The Telegraph
Sunday , October 26 , 2014

Soccer with a twist to promote peace

- Football route to check racist attacks

Shillong, Oct. 25: Kick the football as a kick-off to building of bridges instead of walls between the Northeast and “mainland” India.

But this is not the “conventional” soccer match; it is a different game altogether with different rules, emanating from Colombia.

This is what some of those who have been trained at the five-day Peace Counts Academy (PCA) programme here are contemplating to do in New Delhi where alleged “racist attacks” on people hailing from this part of the country have taken place.

The PCA is a continuation and scaling up of peace trainers in the Northeast where founder of Peace Counts, Michael Gleich from Germany, was also a part of the team.

Training was imparted to around 20 young people, who would, in turn, train others by adopting the multiplier effect.

A group of students from the Northeast pursuing their studies in Delhi were inspired by “Peace through Soccer,” which was promoted in one of the most violent cities in South America — Medellíin Colombia, following several cases of alleged “racist attacks” on people from this region in the metros.

It was at Medellíthat one John Jairo organised street soccer tournaments as he believed that soccer was the “only thing that counts here”.

Jurgen Griesbeck, a German who worked in Medellí, developed the rules for the street soccer tournaments. According to the rules, “two women must play in each team and one of them must shoot the first goal”. However, a team cannot only win by scoring goals, but rather also by whether they treat their opponent fairly or not.

As the rule appeared to be “absurd”, the beginning was indeed difficult. A breakthrough arrived after community leaders were convinced by the new form of the game.

After a few months, there were 500 teams and today 17,000 young people play in 1,600 teams.

Under the motto Futbol por la Paz (Soccer for Peace), the project has spread to schools across the country and the Colombian government has adopted it.

Later, it was renamed “El Golombia”, and it now belongs to a global network called “Streetfootballworld” located in Berlin.

This information, which was put up at the five-day training programme, was more than informative.

As the Northeast is known for its passion for soccer and India is turning its attention to this game (other than cricket), perhaps, the peace trainers can make a difference with the “beautiful game” under Griesbeck rules.

“We are planning to host a soccer match between students hailing from the Northeast and the local residents of Delhi. It would be a platform to get to know each other better,” a student hailing from Manipur who is pursuing her studies in Delhi University and who was classed as a certified trainer following the five-day programme, said.

Apart from soccer, Leban Serto, local organiser for Peace Counts in Northeast, said Peace Counts Approaches are set to be introduced in the curriculum for peace and conflict studies. He hoped that this would bring freshness and inspiration to peace builders in the region.

However, Serto expressed dismay that the education boards in the states are not following the recommendations of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), 2005. According to the framework, peace education should be made part of the curriculum in schools.

Not losing hope, Serto said the peace builders of the region would move the state governments to ensure that peace education is made a part of the curriculum in school, upto the university level.

Under Peace Counts projects, teams of photographers and writers have been covering constructive conflict transformation in more than 50 countries.

“Peace Counts is about documenting the best methods and measures for peace building and conflict resolution focussing mainly on successful initiatives from civil society. Good intentions are not good enough to be selected for a story. We want best practises,” Gleich who is also a journalist said.

Gleich also said that Peace Counts is producing reportage which combine personal stories with structural background.

“So far, we did stories about doctors, aid workers, human rights lawyers, ex-terrorists now doing youth work, pastor, imam and others who reintegrate child soldiers,” he added.

Peace Counts started in India in March 2009 as a Trainer of Trainers (TOT), and multiplied in the rest of the country.

Gleich also lamented that peacemakers do not get much attention compared to trouble makers. At the same time, he said “conflict was nothing bad”, but the question is on how to deal with it successfully.

At the same time, he said that Peace Counts has established a Radio School for peace journalism in Ivory Coast, which is a mosaic of ethnic groups similar to the Northeast. The idea was to promote peace through journalism.