by Dr Gary Stidder, Co-Founder and Deputy Director Football 4 Peace International, Principal Lecturer in Physical Education – University of Brighton, School of Sport and Service Management.
On 2 August 2021, Football 4 Peace International celebrates its 20th anniversary. Football 4 Peace International (F4P) has become a multi-dimensional research, education and social engagement platform that utilises physical education and sport innovatively to deliver generic and bespoke ‘values-based’ palliative training and coaching programmes designed in, and for areas suffering from high levels of cross-community conflict and various forms of political disorder and social disintegration.
The idea originated following discussions with Professor John Sugden, myself and the late Reverend Geoffrey Whitfield MBE, a retired Baptist Minister. Geoffrey had read John and Alan Bairner’s 1995 publication ‘Sport, Sectarianism and Society in a Divided Ireland’ and was inspired by the seminal work that John had orchestrated in Northern Ireland in the 1980s bringing together Catholic and Protestant children together through sport aptly named Belfast United.
In July 2001, Geoffrey and I along with six volunteer physical education students at the University of Brighton boarded a plane bound for Tel Aviv after twelve months of intensive planning. Leading up to the 2001 event there were significant and troublesome events happening in Israel during a time referred to as the second intifada (uprising) and the building of a wall that would separate Israel from Palestine. Many of my friends and family urged me to take caution and reconsider my intentions. Even my wife said that she did not want to be a widow before she was 40. The inaugural event was run over five days at the local sports stadium culminating in a World Cup style festival. On the way back to the airport, I felt as if I had been parachuted in and was about to airlifted out. Little did I know that I would be returning for the next twenty years! My own reflections of the past twenty years have brought back many positive memories, notably meeting an 18 year-old Arab volunteer called Shukri who was part of the Israeli delegation in the F4P Cologne training camp in 2008. Shukri had taken part as a child in the inaugural Football 4 Peace programme in Ibillin in 2001. He had remembered me when he was ten years old. Equally, meeting Abbas Suan, a Muslim Arab from the mixed community of Shaknin, and an International footballer for Israel inspired me to continue with my values-based approaching to teaching.
If anyone has seen the film ‘Field of Dreams’, you may remember a farmer who decides to build a baseball field on his Iowa corn farm much to the opposition of his wife and his bank manager. But, he hears strange voices in his head saying ‘If you build it, they will come’. Eventually, he builds the stadium and fills it to capacity. Anyone considering working in the area of sport for development and peace may wish to interpret this message as a calling into the world of education and teaching and have the confidence that anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself. Such has been the impact of my life-changing experiences in Israel and Palestine and other parts of the world along with the people I have had the privilege to meet and work with, my wife and I named our two children Oliver and Lily after Football 4 Peace for reasons that will not be difficult to find out on Google. After 20 years of working with F4P International, I still ask myself, ‘did I really do that’?
You can view some of the F4P documentaries on the links below:
Children of Jordan Valley documentary trailer
Football 4 Peace 10 Year anniversary Trailer
Football 4 Peace International Values-based Teaching through Physical Education
Football 4 Peace Community Challenge Camp
by Dr Gary Stidder