Sports as a tool for development and peace

🇰🇷 Pyeongchang 2018
🇯🇵 Tokyo 2020
🇨🇳 Beijing 2022

For the first time, 3 Asian countries will be hosting successive Olympic Games. Given the turbulence of modern politics, this will be an ample opportunity to show the world unity and friendship in an otherwise rivalling corner of the world.

Sports can always be a great bridge for peace. For instance, sport has on several occasions successfully brought together the two Koreas, most recently seen at the 2003 Pan-Asian Games when the North and South Korean teams marched side-by-side in the opening ceremony.

Sports cuts barriers, opens conversations, fosters tolerance, and reduces tension in areas where division is sewn. It serves to humanise our global community by reminding us of our humanity, rather than dehumanising through war and conflict. As such, sports can act as a powerful tool in peace-building efforts.

However, sports does have its downfalls. It can be said that handing the honour of hosting the Olympic Games can be seen as supporting or encouraging countries with poor human rights records.

Nevertheless, the hosting of such games can also serve as a spotlight on internal affairs for the rest of the world. Global attention is drawn as such topics begins to gain traction and wider publicity. This is one route towards positive social change. However, whilst crackdowns unfortunately occur, such activities will naturally face greater scrutiny and media attention during the run up or during the games, than otherwise before. This is particularly significant for levying support towards international causes such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the various United Nation departments.

“Everywhere in the world sport plays an important role in society, for it is capable of conveying basic rules and essential values of peaceful coexistence — such as tolerance, team spirit, loyalty and fair play. In addition, sport is especially suitable to form character skills, which are important for a fulfilling and happy life, because sport as a medium also gives the value of discipline, endurance, courage and self-motivation. By conveying the ethics of sport, it also lays the foundations for a more peaceful, humane world.” — Sports for Peace

While campaigns such as, “Sports for Peace” (published in cooperation with Amnesty International and the International Campaign for Tibet) accompanied the start of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, one can argue of the legacy and impact weighing the cost of celebrating the more controversial hosts. Although, more than 100 sportsmen from all over the world signed an open letter to the Chinese government expressing their desire not only to see a successful sports festival in Beijing, but also to call for respect concerning Olympic ideals and basic human rights.

Overall, while not perfect (see: IOC, FIFA scandals), sports has the potential for greater good in the context of wider global peace and development. And especially as we’re living in trying times with reactionary politics, a non-violent platform that is both palletable to billions of people around the world and builds positive relationship across cultures should always be welcomed with open arms.

Ash is a graduate in Cognitive Neuroscience with a keen interest in international relations in the Asia-Pacific region. He has written several articles on North Korea, Japan, China, and Tibet and is interested in promoting peace and stability.

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