Peacebuilding through Sports

1st All Badakhshan 5km Run Challenge

 

The use of sport to address social issues, referred to as Sport for Development and Peace (SDP), is becoming widely accepted by actors in the peace and development field as a significant social catalyst – especially in regions affected by poverty, violence and conflict. The 1st All Badakhsan 5km Run Challenge, held in Afghanistan on 3rd April 2015, is a great case in point.

Background: The run was organized by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in Afghanistan, with support from the Maternal and Child Health (MNCH) project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

 

Because they understood the importance of sports for youth empowerment, and hence for peacebuilding, they willingly invested months of planning and coordination with the Afghan Olympic committee and Civil Society; also, of course, with the Intelligence Department, given the constant danger of violence in the war-torn environment.

Details included route selection, athlete qualification procedures, prizes and equipment, media coverage, logistics, budgeting, dignitaries to be invited and, vitally, security to be provided. Initial confusion coalesced into effective teamwork to avoid prospective complications. For example, at first many families were hesitant, even unhappy, about letting their sons and loved ones participate in such a public event. But soon, with enormous support and tremendous solidarity displayed by the local residents, everyone began to rejoice and welcome the event. Invitees included political and government figures, Mullahs (religious leaders), heads of NGOs, as well as representatives from AKF, the Olympic committee and civil society. Certificates were printed to recognize both participation and achievement and prizes were procured. Arrangements for media coverage, road closure, the deployment of 200 security professionals and refreshments to be distributed, were finalized a week before the race.

The Event: The sun was shining brightly within the picturesque and historic grounds of the Faizabad, Badakhshan. There, more than 2,000 spectators eagerly awaited the start of the 1st All Badakhshan 5 KM Run Challenge. The stage was set with 50 of the best Badakhshan athletes, previously selected through a transparent and a fair process, to compete for the top three spots. The runners set out on the undulating course, commencing from the Baghish Bridge that followed the quiet Faizabad roads, culminating with a magnificent finish in front of the central roundabout of the city. The runners came from diverse backgrounds, various age groups, and different ethnicities. They were not just there to compete against each other, but also to demonstrate and to spread the message of peaceful coexistence amongst communities; and to show how national unity can be symbolized through sports.

As the athletes set out, there was overwhelming support and cheering by spectators, which echoed and boosted the courage and stamina of the competitors. With all eyes on them, the fastest athletes swarmed to the finishing line right in front of all the seated dignitaries and other VIPs. Spectators of all ages and backgrounds cheered. So successful was the event that the Olympic committee decided to establish the Badakhshan Running Federation to encourage future athletes, and to inculcate international level talent into Afghan athletics.

 

Conclusion: This was the first ever, large scale, official running event on the streets of Faizabad. Despite security constraints, limited resources and National Government challenges, it showed how sports can build bridges for peace. So much so, that the Olympic Committee, in establishing the Running Federation, is turning this into an annual tradition. Each year, there will be an opportunity to observe the local athletic talent with pride, to ignite the competitive spirit amongst the youth and, ultimately, to contribute to the building of peace in Afghanistan.

 

By: Ankur Mahajan

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