Behind the News: Peace in fractured places

Sports is a tool for peace and security in the world. Picture: FT FILE

The world we live in, even if we disregard the ravages of COVID-19, is a badly fractured place.

Every single day we see, read and hear news about escalating crime and the prevalence of injustice and human rights abuse.

Numbers keep going up.

Victims of violence are getting younger by the day and perpetrators are getting older and grossly perverted.

Thugs seem bolder, corrupt people are getting more greedy, thieves are becoming super complicated and our young people are growing up to be more rebellious and indisciplined.

Just take time to consider the recent spate of clashes in Nabua and contemplate on how anger and disrespect can poison the heart and cloud judgment to the point that we lose our moral compass.

When things such as youth violence break out, especially in the very neighbourhoods where we raise our loved ones, we begin to question the relevance of our homes, families and religions in a modern world and how they can no longer influence our children’s attitudes and behaviour.

Our values and sense of what is good are being redefined and distorted. We are quickly drowning in a sea where unfolding events are shockingly degrading, propagated by a breakdown in values and our violent entertainment industry and mass media.

But history tells us that people who are torn apart morally have the propensity to change.

We have seen all along that even in the most miserable of times we can still congregate around parks and stadiums. We can put our differences aside and cheer on our friends and family.

Yes, sports have a pivotal role in reducing conflicts and promoting peace in the community.

In the ninth century BC, Iphitos the king of Elis once sought advice from the oracle of Delphi about what should be done to save Greece from the brink of civil war and pestilence.

The great oracle of Delphi instructed Iphitos to organise a peaceful sporting competition to help bring to an end to the conflict that was hounding the Greeks.

It is said Iphitos gathered his fellow royals and created the tradition of the Olympic truce. Under this peace accord or ekecheria, all conflict was to end seven days before and after the sporting competition to allow competitors and their supporters to enjoy and be part of the games.

Through the sacred truce and the Olympic Games, the longest lasting peace accord in history was created.

Olympism was revived in 1896 and the Olympic truce was reintroduced in 1994. It remains an ideal of the Olympic movement and contributes to a peaceful future for mankind through the educational value of sport.

The late Nelson Mandela knew the great potential sports had. He used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to heal racial and political division in South Africa and help unite all citizens. This was during his term as the first black President.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire,” Mandela once said.

“It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was only despair.”

In 2016, when Fiji won gold in rugby sevens at the Rio Olympics there was an unprecedented show of public emotions and euphoria. The event unified our divided nation.

In 2018, during the opening of the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, athletes from both North and South Korea marched side by side in frigid temperature under a unified flag.

They even fielded a combined women’s hockey team which displayed to the world a rare moment of public unification.

Just as the Olympic movement brings together the youth of the world to a great sports festival, promoting peace, friendship, solidarity and fair play, the Coca-Cola Games also brings the young people of Fiji together to enjoy a few days of clean and healthy athletics rivalry.

We are a few days away from the start of the games, fondly dubbed as one of the biggest school athletics competitions in the world.

This year’s meet is a very special one because it was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19. It will be held at a time when many families are struggling and finding it difficult to put food on the table.

I was covering the Ovalau Zone at Nasau Park last year when the office called to say that I was to return to Suva immediately. I remember vividly that it was a very wet day one of competition. Day two was called off.

I wish everyone who will be part of this year’s games the very best.

The Coca-Cola Games is not only a time of sporting rivalry among students it is also an event that brings together people from all over Fiji to enjoy fun, food, festivities and friendships.

For decades, the games have become platforms for displaying talent and leadership capabilities.

Some of our children use it as a stepping stone to securing scholarships, becoming national icons and launching promising careers in sports. Others use it to create friendships, learn how to discipline themselves and overcome personal challenges.

Even if children do not win any event, they should be reminded about the importance of taking part and challenging oneself to do better next time. Every experience must be appreciated as part of the process of learning and self-discovery.

Although sport is occasionally tainted by allegations of widespread corruption and doping, it is a unifying tool for peace in the world and in our community.

In August 2013, the UN general assembly adopted a resolution establishing April 6 as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

The day encourages people around the world and their governments to participate in sports. It also aims to raise awareness about sport’s potential as a development tool.

As we approach another busy and fun-filled three days of competition in a few days, let good sportsmanship prevail and the spirit of goodwill among our children express our desire to build a future Fiji that values tolerance, reconciliation, peace, security and respect.

Until we meet on this same page same time next week, stay blessed, stay healthy and stay safe.

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