Joël Bouzou [fr], a bronze medalist at the 1984 Olympic Games and modern pentathlon World Champion in 1987 from France, is the founder and president of Peace and Sport, a global initiative created in 2007 whose objective is building sustainable peace through sport.
In countries where Peace and Sport operates, the organization supports local actors and heps them design and implement programs for vulnerable youth, while strengthening existing sports facilities damaged during armed conflicts.
In Burundi, for instance, Peace and Sport is funding the renovation of sports facilities, equipment and training for coaches. Since 2008, 300 out-of-school children in Gihanga, war orphans and children living in the streets nearby, have been receiving training in football, athletics, karate, modern biathlon, judo, volleyball, basketball and tennis. Community events are organized to foster reconciliation, education as well as the promotion of peace.
Pascal, a 16-year old former refugee and would-be football player from the Gihanga Center, is quoted [fr] on Peace and Sport's Burundi page:
Sport clears my mind. When I play football, I expend a lot of energy: suddenly, I no longer think about the death of my relatives, it removes dark thoughts from my mind. It soothes me. In addition, through football, I can communicate better with other children. I am learning how to guide them, not necessarily by giving them orders. I like that.
Peace and Sport worked in Côte d’Ivoire, even during the period of political turmoil and ethnic strife in early 2011, and continues to do so in Bouake, Abidjan (Marcory), Daloa, Man and Yamoussoukro. The organization supports local NGOs and reaches nearly 600 children through social, education and social inclusiveness programs (literacy, health, civic education).
Global Voices spoke to Joël Bouzou about his work.
Global Voices (GV): Joël Bouzou, why did you create Peace and Sport?
Joël Bouzou (JB): I created Peace and Sport in 2007 because, as an Olympic medalist, I am particularly attuned to the power of sport to create unity across political, social, ethnic or religious divides, which are often the core reasons for conflicts on the planet.
GV: In which countries do you operate?
JB: We have supported or coordinated the implementation of programs in seven countries: Côte d'Ivoire, Burundi, Timor Leste, Colombia, Haïti, Israël-Palestine and, more recently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
GV: To what extent do you think you have contributed to peace?
JB: To me, peace is not just a state of “no war”; peace has to be taught, learned and transmitted. Sport is a recognized educational tool. It is easy to implement, even when infrastructure is lacking. Sport, taught in a structured manner, helps vulnerable children regain a personal balance and to set goals and standards for themselves. They reacquire the wish to improve and to succeed. They rediscover the path to solidarity, tolerance and a sense of solidarity. They learn how to communicate, to overcome their prejudices and to engage in dialogue.
Peace and Sport, whose patron is Prince Albert II of Monaco, has also created Champions for Peace, an initiative that brings together 56 world level athletes. It grants awards to grassroot organizations or sports events, such as Skateistan, a skateboarding teaching initiative for both girls and boys in Afghanistan.
On September 21, on the occasion of World Peace Day, the Peace and Sport youth centers organized a special event, an Open Door day, to promote the values of sport.