Peace and Sport’s Joël Bouzou on a decade of tackling social issues through sport

Joël Bouzou, the president and founder of Peace and Sport, talks about the initiative’s projects and development over the last ten years, the role sport has to play in the peace movement, and the challenges that will be discussed at this year’s International Forum.

Peace and Sport’s Joël Bouzou on a decade of tackling social issues through sport

Conceived as an initiative to promote sport’s power to bring structure to communities and individuals in crisis worldwide, Peace and Sport has found its feet during a decade that has thrown up challenge after challenge.

From facilitating a meeting between representatives of Israel and Palestine in 2007, to bringing the women’s ice hockey teams of North and South Korea together in 2017, Peace and Sport has promoted 840 projects in over 170 countries, working with policy makers, local communities and NGOs across the globe to drive positive change.

Now, as the organisation’s president and founder, Joël Bouzou, explains, this year’s Peace and Sport International Forum, to be held in Monaco from 6th to 8th December, will celebrate the achievements of the last decade. More importantly, though, the form will discuss ways in which sport can help tackle some of today’s most pressing societal problems and the global challenges to come. 

SportsPro: It’s been a busy year for you at Peace and Sport. What work has Peace and Sport been doing in 2017?

JB: This year has indeed been a busy one – and we haven’t stopped in our journey to promote the peace-through-sport movement and enact real change around the world.

Our online platform, which collates the work being done around the world into one, online database, has seen more than 630 projects set up across more than 150 nations. Ranging from promoting inter-cultural dialogue in conflict areas to building social cohesion in underprivileged urban places, Peace and Sport has been there to ensure that sport has helped to push through social change.

Elsewhere, our #WhiteCard campaign, reached more than 43 million people worldwide this year. Centred on April 6, the United Nation’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP), the campaign asks people from all walks of life to snap a selfie with a White Card and share it to social media. Through the use of a universal #WhiteCard we have been able to turn millions of people into ambassadors for peace.

Perhaps most importantly of all, this year has been about our work on the ground. In July, we hosted the eighth edition of the Friendship Games, which invites athletes and children from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to join together for sports activities and seminars on peace and dialogue.

The three countries have been torn apart by war in recent years, and the Friendship Games help to heal wounds and offer light to those that have been without it. This year was particularly special, as were joined by Champion for Peace Jean-Baptiste Alaize, a Burundian-born French Paralympian whose injuries were sustained during the Burundi Civil War, and it was moving to see him interact with and inspire children whose situation was not all that different from his own.

Across the three days of sport, workshops and exchanges, children and athletes alike took part in 12 disciplines, all of which were designed around the concept of ‘Sport Simple Solutions’. Sport Simple Solutions is a concept that sees sports venues, equipment and rules adapted to accommodate limited resources or harsh environments. The aim is to promote a peace-through-sport approach, and show that sport really can be played anywhere. By demonstrating, for example, how a fishing net can become a volleyball net, Peace and Sport is hoping to offer children all over the world the opportunity to get involved into sport and get on a pathway that can lead to a better life.

This is the tenth year of Peace and Sport. How has the organisation grown in those ten years, and what have you achieved?

During the decade in which we have been active, we have dedicated ourselves to promoting the peace through sport movement, and this year has been no different. We have grown from strength to strength, and as we now start to look ahead to the next ten years, it is clear that we must push even harder to attain our goals.

I like to believe that we have spent the last ten years facilitating real change through our field and project work. As part of our “Act for What Matters” scheme, we have identified, supported and partnered with community-based projects that use sport as a tool for peace.

One example, Futbol con Corazon, works in 35 communities throughout Colombia and uses soccer as a tool to help boys, girls and young adults make better life decisions. Elsewhere, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, another Act for What Matters partner, Promo Jeune Basket, promoted positive youth development through high-quality instruction, top-tier academic training, and an integrated life-skills programme that encourage young members to focus on the future, avoid risk and engage in the world with a global perspective.

There have also been some very special moments of diplomacy in the past ten years, which will live long in the memory. In 2007, Peace and Sport helped to facilitate a meeting between representatives of Israel and Palestine, which culminated in the two ambassadors shaking hands and agreeing on the power of sport for good.

In 2011 in Qatar, the Peace and Sport Table Tennis Cup brought together men’s and women’s doubles matches with mixed-nation teams, pairing teams from North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Russia, USA, France in order to foster communication and political reconciliation between them. Elsewhere, we have helped to bring together athletes from Pakistan and India in 2011, Russia and Ukraine in 2016, and, most notably, the women’s ice hockey teams of North and South Korea in 2017.

Additionally, together with the International University of Monaco, Peace and Sport has also set up a Masters degree in Sustainable Peace Through Sports. This multidisciplinary programme seeks to educate and train an elite group, teaching them the ability to harness the potential of sport as a strategic tool to build and promote peace across the globe.

You’re building up towards the Peace and Sport International Forum this December. How are plans progressing and how important is it hold events like this?

Amid all we have done over the last ten years, the Peace and Sport International Forum has been our constant. It is an opportunity to bring together all who have helped us throughout the years, to share and learn, discuss and debate. This year, our theme will be Sport Innovation for Social Transformation, and will aim to focus on the use of sports innovation (e.g Sport Simple) to tackle today’s most pressing societal problems and future global challenges.

The Forum this December will be a cause for celebration - an opportunity to look back on all that we have achieved in the past ten years and in this record-breaking 2017 - but we must also use it to look towards the next ten years as well.

As we welcome delegates, including International Sporting Federations, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Head of States, athletes, NGOs and academics, from around the world to Monaco, we must talk with more focus than before, and with more urgency than ever. The world has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years, challenges that could not have been predicted, and the promotion of peace is now more important than ever.

That is why this Forum is so important, and I will use the Forum to call for even more engagement, influence and action from the sports world, policy makers and the peace movement. The sports industry must use its position to act as a pioneer for peace, to drive change and push for action in all corners of the world. It promises to be a special event, but one that delivers real change for all.

The Peace and Sport International Forum brings together some of the top thinkers in the world, from both the peace movement and the sports world. Why do you think it is so important to bring these people together in one room?

This year, the International Forum will be a real force for change around the world. We are bringing together the best minds from the peace-through-sport movement to share good practice, exchange knowledge and discuss real-world actions. We need to ensure that these people, these thinkers, have the opportunity to speak and share their ideas, beliefs, and knowledge. They are all moving in the same direction, but often are unable to pool together as one force, and I cannot wait to see what the forum has to offer.

You have an extensive list of ambassadors - the Champions for Peace. Why do you feel it is important for athletes to be involved in organisations such as Peace and Sport?

Our world famous Champions for Peace have been deployed around the world this year, using their positions as high-level athletes to participate in field projects, and inspire and spread our shared message of peace to all corners. Tour de France winner Chris Froome, Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet, Rio 2016’s Refugee Team chef de mission Tegla Loroupe and a host of other stars have all publicly spoken about Peace and Sport, and their presence over the decade has both inspired and informed.

One of our aims at Peace and Sport is to inspire future generations, and there is no better way to do so than to use inspirational figures. We are privileged to be connected with so many incredible athletes, and I cannot wait to welcome more to our stable in the New Year.

The peace-through-sport movement is a fairly new concept. Why do you feel sport has such a part to play in the peace movement?

Sport brings people together. It has the power to inspire, to drive change, and to open up conversations. It is a powerful tool that touches lives around the world, transcending borders and boundaries. That is why it is so critical in helping to mend wounds and begin dialogue between those that were once without it.