A football field provides common ground for young people in Lebanon

ConflictEducationPeacebuildingYoung People

Sport is an excellent way to reach young people, especially when they are discontented. Towards the end of 2018 the Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon (FFRL) began a new project called Play For Peace. This initiative combined sports outreach and our Forgiveness Journey curriculum, working with a group of young men in Beirut.

Ball, wall, shadow and grey. Photo by Loki Strike on Unsplash
Photo by Loki Strike on Unsplash

A good influence

The idea was that the men would advocate for preventing violence and transforming conflict within their football network. In fact, we work with young people because they are at a point in their lives when they are starting to take on various roles and responsibilities in society. Therefore, they can have a significant influence on the people around them. 

Everyone has their own unique spheres of influence. For this group, the football field was where they would raise the banner of peace.  

Playing for peace?

After a recent match, FFRL Director Ramy Taleb received an angry phone call from the team coach. He had become extremely worked up following unfair co-operation between other football teams and referees during a tournament. The coach had felt so upset that he said he wanted to ‘set fire to the playing field’.  

At the time, however, one of his assistants had noticed how angry he was and said to him: ‘Remember, we are playing for peace’. Upon hearing this, the coach began to calm down and stopped being so aggressive. His team mate had reminded him of their wider purpose on the football field. 

It was hard for the coach to be committed to these small acts of peace without seeing immediate results in society. He was discouraged because of how difficult it was to envision positive change towards greater social cohesion in Lebanese communities. He failed to see how their seemingly small role as a football team could play a part in this. 

These concerns are not new to us. This is a common perspective often held by the younger generation as they struggle to see a way out of the status quo held by their elders. To many of them, peace is nothing more than a sectarian co-existence that teeters on the resentment and unaddressed hurts of the past.

The Play for Peace initiative helps young men to manage their anger and overcome tensions among refugees and the host communities. Photo: Jilbar Al Khoury
The Play for Peace initiative helps young men to manage their anger and overcome tensions among refugees and the host communities. Photo: Jilbar Al Khoury

‘The football pitch should be fertile ground for building bridges between communities.’

Football friendships

One might ask how significant being a voice for peace on a football pitch is in the grand scheme of things? But it is important to remember that the manifestations of anger and violence on the pitch are often representative of the way young men deal with conflict generally in Lebanese society. Dishonest dealings between football teams and sporting officials can reflect the injustice found in higher levels of society to young men. 

In addition, in a country with such strong geopolitical division, football is a means of overcoming these barriers. It enables different communities to come together that otherwise might have very little interaction. The football pitch should be fertile ground for building bridges between communities. It is this that our Play For Peace project seeks to achieve, ensuring that the football pitch provides common ground for all. 

Find out more about the UN’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

Josh Eaves
Josh Eaves is a Communication officer