Football: An Amazing Tool for Cultural Diplomacy

April 6th is the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

April 01st, 2019
Elisa Vallette, News from Berlin
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Football can do amazing things. Remember Christmas truce 1914, British, French and German soldiers stop fighting and organized a football game in no man’s land. Similarly, more recent examples demonstrate that football diplomacy serves unity and peace.

First, football can make divided communities meet on a common ground. Most of the time, football facilitates reconciliation and fosters unity. The program Football for Peace (F4P) initiated by the University of Brighton aims at building bridges between neighboring Jewish and Arab villages in Israel. In doing so, the F4P program hopes to reconcile divided communities and contribute to the Peace Process in these troubled regions. Indeed, mistrust leads to fear, anger and aggressions toward people who we think are different. If people understand each other better and find common ground, then they would be less divided. F4P creates opportunities for social contact across otherwise divided communities. It promotes mutual understanding and engenders in participants a desire for, and commitment to, peaceful coexistence.

The University of Brighton’s Football 4 Peace (F4P) program has also operated in Northern Ireland, Gambia, South Korea and South Africa since 2001. It uses football to unite communities and resolve conflicts.

Another example of football uniting a society is France winning team of the World Cup 1998. The expression « Black Blanc Beurre » (echoing the colors of the French flag ‘bleu, blanc, rouge’) was used to describe the diverse origins of the players and combat racism. For instance, Zinedine Zidane has Algerian roots while Lilian Thuram is from Guadeloupe. The diversity of the winning team favored integration of every French citizen regardless of its origins into a united equal society.

Therefore, football can bring about more tolerant societies.

Beyond social integration, unity and, peace, football can support a sense of collective identity. For instance, in the 1990’s, when North and South Yemen were still two states apart, cross-border football contests reinforced the notion of a single Yemen. Thus, sport diplomacy conveyed important socio-political messages and paved the way for institutional contacts between the two governments. Today, in the war-torn country, football, a foundation of Yemeni nationalism and a base of Yemeni national identity, could be used to reunite the diverse factions.

Finally, footballers can support great international causes or fight for democracy and peace in their homeland. For instance, the ex-football star George Weah has ran as the presidential candidate for the Congress for Democratic Change in his country Liberia. Didier Drogba, the Ivorian striker playing for Chelsea, became a symbol of unity and freedom in Ivory Coast, after he had pleaded in front of television cameras to stop the civil war.

The General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed April 6th as the "International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, inviting States, the United Nations system, relevant international organizations, and international, regional and national sports organizations, civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, and all other relevant stakeholders to cooperate, observe and raise awareness of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace". Sport is a powerful tool to strengthen social ties and networks, and to promote ideals of peace, fraternity, solidarity, non-violence, tolerance and justice.

Football is sometimes magic, it brings millions of people together. Football facilitates reconciliation in divided societies, supports democratization and peace processes. Football fosters social integration, equality and unity. As Nelson Mandela said “sports have the power to change the world.” Therefore, let’s use football as a cultural diplomacy tool to promote unity and peace. Let’s celebrate this international day of Sport for Development and Peace.


News from Berlin