Can sports really contribute to peaceful co-existence? For the kids in Lebanon, it looks like there is no doubt: on the field, boundaries are crossed, and friendships are made.
In recent years, car bombs, military invasions, terrorist attacks and internal strife have contributed to making Lebanon one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Judging from newspaper headlines, Lebanon constantly seems on the verge of another civil war.
The fear and tension affects everybody, in particular Lebanon’s children, who too often have been unwillingly involved in shootings and unrest. 12-year-old Firas from Tripoli, a city in the North of Lebanon, still remembers how he felt when fighting marred his neighbourhood two years ago; “It was very scary. We could hear the shooting and screaming from the street. I don’t hope it will (ever) happen again. I hate weapons and shooting!”
Today, Firas’ life involves a different kind of shooting. He has joined a local sports club where he plays football and meets new friends from other neighbourhoods and backgrounds than his own. Firas’ club is supported by the Danish Rockwool Foundation through the organisation Cross Cultures Project Association (CCPA) as part of an initiative to make the lives of Lebanese children better and to avoid passing on sectarian, hostilities and mistrust to the young generation.
Sport unites people
Together with more than 300 children, Firas takes part in one of CCPA’s Open Fun Football Schools. The participants include girls and boys, Palestinians and Lebanese, Shiites and Sunnites – and even children from an area in Tripoli, Jebel Mohsen, which has a long history of sectarian conflict and animosity with the neighbourhood that Firas lives in. The two communities live strictly segregated from one another, with often violent clashes as the only form of communication. Over the past months, missiles have been fired across the road, injuring several people.
In 2010, local football coaches invited parents, community leaders, media representatives and neighbours to visit the stadium of Jebel Mohsen and see for themselves how the children of the two conflicting communities are playing with each other. The children were divided into mixed teams to overcome tensions and prejudices, and encouraged to forget about their backgrounds and make new friends. For many of the participants, this is their first time to visit Jebel Mohsen. Youssef, a coach from the other part of town, was relieved: “I never in my life imagined that I would come here. I didn’t want to tell my parent, that I was going to Jebel Mohsen to train children. They say that it is dangerous here.” But Youssef also learned thatevents like these can help ease the tensions in the city and prove that it is possible for the inhabitants of conflict-torn areas to meet on a neutral ground and to have fun. “It is not dangerous, and we have to teach the children and my parents that. It is important that we bring the children together and let them play and become friends with children from other areas. I never tried that when I was a child!”
The main objective is through sport activities to facilitate friendships and cooperation between children and adults across gender, ethnic, social, religious and political differences. In Lebanon this has been done in the Popular Clubs and during events like Open Fun Football Schools, where different clubs meet to have fun and play against each other. Since the beginning of this project supported by the Rockwool Foundation, CCPA has trained more than 300 coaches, parents and club volunteers and established around 90 Popular Clubs all over Lebanon. The Popular Clubs have been taking part in educational seminars, received sports equipment, organised Open Fun Football Schools and are now conducting regular activities for thousands of children every week.