Nelson Mandela recognized that through sport, he could reconcile a nation divided by racial segregation since colonial times. At rugby games, black spectators were only allowed in the standing sections of the stadium to watch an all white national team. Many viewed the “Springboks” as a symbol of segregation and called for Mandela to form a new mixed-race team. Madiba (Mandela) felt such retribution would aggravate white South-Africans and the historic 1995 victory of the “Springboks” over the New Zealand “All Blacks” became the symbol of a nation that was healing its wounds and redefining itself as the “Rainbow nation” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu).
Last week, the United Nations “Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace”, Mr. Wilfried Lemke, visited Krakow on the special invitation of the Mayor to give a lecture on the wider role of sport in society and to meet the kids from the Siemacha Association that provides daily after-school education to 2,000 children and uses sport as a pillar in its approach to youth development.
The role of Sport in Education
Used properly, physical activity and sport can play an important role in the healthy development of kids, it can help build confidence, self-esteem and pave the way for healthy lifestyles in adulthood. Through sport, kids can learn important values like fair play, tolerance, trust, discipline, leadership and teamwork. But a proper approach is essential. In the typical gym classes, the selection of sports teams where the best players are chosen first while the weakest are selected last has left many kids stigmatized.
Similarly, over-emphasis on “winning” undermines other competitors. For all kids to learn and benefit from winning and losing there must be respect for the loser and fair congratulations for the winner. The first thing that should take place after a match is for the teams to congratulate each other with sincerity, respect and appreciation. This is particularly important for young people. From the youngest age they can learn about the values of life and develop positive relationships through sport. This way, sport can become a powerful tool to empower people, promote acceptance for all and transform community attitudes to foster understanding and respect between people.
Sport for Peace
In the spirit of Mandela’s Springbok experience, grass-roots sports initiatives are taking place around the world to build bridges between communities that otherwise find it difficult to cooperate. Through football, Arabs and Jews have the opportunity to regularly play sports together. Similar projects are underway to revive diplomatic relations between North and South Korea through “football diplomacy”. In a world where international relations are increasingly tense and conflictual, we need such constructive grass-roots initiatives where competition can take place in a spirit of respect and fair play, for friendships to develop and bridges of peace appear.
Swimming pool managed by the Siemacha Association
Oftentimes, especially in developing countries, the availability of sports options for kids is lacking, particularly for girls. Similarly, the inclusion of people with disabilities is a problem even in developed countries. This has serious consequences because physical education is critical to provide children with survival skills in many parts of the world. Few realize that many children do not know how to swim and that, as a result 300,000 children, mainly girls, drown each year in Asia. Mandatory swimming lessons would be an important step in reducing child mortality. Siemacha does its share in this area by 70,000 swimming lessons/activities to 5,600 kids annually. The efforts of other organizations like UNICEF, UK Sport and the International Swimming Federation (FINA) in this area should also be encouraged.
Also, “adapting existing sports facilities to the needs of people with disabilities will not only improve access but also help the integration of persons with disabilities in their communities” according to Piotr Pawlowski, President of Integracja, the association that represents 4 million disabled persons in Poland.
Athletes, professional athletes in particular, can become important role models for young people. Millions of African kids want to become the next Eto’o but only one or two will. It is important for athletes to be responsible and to embody the values that make them worthy of such admiration. Unfortunately many professional athletes lack the maturity and education to properly manage their own lives. Despite earning more in one season than most people will earn in their lives, 78% of NFL players and 60% of NBA players will be bankrupt within five years of retirement and oftentimes their behavior results in them making the front page of media for all the wrong reasons.
Robert Korzeniowski, Adam and Margo Koniuszewski
Fortunately there are exceptions. Four-time Olympic race-walking champion Robert Korzeniowski embodies the values that young people can look up to. In addition to being an ambassador for the UN World Food Program to raise awareness about the problem of hunger in the world, he is also an inspirational speaker and runs his foundation to promote sport in Poland.
Dariusz Dudek, Dominik Rogoz, Maciek Malski, Margo Koniuszewski, Rev Andrzej Augustynski, Wilfried Lemke, Adam Koniuszewski, Jerzy Dudek
Similarly former professional football players Jerzy Dudek and his brother Dariusz have committed himself to helping young people develop themselves through football. Together they run the Siemacha AS Progress Academy where over 500 kids learn football.
A time for Solutions
At a time when the tensions and conflicts are on the rise and global issues seem overwhelming, there is more then ever a need for partnerships and solutions that promote multiple objectives. From developing positive values, goodwill and cooperation at all levels to improving inclusion and helping ease tensions and conflicts between communities and nations, a constructive approach to sport can provide such a platform. The visionary approach of the United Nations when it comes using sports as a tool for social progress and peace should be recognized and celebrated.
Chapeau-bas! Mr Lemke for your extraordinary commitment to this noble cause.
Margo and Adam Koniuszewski, initiators of the visit of Mr. Lemke to Krakow would like to thank our honorary guest Mr. Wilfried Lemke and his team at the UNOSDP as well as the sponsors and partners that have made these events possible: The City of Krakow, Arena Krakow, the German Embassy, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, BMW Poland, Hotel Stary, Hotel Rubinstein, and, Pawel Widel from GM Poland and Ela Raczkowska from Vital Voices. Special thanks also go to Robert Korzeniowski and Tim Runzheimer, General Manager of Nike Poland, for their presence.