Sports and world peace sounds a misnomer. Is it really possible? Think of bitter rivalries on the field and fights between fans of rival clubs leading to ghastly injuries and even death. When Real Madrid takes the field against Barcelona FC in football or when Australia takes on England in Ashes series in cricket, there is a war like situation that prevails in and outside the grounds. A pall of gloom descends on the losing supporters and country in defeat. Then how can sports possibly be a harbinger of world peace?
Little thought is given to sports as a weapon of world peace. It is generally seen as a career opportunity, leisure and entertainment and even as business ventures, Bernie Charles Ecclestone and his Formula One juggernaut being one such example. There are many ways people and nations try and settle issues and bring in peace – diplomatic channels, crafting treaties and even forcibly through wars. Little effort has traditionally been made in using sports as a potent tool to bring in world peace but as it will be seen now, whenever it has been done, the results have been spectacularly successful.
If peace is a little about bringing nations and people under one roof to stay in harmony for a period of time, sports has surely contributed its mite in this direction. Think of major sports events around the world – Summer and Winter Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Formula One, Cricket World Cup et al. Hordes of people from all over the world, regardless of race, caste, culture, ethnicity, gender and religion descend on the host country, filling up venues and hotels and dancing on the streets with joy or drinking down sorrow depending on the situation.
But very rarely are there brawls and fighting over a win and loss amongst supporters, never mind even if two nations are at war back home. During competitions, there will be much cheering for a weightlifter creating records with a barbell and weight set or a gymnast flipping elegantly off a vaulting horse. The applause even crosses national borders and is often reserved for opponents too for exceptional performances. It is this mindset that denotes world peace in all its manifestations.
Here are a few instances where sport has helped to cement peace between countries and have succeeded where all other efforts have failed including diplomatic interventions and threats of war.
In 1971, sworn enemies China and the USA ended decades of conflict and hostility through a game of table tennis, an event which came to be known as ping-pong diplomacy. In 2008, Armenia and Turkey that had long been at loggerheads used a World Cup qualification match between them to reopen diplomatic dialogue which ultimately was largely instrumental in bringing peace to the area. Warring groups like the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, blacks and whites in apartheid ridden South Africa and Turks and Greeks in Cyprus have all been united through initial sports events that helped to break the ice for further dialogues.
It is thus seen that sport has a great role to play in world peace.