Games Without Frontiers

Over the years we have seen Politicians use Sport to gain popularity, but sport is not linked to political persuasions, and is rarely played on religious grounds. Sport is something that has the power to unite and have people put aside differences, often created by politicians and fanatics.

If ever there was an example of this it was in Lyon, France at the 1998 World Cup in a match between the United States of America and Iran. The Iranian players came out onto the pitch carrying white roses as a symbol of peace and each player gave his opposite number the flower. Then, in a game that resulted in some of the tightest security measures ever, the twenty two players posed for a pre-match photograph together.

Also in football at the Women’s East Asia Cup South in 2013 the Republic of Korea played against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, South versus North. South Korea won 2-1, but at the end of the game both teams linked arms and saluted the crowd in a show of unity that put political leaders to shame.

Of course sometimes it is not that simple, and moments such as these could have been ruined by one fanatical maniac, however often differences can be set aside in the name of sport.

One country that is suffering sporting isolation at the moment is Pakistan. Because of travel warnings and much publicised political unrest very few sporting teams will travel to Pakistan and play their national sporting teams. This in turn means that they have to find the funds to travel overseas and play, yet with no home fixtures they have no revenue stream to fund their sporting teams and have to rely on Government hand outs. Not surprisingly sponsorships are hard to come by as well as the team is never playing at home in front of potential consumers.

For that reason Oman who recently travelled and played hockey in Pakistan are to be applauded, and also Zimbabwe who sent their cricket team there in 2015.

Pakistan, and countries like it are no different from other European, Asian, African or South American countries.In towns and villages young footballers dream of being Messi or Ronaldo as they practice their skills day in and day out. They dream of playing a myriad of sports professionally, or going to the Olympic Games. For some it is their only hope of lifting themselves out of the lives they find themselves living. Like Lionel Messi, who was born to humble means in Argentina and rose to fame playing for Barcelona FC, they too dream and aspire to follow a similar path. Some in football, some in cricket, some in boxing, hockey, any sport that they find they enjoy and have a talent for. For many sport is a pathway out of poverty or even away from the countries of their birth.

If life was not already tough for many of these aspiring stars the odds are heavily stacked against them. In the United States, it was recently reported that only one in 2,451 high school basketball players will make it to the NBA. For the young African Drogba’s and Yaya Toure’s it is equally tough, as there are only six full time professional soccer leagues on the African continent. To show just how hard it is only 57 Africans played in the English Premier League in the 2015-16 season.

Incredibly, in spite of the odds being heavily stacked against many of these young aspiring athletes making it onto a global stage and securing their economic futures as a professional athlete, a report in the US earlier in the year confirmed that participation in sport can be a powerful tool for economic and social mobility. It claimed, not surprisingly, that participating in sport was linked with positive career development, especially when it came to women.

This should come as no surprise after all the power of sport was recognised to be so great in the community that in 2005 the United Nations declared named it “The International Year of Sport and Physical Education. Since then sporting programs have been used across the globe to help unite people and have them work as a team.

So it is sad when one opens a newspaper and reads that Pakistan’s Junior Hockey team may not be able to attend the upcoming Junior World Cup being hosted by India, in the city of Lucknow. Although understandable following the recent skirmishes on the border and massive political tension, it is regrettable that both countries cannot see that a huge opportunity is being missed.

These young men, under 21 years of age are the future of both nations. They can set the tone for a new era between the two countries, they can pave the way to better relations down the track.

Pakistan used to be India’s greatest rivals in hockey. The country claiming that had Pakistan existed before independence in 1947, India would never have won three of the six consecutive Olympic Gold medals it won in the sport.Like many rivalries, Pakistan wants to beat India so much more than the other way around.

While India has managed to climb back up the world rankings in the sport they dominated for so long, Pakistan has struggled. They failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time ever this year. On the back of failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2014 this was the lowest the country had ever sunk in the sport.

Yet the youth give them hope of bouncing back. At the Junior Asia Cup they finished runners up to arch rivals India, the only game they lost. At the recent Under 18’s Asia Cup they fell in the semi final, again to arch rivals India.

Like Manchester United need Liverpool and Manchester City as rivals. India needs Pakistan. These are the games everyone wants to see. They are games that incite passion and interest, just as “the Ashes” are the one series that makes English and Australian cricket come to life.

It is accepted that the Political situation between these two countries is extremely volatile, but surely sport can rise above politics? On the eve of the Kabaddi World Cup, Pakistan attempted to stop the tournament going ahead without them, as once again it had been deemed a risk to have them participate. Sadly in this sport they are one of the stronger nations, and so fans of the sport again missed out due to Politics.

As has been highlighted, so many times if two sporting bodies want to show that sport can unite and rise above politics it can be a truly remarkable and memorable moment. One has to wonder if it is not time that some of the sporting bodies in the world looked to try and broker a peaceful sporting encounter that helped resurrect one of the great sporting rivalries.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” These words were uttered by Nelson Mandela a man respected the world over and a man who used sport not only to unite what was a very divided country when he became President, but also to promote it to the world in a positive light.

If South Africa could unite through sport after decades of racial segregation, why can’t other countries and sport learn from this lesson?

Games Without Frontiers
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