Sports, Values, Peace, and Development

November 7, 2015

The fourth annual Sports Values Summit held in Cape Town November 1-3, 2015 marked an important stage on a special journey, a unique effort to explore the inspiration and lessons that sports offers for the global challenges of peace and development. Where have we arrived, and what have we learned?
The inspiration for the Summit series came as the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games approached. The ancient Olympic values: friendship, respect and excellence–along with the Paralympic values: determination, inspiration, courage, and equality, resonated with the philanthropic work of Dr. Haruhisa Handa. Dr. Handa, as sponsor and mentor of wide-ranging activities, saw the potential to draw tangible lessons from the ways in which sporting leaders and heroes wrestle with fundamental issues around values. Many challenges facing the world of sports echo for international peace and development. Highlighting these often unlikely links could potentially fire a broader public. Lord Moynihan (who was leading the London Olympics) and I saw an opportunity to engage young people who combined a passion for sports and for development, and especially to build on their energies, reaching people in unexpected ways (the Handa spirit). A series of summits could underscore powerful messages that link sports with work for peace and development. Dr. Handa committed several organizations that he has founded (notably Worldwide Support for Development (WSD) and the International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS) to a continuing effort through annual summits linked to global sporting events.

The first Summit, in London in 2012, focused on the significance and lessons of the London Olympic Games. These included extraordinary efforts to link the city’s welfare to the Games, leaving a meaningful and lasting legacy, and a determination to view the Olympic spirit broadly, not only through excellence in sports but in daily lives, in schools, and through culture and art. Young leaders were inspired by Olympians who participated and by the message and example of Lord Bates, business leader, sportsman, and politician, who is a determined witness to the idea that the ancient Olympic Truce has meaning for our time.  

The second Summit took place in Japan in 2013. It came at a moment when the decision on where to hold the 2020 Summer Olympic Games was in the offing. This meant that the Olympic Games and associated values could not be at the center (because of restrictions on publicity during the tense decision period). The Summit highlighted Japanese values, notably a cooperative spirit, raw determination, and an eye to aesthetics, linking them to sports and to the quest for international peace and prosperity. The inspiration of Japan’s heroic and integrated response to the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster was linked to core values of sports: cooperation, determination, and grace. The colorful summit, featuring both young leaders and sporting figures from many regions, abounded with ideas about ways in which Japanese culture and experience might link outreach through sports with its growing global roles in peace and development. The decision not long afterwards that the 2020 Olympic Games would take place in Tokyo added zest to memories of that Summit.  

The 2014 Summit was in New York, held in the heart of the United Nations, in the General Assembly hall itself. This Summit focused squarely on the links between the United Nations goals for development and peace, foreshadowing the Sustainable Development Goals that would emerge in 2015 to succeed the goals set in 2000 at the turn of the millennium. Again, the gifts that sport has to offer in underscoring values of teamwork, cooperation, and a constant, determined quest for excellence were the motifs. At the Summit’s conclusion Dr. Handa announced a new fellowship program that would support the remarkable ideas and concrete proposals that the young leaders advanced.  

In Cape Town, in 2015, the Summit agenda was enriched with a broadened partnership, with the Universities of Edinburgh and Cape Town deeply engaged in organizing the event. The focus was again on the remarkable individual and collective courage and determination that are part and parcel of excellence in sports and are precisely what is needed to advance the cause of peace and development. The Summit focused on the challenges facing Africa in the 21st century, looking to the many ways in which grassroots sporting programs and the personal stories of heroes can contribute hope but also tangible, doable paths ahead. The issues of sports governance and the imperatives of transparency and accountability were central themes as were the extraordinary challenges facing youth who comprise over half the continent’s population. Sports offers a practical, widely applicable way to address the nagging problem of inequality and to model peace and cooperation. At the Cape Town Summit the first awards were announced for programs that young leaders will carry out, in different world regions, on four continents.

We spoke in Cape Town of the Kairos moment we face today: a special moment that demands action and inspires cooperation. Kairos is a spiritual and a practical concept, a facet of time linked to action. A Kairos moment suggests grace and urgency and reflects the central spirit that emerges from the Summit and inspiration for action as we look ahead.

The Sports Summits are about values. All four summits grappled with what that implies, and above all what the values that reflect the best in sports suggest for the goals of peace and development. To illustrate the links, take fairness. In many senses that is the core value at the heart of sports, and of development. It points to the vital importance of equity, but a deeper probing makes clear that equity brings to the surface the complexities involved when fairness and individual excellence seem to clash. That is why issues of governance and transparency have such critical importance. Another value that comes up constantly is how important it is to dream and to aspire. In short, sports reinforces positive values, never more needed than in situations of conflict and social tension. Sports is about hard work, determination, and a willingness to pick oneself up and try again. Nothing is more vital in building peace.

Let the Summit series continue, delving deeper and deeper into the significance of values, the inspiration of the courage and excellence of leaders, young and old, and the links we can build, promoting both ideas and practice, linking the values that underlie sports with those needed to move forward towards peace and development. The Summits build special networks, linking ideas, experience, and inspiration.
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