A sporting chance at peace

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Should sport be a strictly neutral entity, or should it get off the political sidelines? Is sport ever value-free or does it echo the culture from which it originates? How does it make a positive difference and what conditions are needed for it to do so? And is sport ultimately a hero or villain – a unifying force for universal understanding or an incubator for separation and prejudice?

All these questions and more are explored in the latest issue of The ACU Review – the magazine of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU). Each issue brings academics from around the world together to consider a different theme, with this latest issue exploring how sport can contribute to peace, reconciliation and understanding.

Writing in this issue are academics from universities in Australia, Canada, India, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Northern Ireland, with disciplines ranging from health promotion to peace studies. Drawing on a wealth of expertise and experience, authors consider sport’s potential – to promote inclusion and respect, strengthen social ties, and improve physical and emotional health – as well as its limitations. Sport, we are cautioned, can deepen divisions among us, just as it can also bring us together; nor is it a substitute for meaningful action to tackle the root causes of conflict and injustice. And yet the stories told here are often also ones of hope, set against some of the bleakest chapters of history.

Although sport is the lens, many articles are also vivid accounts of division, displacement, and exclusion. Inspirational stories and people – of which there are many – are carefully balanced by clear-eyed, critical thinking – including thoughtful analysis of the role of ‘sport for peace’ initiatives themselves and their potential, however well-intentioned, to reinforce the same injustices they seek to address. Overall, however, sport – with thoughtful, considered engagement from its leaders and organisations – is positioned as having not only the potential, but also a responsibility, to engage with social issues and the vast global challenges that define our time.

This latest issue is the fifth edition of The ACU Review, which offers a meeting place for ideas and diverse perspectives from around the world. Published both in print and freely available online, it’s a platform for ACU member universities from around the world to share experiences and expertise and to spark debate, while allowing a wide international readership to learn from their insights. Every issue draws on the wealth of ideas and expertise that exists across the ACU’s network of 500 member universities across 50 countries and celebrates the contribution that universities make to their societies and the world at large.

We hope everyone will find something of interest in this issue – from the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s ardent love of sport, to sport’s role in national healing in Rwanda, through to one contributor’s timely reflections on the tricky symbolism of Birmingham as host of this year’s Commonwealth Games. Sport, this issue makes clear, has much potential to deliver peace, understanding, and positive social change. But, as more than one author cautions, it’s that potential which we cannot take for granted.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) is an international organisation dedicated to building a better world through higher education. The ACU Review’s ‘Sport for peace’ issue is available now at www.acu.ac.uk/the-acu-review.

The ACU Review cover image, seen above, is by Teni Abodunrin, aged 11, from Nigeria. Teni’s painting was among the winning entries to the Peace Pals Annual Art Exhibition and Awards in 2020 and is reproduced with kind permission of PeacePals International – a programme designed to encourage young people aged between 5-16 to become peacemakers.


Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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