• Carlos Munoz Burgos

Football for Peace: An introduction to Sports for Development (SPD)

Football (soccer) is a sport that has been associated with violence throughout its history. In its beginnings in the late XIX century, football was linked to war, to the extent that a treatise from 1882, which promoted the introduction of the sport in Germany, described it as follows: “Two teams, usually composed of eleven combatants, stand on the field of battle. The goal is to bring a large leather ball into enemy territory using the feet and, if possible, to bring it into the enemy’s sanctuary, which is a stand marked out by two poles…”1 Football is also associated with barras bravas in the Americas as well as with their counterparts – hooligans – in Europe. In 1969, there was even an armed conflict between El Salvador and Honduras colloquially known as the “Football War.” This conflict broke out after riots occurred following a game between these two countries and existing tensions escalated to a 4-day war.

However, football can also be a tool to reduce violence and bring communities together. Countless violence prevention efforts around the world have used, or are currently using, football to reduce tensions amongst populations and build their trust in each other. For example, in Colombia, Gol y Paz is a network that uses football as a tool to promote the development and construction of a culture of peace with children, adolescents, and youth. Football 4 Peace has carried out programs in Israel since 2001, bringing together 40 Jewish and Arab Communities and approximately 1,500 children. Also, as anecdotal information, a friend of mine used to organize football games in the border between Kosovo and Serbia to build trust between youth of these two nations.

Using football as a tool to attain peace is based on the concept of Sports for Development (SFD), which is the intentional use of sport, physical activity and play to attain specific development and peace objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This concept is not new. For example, since 2004, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) has sponsored 18 SPD activities in 18 countries, benefiting more than 89,000 people. Additionally, prominent world leaders such as Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, and Kofi Annan have highlighted the importance of sports for human and social development.

Football, as many other sports, allows youth to develop important life skills that are conducive to peace and development. For example, through programs as the ones described above, youth learn the importance of teamwork, responsibility, and self-discipline, while developing trust and respect for others. Additionally, these programs also promote inclusion and tolerance, further fomenting a culture of peace.

The impact of football for peace does not only have an impact at the individual level. Football matches also enhance interaction between youth and their families, and increase parental involvement in youth’s lives. Soccer games and events bring communities together, building cohesion and strengthening their resilience to crime, violence, and conflict. Also, the development of quality soccer fields in marginalized areas benefit situational violence prevention (see post on Crime Prevention through Environmental Design – CPTED), as communities take ownership of these areas, aided by improved lighting and access.

Football truly has the potential to mobilize masses. Its universality can be exploited to target large youth populations and generate positive development outcomes by fomenting lifelong- skills in them. The next agents of change may be in your neighborhood’s football fields. Don’t underestimate them.

1. KOLLER, C., BRÄNDLE, F., & Bachrach, D. (2015). Football and Gender. In Goal! (pp. 264-294). Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt15zc524.13