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. 


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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Comment by Denise Janssen Eager on August 2, 2011 at 9:40pm

I think this is a great topic & am excited to read your blog as you pursue your research.

Have you heard of the Josephson Institute Center for Sports Ethics. Their anthem is "Pursuing Victory With Honor". From the website: "Focusing on sportsmanship and the pursuit of victory helps athletes develop life skills and values like integrity, perseverance, sacrifice, respect, and responsibility. As the Olympic Creed states, “the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle”."

To me these are the basic tenets of peace building.

Comment by Stanley Olivier on July 31, 2011 at 6:24am

Thanks for this entry. I have managed a number of small grants programs and always receive a flood of proposals to organize sporting events to address a particular problem - from cross border cattle rustling to land management.  None ever gets funded mostly because they fail to present how the sporting event relates to the problem they identify in their initial analysis.  The use of sporting events is usually presented as a way to ease tensions and thereby eradicate the problem.  That people who play together could never imagine harming one another.  It does seem rather simplistic, espeicially when we see that events like these are organized yearly with little tangible outcome.  I am very interested in the use of social events and sports in the particular as a tool but would like to find somethng more tangible in terms of its insertion in actual confliict transformation work - beyond the peace banners that will be posted at the event. Any suggestions?

Comment by Meeghan Zahorsky on July 30, 2011 at 2:43pm

Thank you for the comments! I would love to hear more about the projects! You can send things to the research team at sportandpeace@gmail.com, as well. 

Comment by Vinay Jain on July 28, 2011 at 8:09am

Fine drive you have chosen:

Sporting Spirit is a CULTURE that values fighting quality with honesty.

Teaches to CURB the pride while overcoming the jealousy.

Helps inculcate the FELLOW-FEELING, co-operative living with satisfaction.

Comment by An activist for peace on July 26, 2011 at 7:31am
It is great and inspiring to see that sport can go this far if appropriately used. We are going to use sport for International Youth Day Commemorations and hope to share with you our story.
Comment by sowmya ayyar on July 25, 2011 at 7:46pm

thanks! "why sport" is a really good question. i love the idea about the plan in order to play. as a yoga teacher i am actually surprised that yoga is taboo in this part of india-- a lot of people think of it as "religion". or else they think of it as a physical activity-- a sport of sorts for exercise. (they only come because they are curious about me, the crazy californian). so yes, yoga is a sport too!

thank you for your thoughts. 



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