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Playing for Amenesty

Sport is a universal language which can transcend any number of differences. Kath Hudson looks at some of the heart warming projects making an impact in some of the world’s most unlikely places

by Kath Hudson | Published in Sports Management 2013 issue 1
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
 Monaco-based organisation Peace and Sport designs and implements sports programmes in vulnerable areas to make the world a more united place
Monaco-based organisation Peace and Sport designs and implements sports programmes in vulnerable areas to make the world a more united place

With sport so embedded in Western culture, we can often overlook its basic civilising influences: empowerment, confidence, sense of fair play, camaraderie, team working and a sense of shared purpose. Plus it’s fun and, as well as bringing out our competitive sides, it also makes us smile.

For these reasons a number of adventurous organisations are braving warzones and volatile areas to take sporting opportunities to the people there. Politically neutral, these projects are all about highlighting the similarities between people, not the differences. As Dorian Paskowitz, founder of Surfing4Peace, says: “God and the devil would surf together if the waves were good.”

PROMOTING PEACE THROUGH SPORT
Peace and Sport is one of the forerunners of the unity through sport movement. A politically neutral, Monaco-based organisation, it was set up in 2007 by Prince Albert II of Monaco and former pentathlete Joel Bouzou, based on a conviction that sport can change the world for the better. “We promote peace through sport towards the most influential decision makers and with grassroots projects in some of the world’s most vulnerable areas,” says Bouzou.

Peace and Sport works with NGOs, governments, associations and National Sports Federations to design and implement sports programmes within local contexts, rather than trying to impose a standardised system. Currently it is operating in Timor Leste, Ivory Coast, Israel/Palestine, Great Lakes Region of Africa, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Columbia.

Bouzou says that one of the greatest examples of how sport can break down barriers was demonstrated at the 1st Peace and Sport Table Tennis Cup in Doha, Qatar, in 2011. North and South Korea – two nations which refuse to meet in other contexts – were among the 10 nations taking part. “Peace and Sport offered a unique opportunity to officials from politically divided countries to attend the same tournament and to share time and talks,” says Bouzou.

Going forward, Peace and Sport will be reaching out to more leaders, through its international forum, field projects and the development of continental hubs. Encouraging private corporations to get involved is one of the key goals.

“Year after year, the peace through sport family gets wider, with a growing number of heads of state, international institutions, peace leaders, athletes and local organisations joining,” says Bouzou. “I see in this dynamic the sign that our action is going forward. Who knows how far we can go.”

www.peace-sport.org

SKATEBOARDING IN AFGHANISTAN
Unlikely as it may sound, girls are now skateboarding in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks to the efforts of intrepid Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, Afghanistan has a skateboard centre, where hundreds of young people come each week to perfect their board skills.

Afghanistan might not be the type of place most people would live out of choice, but Percovich chose to base himself there.

“I was excited by the country,” he says. “I liked that I could learn things about myself through existing in such a difficult environment.”

He says he started the organisation without any particular plan, simply with the intention of marrying two interests of working with children and skateboarding.

Initially Percovich worked with children on the street, but his dreams of opening a centre manifested when the Afghan National Olympic Committee gave a land lease donation for a skateboarding centre in Kabul, helped by funding from the Canadian, Norwegian, Danish and German governments.

Now Skateistan is gearing up to open its second centre this spring, in Mazar-e-Sharif, which will be able to work with up to 1,000 students per week. The charity has also started a street programme in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The centres give children education, valuable skills and provide a safe haven. The aim is that the students who go through the programme will then take ownership and lead the expansion of Skateistan. Since 2009 it has provided 28 jobs to Afghan youths from streetworking backgrounds. As 68 per cent of the Afghan population is under 25 years old and 50 per cent is aged under 16 years, providing opportunities for youths of all backgrounds is essential.

However, it is a challenging environment in which to operate. Two tragic suicide attacks in Kabul led to staff and students being killed. Also, 50 per cent of the students are street working children, who provide an income for their families through selling trinkets and chewing gum on the streets, so keeping up a good weekly attendance is a challenge.

“For some families having their children come to Skateistan instead of working is simply unrealistic financially,” says Percovich. “Although every day that the children attend the programme, they gain valuable access to education and opportunities that can give them skills for the future, and are in a safe environment rather than on the streets.”

http://skateistan.org
info@skateistan.org

SURFING IN A WAR ZONE
Living in Gaza is tough. The Israeli blockade and clampdown on exit permits restricts freedom and there are no parks, greens, forests or open spaces to escape to. So the sea offers a refuge.

The son of a US diplomat, Matthew Olsen, who grew up in Tel Aviv in Israel from the age of 13, set up the Gaza Surf Club in 2008, as a pilot project for his non-profit organisation, Explore Corps.

There are three aims to the organisation: developing a surfing community where resources and expertise can be shared; providing a forum for training and support; and linking Gaza surfers up with the international surfing community.

“Surfers around the world are a kind of tribe and being incorporated and having the Gaza surfers welcomed into this global community is a big part of what the mission of the surf club is about,” says Olsen. “Especially considering how much Gaza has been cut off from the rest of the world in the past five years.”

A couple of initiatives are currently underway: producing training videos in Arabic and also manufacturing and selling Islamic swimwear, which allows girls to continue surfing into their teens, without raising the ire of the government or traditionalists.

A clubhouse will open soon to provide a hub where surfers can gather to socialise, swap tips, go online, host guests and repair their boards.

Running the club has demanded tenacity on behalf of Explore Corps. The biggest challenge continues to come from a well-connected NGO, which saw the financial potential in importing equipment and the media attention surfing attracts. They have waged an intimidation campaign, which has involved getting surfers arrested, confiscating equipment and spreading rumours that Olsen and Palestinian surfers are spies. Although a series of complaints lodged with the Ministry of the Interior has decreased the harassment, it is still the biggest challenge and has slowed the organisation’s progress.

Although mainly cooperative, the Hamas government also creates an administrative problem for the US organisation. Explore Corps is not permitted to work with the Hamas government, or even to ask for permission for projects, as this would come across as collaboration.

Olsen uses his contacts to get a feel for what will be tolerated. “Getting involved in politics is a no-win situation for the club,” explains Olsen. “But we have helped to humanise the people of Gaza by offering a new view of their daily life.”

On the other side of the blockade, Explore Corps is involved with a second surfing organisation – Surfing4Peace (S4P) was established by Israeli surfer Arthur Rashkovan and US surfer Dorian Paskowitz at the same time as the Gaza Surf Club, and was brought under the Explore Corps umbrella.

This partnership gives it the backing to administer the bulk of its initiatives, but the flexibility to remain more of a community than an organisation. S4P is prohibited by the Hamas government from having a presence in Gaza, as all peace-building initiatives between Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza were banned in 2010.

Surfers in Israel have a much better deal than in Gaza. Whereas Gaza has access to less than 30 boards, in Israel the surf scene is mature with about 20,000 surfers, including many females.

The main aim of S4P is simply to promote friendship. “Opposite to what it looks like in the media, many of us want to find ways to co-exist,” says Rashkovan. “We want to get people in the water, show them the Aloha spirit and let them enjoy a pure feeling of freedom. Surfing can bring people from different backgrounds together. We try not to deal with politics, but keep it at a roots level and talk only with surfers.”

Going forward, Explore Corps has been asked to establish the first Palestinian Surfing Association, which would be the Palestinian representative of the International Surfing Association, – which governs international competitive surfing.

www.gazasurfclub.com
m.olsen@explorecorps.com
www.surfing4peace.org
art.rashkovan@gmail.com

SWAPPING SPEARS FOR BATS
South African cricket fanatic Aliya Bauer had the idea of introducing cricket to school children in the Laikipia area of Kenya, Africa, when she was working on a primate conservation project which involved going into schools.

“The children were used to being lectured to and were not very responsive to questions asked. I desperately wanted the children to open up and share their thoughts, so I thought of a different way to engage with them. I brought some mini-cricket equipment and introduced it in a primary school,” Bauer explains. That was in 2007. Now cricket is being played in 24 schools, three youth cricket clubs and three children’s homes. Added to this, there are 105 trained coaches.

Maasai morans (warriors) saw the children playing cricket and were keen to have a go; the bowling action was similar to spear throwing and the thrill of hitting the ball appealed to their competitive nature.

Soon there were enough morans to make up a team, although there were no other teams to play against, as cricket was unknown in the region.

Cricket has united rival communities who previously raided each others’ cattle. “Cricket allows them to be competitive without being adversarial, allowing them to see beyond their differences,” says Bauer. The Massai Cricket Warriors have surrendered their weapons and are campaigning against traditional practices such as polygamy, female genital mutilation and early childhood marriages. Bauer has noted it has empowered the school girls, who were initially very shy but now tussle over the bat.

One of the greatest challenges is the lack of proper facilities and a shortage of adequate equipment, which is impeding the growth. Also, many warriors don’t own shoes, which presents a safety risk.

Bauer is also disappointed that Cricket Kenya is yet to support the cricket development and is hoping to win its attention. Funding is a challenge, with most to date coming from individual donors rather than a long-term donor. “I hope that we will be able to secure funding and support for the Maasai Cricket Warriors to allow them to become full-time cricket coaches and players within their communities, and to see a Maasai Cricket Warrior opening the bowling attack for Kenya,” she says. Bauer also hopes to take a team to the UK to compete in the Last Man Stands World Championships, following their success in last year’s tournament in South Africa.

www.massaicricketwarriors.com
maasaicricketwarriors@gmail.com

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