Sport for Development and Peace

Modern society often fails to fully realize the true potential of sports. It’s not that we can’t thrive according to the rules of the game – records are broken daily. Rather, we tend to focus on a small subset of benefits while ignoring the rest. Most people recognize sports as a great way to have fun, stay in shape and develop life skills such as teamwork. But when we proclaim sport to be a cost-effective tool for achieving humanitarian and development outcomes, we get a lot of blank stares. The truth is, it’s settled science. Sport has a lengthy history of succeeding where traditional approaches repeatedly failed.

A lengthy history

One of the earliest recognized examples of Sport for Development and Peace is the Olympic Truce. Way back in the days of Ancient Greece, Iphitos, King of Ellis was intent on ending the vicious cycle of violence that plagued the region at the time. He decided to consult the Oracle of Delphi, who advised him that a peaceful sporting competition was the best way forward. With the support of Cleisthenes of Pisa and Lycurgus of Sparta, they signed a truce known as “Ekecheira”, which promised safe passage for athletes and their families to compete in a sporting event every four years. The first of these events would be held in 776 BC, and is recognized as the birth of the Olympic Movement.

Since then, sport has earned a reputation as a cost-effective tool for achieving many of society’s peace and development objectives. Modern examples include Ping Pong Diplomacy, the Unified Korean Women’s Hockey Team at the Pyeongchang Olympics, and even our own in-house efforts to engage the DPRK on the issue of disability (include hyperlink).

“Sport is increasingly recognized as an important tool in helping the United Nations achieve its objectives, in particular the Millennium Development Goals. By including sport in development and peace programmes in a more systematic way, the United Nations can make full use of this cost-efficient tool to help us create a better world.”
Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Secretary-General

Putting Sport to Work

International institutions and actors are increasingly recognizing the potential of sport for development and peace, and are taking steps to integrate its strategies into their programs. One of the biggest proponents is the United Nations, which has dedicated April 6th as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. Furthermore, through UNGA Resolution 70/4, the United Nations actively encourages its Member States to utilize sports as a means of achieving societal objectives, including the Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the ways sport can help achieve objectives include:

  • Forging connections between marginalized communities and the wider society
  • Changing perceptions towards the capabilities of stigmatized groups, such as people with disabilities
  • Raising awareness and generate discussions about a cause
  • Building trust and establish bridges between groups in conflict
  • Overcoming societal hierarchies and class divisions
“Sport is also an important enabler of sustainable development. We recognise the growing contribution of sport to the realisation of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives.”
Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations)

Friendship League – Passions for Peace and Development

Since the Friendship League was founded in March of 2016, we’ve been constantly surprised by the opportunities sport has created and the impact it has allowed us to make on communities. But overtime, one thing has also become crystal clear – it’s not just sport that has these capabilities. Rather, we believe that any shared passion can do it to! So whether it be through sport or another activity, we will uphold the spirit of Iphitos as we travel the world in search of adventure. We hope to have you join us!