Internationally respected expert, Professor John Sugden, spoke about how sport can bring divided communities together at a conference in Limavady last night.
Organised by the North East Peace III Partnership, the Sport for Peace Building conference brought together a mix of internationally recognised sports people, coaches, participants, researchers and policy makers at the Roe Valley Resort.
The event was hosted by well-known broadcaster, Claire McCollum.
Professor Sugden from University of Brighton gave a talk based on his new book, 'Sport and Peace Building in Divided societies: Playing with the Enemy'.
He has researched and written widely around topics concerned with the politics and sociology of sport and his books on international boxing and on sport in Northern Ireland have won national and international awards.
Speaking ahead of the conference, he said: “The book is built around case studies in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Israel/Palestine. In particular I will be looking at the Football for Peace programme that has been operating in the Middle East for more than 10 years and which has also helped to foster a similar cross-border initiative in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Currently, Professor Sugden is Director of the University of Brighton’s flagship international community relations project in Israel, Football for Peace.
The Professor of the Sociology of Sport has been involved in sport development work in a number of deeply divided societies for almost 30 years.
“From these experiences I have come to understand that sport can play both positive and negative roles in either fermenting sectarian hatred or fostering friendship between otherwise divided communities. In this regard context and content is everything,” he said.
“On its own sport is an empty vessel that has no inherent vices or virtues, but can be a ready receptacle within which, if managed correctly by good teachers and positive role models, responsible social values and consequently responsible attitudes and behaviours can be learned and acted out. If understood in this way, while sport will never be the most important piece in the exceedingly complex jigsaw puzzle that is the peace process, when the final picture emerges, sport will have earned its place.”
Kyle Ferguson from the University of Ulster’s Sports Academy, which is a partner organisation in the North East Peace III Partnership, said: “The conference is an opportunity to bring together international experts, people working in sport and well known athletes together to discuss different perspectives and approaches that will further enhance our understanding of using sport as a tool for creating social cohesion.”
Other speakers at the conference were; Olympic boxer Wayne McCullough, former Irish rugby international, Trevor Ringland and Dr David Hassan and Paul Kitchin from the Sport & Exercise Sciences Research Institute (SESRI) at the University of Ulster.
Sport for Peace Building is a project that is being delivered by the University of Ulster Sports Academy and is funded under the European Union’s PEACE III programme, managed on behalf of the Special EU Programmes Body by the North East PEACE III Partnership.
The aim of the project is to encourage people to become fully engaged in activities not normally associated with their community background, while using sport as a medium to develop understanding of other cultures. This practical involvement in a safe environment aims to build trust and help challenge negative perceptions and attitudes about others.
This project is exceptionally successful and has been recognised for its excellence by winning numerous awards such as the Olympic Truce Inspire Mark and the Olympic Podium Bronze Award for Creative Cultural Project.
For more information about the North East PEACE III Partnership and the Sport for Peace Building Project visit www.northeastpeace.com