From time immemorial sports have been used as a catalyst in the advancement of various policies, movements and political ambitions.
While many leaders in Europe like Benito Mussolini of Italy, Adolf Hitler of Germany at a point relied on football to fancify their propagandist actions to the world, African leaders namely Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Nelson Mandela used sports as a unifying and liberation tool.
It was not until the mid-20th century when many sporting organizations, individuals and non- governmental organizations started to use sports as a medium to preach peace, racial justice and unity among various societies.
In Africa for instance, the world football governing body, FIFA in 1962 suspended apartheid South Africa from any competition when the body found the country’s engagement in racial and political discrimination.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF), Cricket and Rugby organizations also followed suit until the early 1990s to express the feeling and sentiment that sporting federations just as international organizations like United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) were also propagators of peace through their individual games.
The UN and Sports for Development and Peace
In the late 1990s, UN realized the importance of sports in social interventions such as peace and development and so decided to form collaborations with sporting organizations in the quest to assist one another in achieving a world of peace and harmony.
In 1999, FIFA and the UN went into a partnership agreement to use football and other sports as a means of fostering peace in the world most especially conflict disturbed areas.
The successful agreement and further achievements saw the UN headed by Kofi Annan establish the United Nations Office on Sports for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) in 2001, to coordinate the efforts of the UN in bringing together in a cohesive manner, the world of sports, peace and development.
The Secretary-General proclaimed in a speech that “Sport is a universal language. At its best, it can bring people together, regardless of their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status, that is why the UN is turning more and more to the world of sport for help in our work for peace and our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals”.
Among the many achievements reached after this collaboration includes FIFA’s contribution to having Brazil log on horns in a friendly match with the Haitian National team during the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the country in 2004.
FIFA and UNICEF have also embarked on several programs most notably the ‘Kit- in- a- Box’ exercise which saw the distribution of football kits and about $250,000 to several NGOs who rely on sports with the aim of promoting peace and development.
Subsequent progress in this area was reached when the General Assembly of the UN proclaimed 2005 as the International Year of Sports and Physical Education (IYSPE).
Two years later the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and UN came into the picture bringing to bare a comprehensive collaboration that saw the two come up with the first UN-IOC International Forum on Sport for Development and Peace.
It was the third IOC-UN Forum on sports for peace and development that set the tone for the establishment of United Nations International Day on Sports for Peace and Development.
What is the International Day on Sports for Peace and Development?
The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) is an annual celebration of the power of sport to drive social change, community development and to foster peace and understanding.
It must be emphatically stated that the IOC played an important role in the UN’s proclamation of the day, as an institution that has long promoted the social and personal benefits of sport.
As the 3rd UN-IOC International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development came to a close in New York on 6 June 2013, a call was made by the President of the 67th UN General Assembly, Vuk Jermic, on behalf of some 400 forum participants for the establishment of a United Nations International Day of Sport and Physical Activity to advocate and celebrate their contribution to education, human development, healthy lifestyles and a peaceful world.
On August 23, 2013, the General Assembly of the United Nations in Resolution 67/296 decided to proclaim 6th April as International Day of the Sport for the Development and the Peace.
The UN, with this commemoration, officially called on States, the United Nations system and in particular the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace, relevant international organizations, and international, regional and national sports organizations, civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, and all other relevant stakeholders to cooperate, observe and raise awareness of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.
What can Ghana do to make this day popular for its citizens
Since the proclamation of this day, the UN called on many stakeholders including states to observe and sensitize their citizens on why it important to observe.
It is, therefore, the duty of Ghana, a sports-loving country, to create an avenue for the achievement of such proclamation. Ghana can make this day a memorable one yearly in several ways:
1. Calling on media Houses to organize talk shows on the said topic to create awareness on why such a day is important and why every citizen must get involved.
2. As various peacebuilding processes are being carried out at disturbed areas in the country, it is important stakeholders in these building processes on this day, come out with programs that will serve as a platform for indigenes to come to the understanding that sports can help in the achievement of peace and development. Such programs must also be targeted at the youth the most since that will serve as a grassroots intervention to the major issues causing the conflict or up-rise.
3. GFA, GOC, and other sporting governing bodies in the country must on this day organize national competitions, especially for the youth. The more people get involved in these competitions, the more awareness is raised on the importance of sports in serving as a catalyst in many social disturbances.
4. It must also be a day sporting clubs, players, managers, sponsors and NGOs based in Ghana try to give back to the vulnerable in society as part of their social responsibility agenda. Such interventions will not only be celebrated but rather will go a long way to impart some sense of love among the said group. It would not be bad for example to see Accra Hearts of Oak or Kumasi Asante Kotoko on 6th April visit some needy homes, organize sporting events and as well get to have some time with the kids in these homes.
5. Since exercising is part of sport, I believe a lot of Health walks must be organized in communities by Senior members and the youth for everyone to partake. Healthy living helps to bring inner peace and since exercising is one way to live healthy, it must be encouraged on International Day of sports for peace and development.
6. Educational and governmental bodies who focus on International relations and Diplomacy such the Institute of International Affairs, Ghana, Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must publish inciteful articles about International Day of Sports for Peace and Development on their websites to raise awareness on the importance of Sports Diplomacy and its effect on Nation Branding, peace and development.
According to Kofi Annan ‘’Sport is a universal language, at its best, it can bring people together, regardless of their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status”.
This powerful statement sends a message across to all humanity including Ghanaians that, if we are to rely on sports as big deal in helping to curb some of our social vices, irrespective of who and how different we find ourselves, we can leave together in peace and development will be the reaping effect.
Let us see 6th April just as we see other international days. Let us all get involved in the activities of this day in order to sensitize the public on the importance of sports in our daily life.
By: Abdullah Mohammed.
The Sports Diplomat