Sports for Peace

Sports transcend social, cultural, and gender differences, and help promote dialogue and contribute to the development of a healthy civil society. Sports also provide space for personal development and offer opportunities for people of various backgrounds and beliefs to communicate freely with one another. IRD has supported sports programs as part of its programming since 2003. Among other activities, IRD’s sports programming has trained youth in conflict mitigation; engaged communities in peace efforts through dialogue; and raised awareness of drug abuse prevention.

Through the USAID/West Africa Peace through Development II (PDev II) program, IRD used sports to strengthen resiliency to violent extremism. When called upon by USAID/West Africa in 2012 to engage Libyan returnees and their host communities in Niger, PDev II responded immediately with a series of community engagements in Agadez, an area of northern Niger particularly prone to instability. The multi-day event culminated in a youth football match and a ceremony that included the Nigerian Prime Minister and the US Ambassador to Niger. As part of the event, 180 community members attended a public radio debate broadcast on three partner radio stations, allowing community members to share their concerns about reintegration with local leaders. The event also included performances from seven local musical groups and four local theater troups, attended by over 1,600 people, that emphasized community cohesion and the role of youth in the peace process.

Under the Community Stabilization Program (CSP), IRD provided communities with a healthy environment to engage in dialogue through social and athletic activities. By the end of the project, CSP had engaged 351,668 youth participants in organized sports such as soccer, swimming, and volleyball, as well as arts programs, theater, and music. The Cultural Bridges to Reconciliation program used soccer to engage participants in peace and reconciliation through healthy competition by providing teams formed along ethnic lines conflict mitigation training. Teams then took part in a tournament, with the best players from each team selected for a “super” team to represent districts and neighborhoods, marking the first time that youth played on an ethnically diverse team.

As part of the Iraq Community Action Program (ICAP), IRD facilitated the creation and maintenance of community action groups that identified and addressed local needs in conjunction with local government bodies. Many groups hosted soccer tournaments to foster community pride and help return a sense of normalcy to communities emerging from conflict. ICAP offered safe spaces for Iraqi youth to engage in sport activities, and prompted one community action group member to say, “This will be the most positive thing that has happened in the past few years for the youth in the area. This project will not only activate sport activities … but also help other youth initiatives in Baghdad.”

With funding from USAID’s SERASI program, IRD created a sports development program in the conflict-affected area of East Aceh. The program helped youth and former combatants in seven villages become engaged in peace building at the local level. Soccer and volleyball practice are held every afternoon for children and youth, who are trained by peer coaches in sports techniques as well as social skills such as communication and discord management. The peer coaches themselves are given intensive training where they learn organization and life skills and peace building integration methods, in addition to soccer skills.

Through Operation Home Run, IRD delivered baseball and softball equipment to two teams that allowed them to participate in national tournaments. IRD also partnered with Mercy Corps and Nike to deliver containers of apparel and soccer balls as part of the “Reducing the Stigma and Discrimination Associated with HIV Infection and AIDS” project. IRD trained over 15,000 individuals, who reached 150,000 people with anti-stigma and anti-discrimination messages. Interactive peer education sessions conducted by IRD trainers promoted education and mentoring at sporting events for sports teams and spectators. IRD trained 76 soccer and volleyball coaches as peer educators, formed 24 soccer teams and 6 volleyball teams for people living with HIV or AIDS (PLWHA), and facilitated camps and trainings on the value of sports and healthy living for more than 1,500 PLWHA.

Through the Community Revitalization through Democratic Action program in Serbia and Montenegro, IRD built community awareness about drug abuse through sports programs. Over 50 projects directly related to sports were implemented for 36,000 beneficiaries of all ages, including 1,000 internally displaced persons and refugees.

Sports were also used as a means of informal education. IRD organized youth forums, which partnered with drug abuse coalitions to raise awareness about the dangers of drug use. The campaign “With sports you can do everything, but with drugs nothing” culminated in an indoor football tournament that included the participation of popular musicians, actors, and sports professionals. The tournament not only provided a constructive activity for local youth but also reinforced the campaign’s message.

Partnering with IRD
IRD is searching for partners to help us implement community stability and governance programs through sporting activities. One such partner is the One World Futbol Project. The virtually indestructible One World Futbol is the same size and weight as a standard ball, but never goes flat because it is made using state-of-the-art technology that requires no stitching. Through this partnership, IRD will deliver tens of thousands of soccer balls to children, schools, and organizations, helping communities emerging from conflict and natural disaster through sports. To partner with IRD or for more information on IRD’s sports programming, contact