The Path to Reconciliation through Sports and Play
Three years after a brutal war that ended the conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the GoSL, there is enough evidence to see that Sri Lanka as a nation has to do a lot more to archive lasting reconciliation between different Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. While the government has spent considerable energies and finances developing the infrastructure in the war torn north, many believe that not enough is done in the more subtler forms of reconciliation initiatives; nor has the current regime truly embarked on any devolution of power through the 13th amendment to the provinces which too is seen as integral part in building a lasting peace. Perhaps one of the major reasons for slow pace in reconciliation is the deep mistrust that is present between the many communities. We feel one of the key areas that needs to be addressed is the building of trust between Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. Once a certain degree of trust is build between each community, it will unarguably be easier to move on bigger issues in relation to building a cohesive and forward looking society.
The International Center for Ethnic Studies (ICES), hosted a workshop on 23rd July 2012 that was conducted by the Swiss Academy for Development (SAD) and Future Peace (FP) on the experiences and findings generated by the project termed “Sport and Play for Interethnic Dialogue among Children and Youth” that was jointly implemented from 2009 – 2012 which sought to promote interethnic dialogue and enhance understanding among children and youth from diverse backgrounds.
The pilot project has been implemented in 8 selected villages (4 Sinhalese, 4 Tamil) in the Monaragala district, which has been considered as an area that has been indirectly affected by the conflict; and thus regarded as most appropriate to pursue the SAD’s objective of testing the approach of sport and play for bottom-up conflict transformation.
Following are the project objectives:
1. Build trust and understanding among children and parents from different ethnic / religious groups in the selected villages.
2. Increase self-esteem in children / youth and support them in the process of social inclusion (ethnic, gender).
3. Strengthen the participants’ capacities to deal with disputes/conflicts in a non-violent manner.
4. Promote and develop social values and skills among participants such as respect for ethnic, religious and gender diversity and ‘the other’s culture
5. Contribute to the evaluation of the use of sport as an instrument in conflict transformation to provide evidence and share experiences with other relevant actors.
After the end of the program it was seen that stable friendships between the regularly participating Sinhalese and Tamil children and youth, who have been living next to each other but have never before played together or have spoken to each other, have been established; the participants also seemed to have learned to deal with disputes and conflicts non-violently. Basic relationships have developed among their parents. . The results of the past three years have revealed that sport and play has served as an ideal tool to promote dialogue among children and youth as well as a good entry point to involve the community – if planned and implemented in a certain way. The results of the program were presented to the audience and will later be published by SAD.
It was also apparent that the ‘coaches’ of the program have seen a radical transformation on their outlook to race relations. While the use of sport and play is not a novel concept in building trust among communalities in Sri Lanka; Groups such as Sri Lanka Unites (SLU) have incorporated some of these aspects to their programs. However, this was the first instance that we are aware of that a program was conducted on a long term basis on a sample population so that changes can be gauged and measured in a structured manner in order to assess the effectiveness of the tool sport and play.
Both SAD and FP have advocated for the approach of sports and play to be incorporated into the public school system in Sri Lanka. While there were representatives of the National Institute of Education present at the workshop that was supportive of the imitative they stated that this process will take time. We urge the government to take speedy action so that programs such as these, which have now been tried and tested, be implemented as soon as possible. While the financial costs of such programs are minimal the results can be simply phenomenal. Furthermore, implementing sports and play for fostering interethnic dialogue goes beyond the ‘ethnic’ dimension, and the tools and lessons learnt from these programs will foster good nature and understanding among individuals regardless of the ethnicity, class or gender.
By Shakya Lahiru Pathmalal & Ruveni Wijesekera