We hear about war and conflict in the news, but we hear less often about the peacebuilders. Who are they? What do they do? My recent work to write an annual report for the Center for Sport, Peace and Society taught me that large-scale, sustainable, global peacebuilding efforts can be achieved by a small group of dedicated people with a bold, strategic vision. Based out of humble offices in the University of Tennessee, I found many aspects of the organization's work to be deeply inspiring and hopeful.
The crux of their work in the international peacebuilding arena is through its Global Sport Mentoring Program, which has two components: the Empower Women through Sports program, and the Sport for Community program, which is focused on empowering people with disabilities. Through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State, the organization is able to train sport leaders in post-conflict areas around the globe so they may use sport to heal and grow communities.
The notion that sports could be a method of peacebuilding — and not just be a byproduct of a peaceful society — was revelatory to me. In the U.S., sport is nothing if not outsized. The focus is often on the superstar athletes, doping scandals or the fierce team rivalries. Even when the spirits are lighthearted and the players are scandal-free, it's hard to ignore that the money fueling it all is beyond what most Americans can even fathom. When you add it up, it's hard for some people to see beyond the bright stadium lighting and flashy advertisements to reach at a greater truth that sports can offer humankind.
Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General to the UN, said in a statement in 2004, "Sport is a universal language. At its best it can bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status." The small, but mighty team at CSPS is working to prove this day-in and day-out. By now they have 83 remarkable alumnae comprised of Olympians and Paralympians, journalists, government officials, civic leaders and advocates, sports administrators—from more than 40 countries who are equipped to change the world through grassroots community activities with sports.
Each participant who goes through the program leaves with an executable plan, along with tools and resources, to become a global change agent for peace through sport. The methodology behind CSPS success is based on a proven training model for empowerment consisting of four basic tenets: Expose, Equip, Engage and Entrust.
In addition to the global reach of their work, CSPS is working in East Tennessee to bring local refugee, immigrant and underserved communities together for sport and physical activity opportunities. In 2017 they will also be reaching out to private donors to help grow their impact.
Now, for the first time, the organization will be reaching out to private donors to help grow their impact. I hope you will take the time to learn more about their efforts and read their 2015-16 Annual Report, Peace Wins. For more information, visit http://sportandpeace.utk.edu/ .