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From Brazil to Burundi: uniting communities through soccerScoring for Peace

Scoring for Peace

As the World Cup reaches its finale, I have been captivated not just by the soccer played on the pitch, but also by the sportsmanship of the teams and the fans both on and off the field. I have not seen a single nasty incident and have not yet read of drunken brawls between rival fans.  Instead I have watched players consoling their beaten rivals, with the memory most vivid being that of Brazil’s David Luiz applauding and rousing the crowd to acknowledge the inconsolable James Roriguez of Colombia as the man of the match. This happened in a game where Brazil’s talisman, Neymar Jr., was injured and forced to miss the next game. I have watched some teams tell referees that decisions in their favour were wrong.  I watched the Brazilian coach hug the German players despite the team’s devastating defeat. The team from Greece offered to fly out a young special needs supporter and his family from Northern Ireland to the Cup and forfeited their bonuses in order for the government to build sports facilities for youth. In light of these episodes, I am reminded of the view espoused by the late President Nelson Mandela: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."

Leveraging sport as a vehicle for peace and development is relatively new, having graduated slowly over the past 10 years from a ‘cottage industry’ on the periphery to now being firmly entrenched in the mainstream of development programming.The Post Conflict Reintegration Program within AFTC/TDRP has since 2005 reintegrated and reconciled into communities almost half a million ex-combatants and their families. Two years ago, the TDRP decided to stage a soccer tournament as a tool to further reconciliation and reintegration between ex-combatants and community members in the Great Lakes Region which had previously been torn apart by violent conflict. The first Great Lakes Peace Cup Tournament was organized in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The tournament ran over nine months and consisted of a total of 53 teams, each comprising equal numbers of ex-combatants and community members for a total of over 950 players and coaches.

Over 50 games were played as teams competed for the national championship in their respective countries.  The final regional tournament, which brought together the four winning teams, was held at Makarere University in Kampala, Uganda on International Peace Day in September 2012.

The entire tournament was played in good spirit and communities adopted their local teams as theirs, celebrating and commiserating as one. The players developed strong friendship and some of the teams continued to play together well past the finals.

The most memorable part of this tournament involved the players from Eastern DRC, where conflict erupted right before the national games were scheduled. This didn’t stop the tournament from taking place because the armed groups stopped fighting on the days when the games were scheduled and organized a safe passage for all the players to and from the pitch.

The initiative was documented through the stories of three players who share how the conflict affected their lives and what the soccer tournament has meant to them, their families, communities and countries. The result is a feature-length documentary titled Scoring for Peace that is available for screening by organizations or individuals wishing to further the discussion around sports, peace and development.

In (insert date) the Great Lakes Peace Cup Tournament was selected as one of thethree nominees for the Sport Event of the Year Award that is given byL'Organisation pour la Paix par le Sport (Peace and Sport) to initiatives and people who have outstandingly contributed to peace and social stability through sport.