On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting this week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) held a panel discussion about “sports for development:” using sports as a catalyst for social development. Featuring 8-time All-star baseball pitcher Pedro Martínez, NBA defensive star Dikembe Motumbo, and speed-skating Olympian Johann Koss, the panel touched on the ways sports contribute to development. Among them were: facilitating social inclusion, building youth leadership skills, connecting youth to job training programs, and empowering women and girls.
One particularly interesting component of sports for development—especially in light of the discussions this week at the UN General Assembly— is the role sports can play in peace-building. One theme echoed among participants at Tuesday’s event was the universality of sports. Longtime ESPN reporter Jeremy Schapp said sports aren’t just about elite athletes competing at the highest levels, but rather the millions of children “who play in playgrounds and ball fields everywhere [and share] a passion to play.” Johann Koss, CEO of Right to Play, a Canada-based sport-for-development organization, said his organization was founded on the principle that “all children have a fundamental right to play.” Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID, told the story of kids he met at a refugee camp in Ethiopia who so craved the experience of play that they made soccer balls out of rags and used what little energy they had to score goals.
The universal quality of sports lends them a unique power to bridge social, political, economic and cultural divides, and to foster peace between individuals and groups in conflict. Sports promote shared identity and humanization of the “other”; individuals and groups who might otherwise approach one another with a lack of trust, hostility and/or violence learn about what they have in common and build relationships as they work toward a shared goal.
Among the many crises competing for international attention, the ethno-territorial conflict plaguing the Afro-Colombian population on Colombia’s Pacific Coast is barely making headlines. Afro-Colombians have been systematically displaced from their communities, often violently, at the hands of guerillas and neo-paramilitary groups since the mid-1990s. Yet few Colombians, let alone foreigners, are paying attention.
This comes despite the de-escalation of Colombia’s three decade-long drug war. Still today armed militias are active and using terror tactics to expel Afro-Colombians from their ancestral territory. The reason is that the land is so valuable. It is considered among the richest in the world in terms of natural, exploitable resources, including oil, timber and minerals. Groups like the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), which can no longer generate enough income from drug trafficking and kidnapping, are turning to mining, both legal and illegal, along the Pacific Coast to finance weapons sales, according to President Juan Manuel Santos. With gold at near record levels, neo-paramilitary groups appear to be cashing in on this business as well.
The socioeconomic condition of the Afro-Colombian community, estimated between 4 million and 10 million strong, and a lack of political representation help to explain why this population is vulnerable to internal displacement. In fact, 78.5 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the poverty line compared to 49.2 percent of the general population, and only one out of every 50 completes a university education. Afro-Colombian representatives only hold two seats in the national chamber and none in the Senate, adding to the challenge of getting issues of inequality, exclusion and the more pressing displacement epidemic on the national agenda.
The San Juan River has not been the only focal point of the Costa Rica-Nicaragua conflict that has been brewing for over a month. Another battle ground, whose boundaries are far less defined than the countries' river border, reared its head in the dispute: the Internet.
In a region not especially known for its computer savvy, a form of Web 2.0 diplomacy has unexpectedly emerged.
It began when Costa Rica and Nicaragua dragged Google Maps into the fray. Costa Rica claimed the online map's outline of the border was wrong and Nicaragua insisted the map was just fine the way it was.
Google's replies are now world famous. They included the November 5 post on its Spanish-language El Blog de Google para América Latina that said, "while Google maps have a very high quality… in no way should they be taken as reference in the moment of deciding military actions between two nations."