Making a Peaceful Future Through Sports

Features - November 2nd, 2007
Children at Capeverde

The Global Peace Games for Children and Youth

by Michael Mahoney

The Global Peace Games for Children and Youth is an international sporting event sponsored by a coalition of non-profit and nongovernmental organizations. It’s aim—to support the tenets of the UN Millennium Development Goals for human development and lasting peace. The premise is simple: groups around the world organize a sporting event of some sort on Sep. 21 of each year (the UN International Day of Peace) and engage children all over the world in friendly sport and games.

It began in New York in 2001 and as of 2006 schools, church groups, child-care centers and nongovernmental organizations in over 40 countries had registered to be part of the event. From ‘War and Peace’ games in Azerbaijan, ping-pong in Benin, soccer in Canada, and traditional dancing in the Congo, on this one day, children all around the world are symbolically united through their peaceful play.

New Jersey-based non-profit organization, Play Soccer, organizes the event each year, keeping track of which groups participate and writes reports on the event’s achievements and growth. Over the past decade, other NGOs such as SOS Children’s Villages and Right to Play have lent support to the event, and companies such as FIFA have given support to groups looking to hold their own local version of the Peace Games. In 2006, for example, teams in several developing countries were able to participate on fields built from FIFA donations. While the UN does not formally sponsor the event, participating groups receive a letter of appreciation from UN Special Adviser to the General of Sport and Development, Adolf Ogi, thanking them for their efforts towards building international peace through sport. In his statement sent to 2006 participants, Ogi applauded the values of humility, honesty, respect and friendship, which are all reinforced, adding that “sports teach us lessons for life, for life in a competitive, but peaceful and humane society”.

According to Judy MacPherson, Founder and CEO of Play Soccer and a former UNICEF Deputy Director, the idea for the Global Peace Games arose from a similar adult team event held in 2000. From this point Play Soccer hosted the first children’s event in Flushing Meadows Park in 2001. “I knew the Flushing Meadows Park facility well…I contacted the kids leagues that played there, and thought it a good place to start” MacPherson said. Although any sport or peace-promoting activity is permitted to be a part of the event, MacPherson states that soccer is the ‘mainstay’ of the day “because it is the most played and well known sport in the world”. Thus, events such as traditional dancing, dove releases, photography, art contests, and even poetry readings were also offered at various events worldwide. As local organizers are themselves responsible for the funding of their local event, registration for the Games is free of charge, and other costs are encouraged by the NGO to be kept low. Any number of groups in any given country is allowed to participate.

Although any peace-promoting activity is allowed to be a part of the Games, each participating organization is asked to perform three specific activities at their event, to create a sense of unity among the different participating groups: Participants make a pledge taken from the UN Manifesto for Peace, which promises to “respect all life, reject all violence, share with others, listen to understand, preserve the planet and contribute to the development of the community;” Next organizers read aloud the letter of thanks they receive from UN Special Adviser Ogi, finally participants make a “handshake of friendship” with other participants, as a gesture of international friendship and peace. At the end of the day, each participant is invited to sign the UNESCO Manifesto for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence, which calls for greater peace and cultural understanding throughout the world during the new millennium. From here the fun begins and, for one day at least, laughter, exercise and smiles bring everyone together, regardless of age, race or religion. Indeed, pictures of Israeli and Palestinian students exchanging flags in Canada, and of smiling players in Rwanda, demonstrate just how important sports can be in promoting friendship and understanding, among otherwise divided groups.

In Japan, however, the Global Peace Games for Children and Youth are not widely held. According to the Play Soccer website no organizations in Japan registered to take part in the 2006 Games and, according to MacPherson, no Japanese groups participated in 2007, either. “As for target groups, Asia has consistently been the least represented—to the extent that we can increase this, that would be a great goal!” MacPherson said. Indeed, judging by the popularity of these Games in other countries, the low costs incurred and the relative ease in planning, it seems that schools and other groups here in Japan could easily take part in this international celebration of peace.

“We hope to keep increasing the global participation as well as the numbers of participants in each country so that the Games can widely represent the voice of children and youth,” MacPherson states. With increased participation, hopefully Japan can help the Global Peace Games achieve this goal.

For more information, please visit the “Play Soccer” website at www.playsoccer-nonprofit.org.