Sport’s unique power to build bridges and bring people together, which is evident during each edition of the Olympic Games, is being celebrated this year on Olympic Day through the theme “Together for a more peaceful world”. It is a theme that resonates strongly with the IOC Young Leaders Program – an initiative that provides, together with its Founding Partner Panasonic, budding social entrepreneurs with mentorship, learning opportunities and seed-funding to launch projects that leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in society.
Fundamental to creating a more peaceful world is making a change at grassroots level and so, with this in mind, many of the IOC Young Leaders have mobilized their projects to encourage and promote peace through sport in their own local communities. Here, they explain more about their projects and the goals they have.
“My aim is to give peace and hope in these difficult times”
Having first picked up a table tennis bat to follow in her sisters’ footsteps at the age of eight, IOC Young Leader Mayssa Bsaibes not only went on to become Lebanese national champion, but was also ranked number one in the country for 10 consecutive years.
Bsaibes felt compelled to help people in Lebanon following the collapse of the country’s economy, which left many of its citizens in very vulnerable situations. To give those affected some form of peace in difficult circumstances, Bsaibes founded Keep-PING Hope, a project that provides people with the chance to take part in table tennis sessions led by national level coaches.
“I haven’t left my country because I am hoping for a change,” says Bsaibes. “Through my project, I managed to mix my career and passion together to design sustainable, colorful and low-cost table tennis tables and rackets for underprivileged and traumatized children in orphanage centres. We organize table tennis activities with national players and coaches and host workshops about life skills and well-being. My aim is to give peace and hope to Lebanese children in these difficult times.”
“Peace ultimately means leveling the playing field”
IOC Young Leader Waleed Abu Nada founded The Champ Camp – a community-driven project in Jordan that originally focused on encouraging youth participation in sport with the aim of supporting their development. Since then, it has further evolved and now tackles serious social issues in local communities.
Through its sport-based programme, The Champ Camp offers young people in the Al-Baqa’a camp for Palestinian refugees the opportunity to play a key role in their community and engage with its members, all while shedding the predefined social boxes they are often restricted by.
“In a setting where young girls have predefined roles for them in society, The Champ Camp has succeeded in breaking barriers by giving birth to the largest Arab women weightlifting team in the world,” says Abu Nada. “Not only has our work enabled a level playing field for young Palestinian refugees, but it also served as a platform that captured global interest in their stories, struggles and urgent need for a just solution to their plight.”
“Peace is when your struggles and odds of success are not defined by ethnicity, religion, race or gender,” says Abu Nada. “Peace ultimately means leveling the playing field so that one’s life is the result of free will, talent and hard work as opposed to circumstances.”
“Peace is the freedom to choose your path”
Similarly, Mirjana Ivkovic focused her IOC Young Leaders project on refugees and migrants, and in particular wants to break down the barriers between them that slow integration and can leave people feeling isolated. Working across five refugee centers in Serbia, the Hi5 Happy Caravan project aims to use sport as a shared language to help communities come together and find peace despite their circumstances.
“For me, peace is the freedom to choose your path and the ability to live without the fear of anything,” says Ivkovic. “Through Hi5 Happy Caravan, we help people who had to leave their homeland in order to find peace. Sports activities become tools for breaking barriers and making a better world through sport.”
“Peace is a place where everyone feels safe”
Alpine skier Dr Sophia Papamichalopoulos, who competed at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010, also felt compelled to help those affected by wars and conflict. Her home country of Cyprus has long experienced such division, but she has also seen first-hand how sport can be used to foster peace between conflicting peoples.
“Peace, for me, is a place where everyone feels safe,” Papamichalopoulos says. “Where there is a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s values and opinions. Where violence has no place.”
Inspired by the unity on show at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 between the athletes of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the IOC Young Leader developed the Winds of Change program. Her initiative aims to use sailing to bring different Cypriot communities together to sail around the island and develop lasting bonds that will improve relations.
“Winds of Change will give rise to the first bi-communal team to sail around our divided island of Cyprus,” says Papamichalopoulos. “It will be an opportunity for participants to develop unique skills and an exceptional friendship by living and sailing together on a boat. The project ultimately aims to inspire others in order to spark bi-communal activities on the island, to encourage the use of sport as a peace catalyst and to promote peace globally.”
To hear more about the unique power of sport as a tool for peace and development, you can listen to Sophia Papamichalopoulos and Waleed Abu Nada’s stories on the “We Have a Goal” podcast on olympics.com.
We Have a Goal is a special four-episode podcast series supported by Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner Panasonic, hosted by Paralympian and motivational speaker Amy Purdy, who talks to IOC Young Leaders about their own journeys and how they’re driving change in the areas of gender equality, peace building, inclusion and sustainability.