Opinion | Sport in the search for cooperation and peace, by Manuel Rodríguez Maciá

Opinion | Sport in the search for cooperation and peace, by Manuel Rodríguez Maciá
Opinion | Sport in the search for cooperation and peace, by Manuel Rodríguez Maciá

An international meeting on Cultural and Sports Diplomacy was recently held at the Mohamed V University in Rabat, in which I had the opportunity to participate. The proposal to present a joint candidacy by Spain, Portugal and Morocco to host the 2030 World Cup was the reason that sparked interest in discussing the role of sport in cooperation between peoples and thereby fostering peace. Sport has played an important role in diplomacy between peoples, and an example of this are the peace truces that were declared in ancient times during the Olympics.

But not only in ancient times did sports play a role in promoting peace, it also occurs in times closer to our own. Over the years, there has been a story told in Europe about the feat carried out by soldiers at the front when on Christmas Eve in 1914, after attempts to declare a peace truce on Christmas Day had failed, the contenders on both sides decided, defying the rules of the general staffs, to leave their trenches and approach those they considered to be enemies in peace, a truce that was staged on one of the fronts with a football match. An example of what we could say was popular diplomacy that demonstrated its power before those general staffs that had to resort to severe sanctions to get the soldiers to take up arms again.

The feat of those soldiers was brought to the screens by Christian Carión in the film Merry ChristmasIt is true that sporting events sometimes become the scene of tensions between peoples. The so-called football war between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 is an example of this. However, on many occasions sporting events have served as a vanguard in the opening of relations between countries: the example of the so-called ping-pong diplomacy as an image of openness between the USA and China in the early 1970s or the so-called cricket diplomacy between India and Pakistan. Sport has not only served to avoid conflicts between states, but also to promote peace and internal coexistence. The role that sport played in the consolidation of a country like South Africa under the leadership of the United States is well known. Nelson Mandelawho, newly elected President, wanted to overcome the social fracture of his country after the abolition of apartheidtaking advantage of the Rugby World Cup to unite its people. In a world as polarized as the one we live in, the United Nations declared the “Olympic Truce” for the 2024 Olympic Games.

On the other hand, the values ​​associated with sport have an impact on civic life: respect for the rules of the game, knowing how to win and how to lose, the sense of fair competition with respect to one’s opponent, all of these are attitudes that strengthen the sense of citizenship. Sport also has an impact on many facets of life: the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, the object of the “Healthy Cities” programme of the United Nations, whose role was decisive in the 80s and 90s in the conception of the model of the city of Elche; the promotion of people with disabilities; the reinforcement of multiculturalism as well as the promotion of the role of women in sport and especially at this time in football, probably the sport in which women have been least represented until now.

Football also plays an important role in strengthening the identity of our towns and thus Elche CF has played a very considerable role in the construction of an integrated city. The most successful moments of the Club were experienced in the years when the city was experiencing full economic growth and many people from other regions emigrated to Elche in search of work. In the colours of the team that was promoted to the first division in 1959, they find the emblem that helped them feel fully part of their new city. I believe that this is a lesson that we should keep in mind when facing the challenges of new immigration. Peace is not built by considering immigrants as enemies, but as neighbours. Pindar, the poet and singer of the Olympics, summed up the virtues of the athlete with these words: “He welcomes foreigners, his soul has been nourished with the love of peace that is the salvation of peoples.” Pindar’s verses, despite the many years in which they were written, are still fully relevant today.

 
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