It is said that music has an impact that transcends proverbs and philosophies. The same goes for poetry: Its beauty stimulates emotions and can prompt reflection and thought. As such, these art forms can contribute to removing boundaries and uniting people. In this context, sports are no different from music and poetry, as they have a tremendously positive influence that transcends languages and cultures.
Whether the sport in question is Olympic or non-Olympic, played at an individual or team level, or whether the athletes are amateur or professional, all sports and athletes speak one language consisting of noble principles and values, such as integrity, justice, cooperation, discipline, determination and a spirit of challenge.
The effects of sports are not limited to enhancing physical fitness. Sports can boost immunity, improve mental health and increase self-confidence. Some consider it the “elixir of happiness” and the best treatment for depression and anxiety. Sports are also one of the best forms of entertainment and education and an important contributor to economic growth through sports tourism. Countries that compete to host international tournaments often bring the host country a lot of returns over the short and long term. The positive impact of sports also extends to fans, as spectator sports create an enthusiastic and enjoyable atmosphere.
It’s likewise amazing how sports erase cultural boundaries and spread the values of peace and reconciliation among people. The most significant example is the participation of more than 200 countries in the Olympic Games, the biggest sports competition in the world, where athletes meet and compete regardless of the political relationship between their countries, or between the athlete’s country and the host country.
Because sports can be the right tool for change in this world, in August 2013, the UN General Assembly made the decision to proclaim April 6 as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. It also established the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace, which trains and empowers youth leaders to use sports as a tool for progress by teaching students the important values of sports, such as team spirit, fair play, respect for rules and others, cooperation, discipline, and tolerance. These skills are essential for participating in group activities and for professional life and can promote cohesion within local and broader communities.
Sports can be a tool for change and a bridge of tolerance in the world if we invest in them as a message of peace, prosperity, and development.
In a speech, Wilfried Lemke, special adviser to the UN secretary-general on sport for development and peace, said: “Despite these challenges, the vast positive power and passion of sport will continue to bring people together, promoting a more inclusive and peaceful world through its universal values and principles. Historically, sport has played an important role in all societies and acted as a strong communication platform that can be used to promote a culture of peace. It is, and will continue to be, one of the most cost-effective and versatile tools to promote United Nations values and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Sports can be a tool for change and a bridge of tolerance in the world if we invest in them as a message of peace, prosperity, and development. Sports have a positive impact on different age and cultural groups, whether by encouraging amateurs, training, and qualifying professionals, or allocating a part of social contributions to support sports. We may direct some of the efforts made in charitable activities and funds to contribute to the happiness of children in less fortunate communities by providing them with the necessary tools and establishing centers to enable them to build a promising future.
The Zayed Charitable Marathon in the UAE is an example of such an effort to use sports as a message of unity and tolerance. We look forward to similar initiatives being adopted in various countries across the world.
• Asma Al-Janahi is a UAE national with over 10 years of experience in management in government excellence and sports sectors. She writes about management and social life.