly how far Bafana has come in recent years as a national side, and exactly how far they have still to go if they hope to compete with the greatest on the continent and the world. Their inspiring but ultimately disappointing performance in last year’s World Cup brought hope to many South Africans who saw in Siphiwe Tshabalala’s first goal of the tournament signs of a bright football future to come. Unfortunately the team still demonstrates an overwhelming immaturity on the pitch, a lack of structure and a flair for the dramatic. It will be interesting to see how they perform in the Africa Cup of Nations next year.