Levelling the playing field: Para-football clubs in Nigeria promote peace and development for all

Today is International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, where the world celebrates the power of sport to drive social change and community development, and to foster peace and understanding. Today – like every Saturday – is also a training day for members of Para-football teams driven by our local partner organisation in Northern Nigeria, the Peace Initiative Network (PIN).

Every week in Kano, Northern Nigeria, the universal language of sport is being used to drive peace, tolerance and development in a region that has been mired with conflict and tension for decades. Young people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds learn and train together on common ground, gaining the values of tolerance and understanding and finding a way to deal with frustrations non-violently.

In 2018, 190 young people participated in PIN’s “Peace through Sports” clubs, which include weekly training and monthly tournaments in football and handball.

Yet for peace to be sustainable, it must be inclusive. Not only are PIN’s sports clubs bridging ethnic and religious divides, they are also overcoming the social barriers often experienced by people with disabilities by including Para-football clubs in their weekly activities.

Each Saturday and Sunday, an additional 25 young people, who are disabled mostly as a result of Polio disease, participate in Para-football sessions and peace education programmes. They are taught and teach each other leadership skills, communication skills, problem solving and life skills that help to improve understanding and tolerance and open up socio-economic opportunities.

Players use a locally-made skating seat and bare hands to control and shoot the football, and as PIN’s coordinator, Michael Sodipo, said, “The game is full of fun and excitement”.

Empowerment, inclusivity, tolerance and peace

Michael went on to explain why including disabled people in sports and peacebuilding activities is vital to building sustainable peace and promoting social inclusion and development:

“Persons with a disability are one of the socially excluded groups in Nigeria – mainly perceived as beggars and destitute. Yet with over 8 million disabled persons, they are vital members of our community. Continual engagement and involvement of the group in our programme, which we hope to sustain, will help to eradicate stigmatization and to build meaningful interaction among diverse groups in our community.”

“Continual engagement and involvement of the group in our programme will help to eradicate stigmatization and to build meaningful interaction among diverse groups in our community.”

PIN’s Peace through Sports clubs evidence the way sports are intertwined with peace and development. Communities own the project themselves, and participants are trained to become trainers, ensuring the project builds peace that will last. As one participant commented, “Through controlling our temper we can control peace. This leads to inner peace, and also outside. In our home and our community.”

“Through controlling our temper we can control peace. This leads to inner peace, and also outside. In our home and our community.”

In a country known for its violence, instability and corruption, the Peace Initiative Network is a powerful example of how human resilience without boundaries can achieve lasting inclusive peace. Please support our work to help make peace a reality for even more people.

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