Swords into ploughshares, or mortars into footballs: UN uses sport as tool for peace

5 March 2007

Giving a modern twist to the biblical injunction to beat swords into ploughshares, the United Nations is urging Liberians to replace mortars with footballs in an innovative Sports for Peace programme to promote reconciliation and development in the formerly strife-torn West African country.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf gave the inaugural kick-off at a soccer game over the weekend in the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia, the capital, launching a five-week-long UN-supported programme in football, kickball and volleyball to be held throughout Liberia’s 15 counties.

“In sport, I learn to win without thinking I am the best; I learn to lose without thinking it is the end,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace Adolf Ogi told thousands of people at the ceremony, stressing sport’s message as an essential tool for creating peace, national reconciliation and harmony. “I learn to respect the opponent and the rules; I learn to accept the decision of the referee.”

It was a message underlined by Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf. “The participation of all Liberians is necessary for the peace and development of the nation,” she said, recalling how during the country’s 14-year civil war, sporting activities, especially football matches involving the Liberian national team, the Lone Star, brought sudden voluntary ceasefires between the warring factions.

Sport as an instrument for peace and social development can enhance the efforts of the Government in restoring the hope and dignity of the people of Liberia, she added.

Mr. Ban’s Special Representative for Liberia Alan Doss noted that sport can keep people, especially youth, out of trouble and expressed the hope that the effective participation of Liberian youth in sporting activities would help end the cycle of violence in the West African sub-region.

In a lecture at the University of Liberia, Sports as a Vehicle for Peace and Development, Mr. Ogi, a former President of Switzerland, called sport a cost-effective tool for peace and development that could be used by governments of developing countries as a key part of their national development strategies.

He told the students to use sport as a tool kit of life, stressing that that every Liberian girl and boy should have the opportunity to make mistakes on the field of sport so as to feel how to react under the pressure of defeat, adding, “This lesson of sport helps us to fit well into society.”

Through the assistance of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Liberian authorities and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) recently received a container-load of sporting goods and equipment valued at over $76,000 for the programme.

In another development, a 19-member delegation of the Executive Boards of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) ended a week-long visit to Liberia aimed at highlighting how the world body can contribute to the transition of nations from post-conflict to reconstruction, recovery and development.

UNMIL, with more than 15,000 soldiers and police, already helped to oversee the country’s emergence from civil war in 2003, culminating in Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf’s election in November 2005.