On Anzac Day this year, like every other year, sports will take centre stage. With the traditional blockbuster clashes in NRL and in AFL drawing the attention of a large number of the population, a day to commemorate war has become, for many, a day at the footy.
Some might question the link between sport and war. But, the connections are actually well-established and they point to how sport can be used as a tool for peace and development, particularly by Australia.
The traditions of Australians linking war and sport were forged at Gallipoli. Regular games of Aussie Rules were, despite the rugged terrain, not uncommon among Anzac troops.
Sport was indelibly written into Australian military history when, during the evacuation of troops from the disastrous campaign at Gallipoli in 1915, diggers played cricket to provide a sense of normality to cover for the mass departure.
The ability of sport to raise morale, enhance camaraderie, provide a distraction, raise a laugh and even to disarm the enemy was clearly recognised as a powerful means of maintaining the troops in good spirits.
The significance of sports in our military history has been maintained ever since
In Changi, for instance, where Australians faced the direst circumstances, Aussie Rules and cricket competitions provided similar outlets to the horrors of war.
One particularly talented Aussie footballer in Changi, Peter Chitty, even received a "Changi Brownlow Medal". The official history says, "it is said that he valued it far more than the British Empire Medal he received for carrying an ailing prisoner 100 kilometres along the deadly route of the Thai-Burma railway."
In more recent conflicts, in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, sport has been used as both a release valve for troops and as a means of outreach to locals.
The power of sport to provide a form of sustenance in times of deadly peril is recognised globally, not just by Australians. In fact, sport has proven to be not only a means of maintaining war, but of aiding peace. In conflict zones across the world, sport has been a presence as a vehicle to co-operate, work together, build bridges and to get along.
Well known examples, like "ping pong diplomacy" to thaw US-China relations in the early 1970's, the Christmas Truce of 1914, in which warring parties played football between the trenches, or the Olympic Truce, taken from the ancient Greek agreement to lay down arms to allow sporting competition, have been added to by lesser known case studies from Bosnia to Baghdad, from Cambodia to the Congo.
Our pilot program in Malaysia, to help Rohingya refugees set up their Rohingya Football Club for community building and community outreach, is just one of a long line of sporting programs rolled out by countless organisations designed to aid in peace and development initiatives.
Globally, the use of sport for peace and development is a burgeoning space. Numerous global peace and development initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals, of which the Rohingya Football Club is an official partner, now factor in sport as a delivery mechanism to help prevent conflict and to build peace,
Australia's ability to punch above its weight in sporting terms internationally suggests an opportunity for our military, security services, diplomats, NGOs and governments in relation to our contribution to such areas.
Some infrastructure is already in place. Earlier this month for instance, Foreign Minister Julia Bishop announced an expansion of the Government's Asian Sports Partnerships program. This, says the Minister, will release $4 million over 2 years to help "Australian national sporting organisations...deliver innovative sports programs which produce development outcomes in Asia."
How this might be done is unclear. Delivering sports for sports sake is unlikely to produce positive lasting results in terms of peace and development. A FIFO approach to this kind of aid, as with most other forms of aid, makes for good PR but generally poor long-term outcomes.
Similarly, tying sports aid programs to unsustainable government agendas is no basis for workable sports aid projects.
Independent initiatives which are structured to use sport to help build social inclusion, equality, co-operation, community well-being, peace and conflict alleviation and resolution can bring results which resonate both within the target communities and globally.
Education looms as a vital component in the mix. Showing community leaders how to plan, develop, construct and implement structured and controlled sporting projects will leave the kind of legacy that good aid should deliver; workable, self-renewing, resilient and culturally appropriate.
With the impacts of increased radicalisation felt across the globe, finding newer, creative ways to foment peace are surely worthy of our investment.
Current events prove that crises erupting in areas where peace is in deficit and where under-development creates conditions for conflict, affect us all. Solutions to these problems are needed to help not only those who are suffering directly from such failings, but to undermine the scourge of violence and terror that impacts us all.
As we enjoy the Anzac Day big games, consider how sport, as Nelson Mandela said and proved, "has the power to change the world." And perhaps take a moment to ponder the fact that Australia, one of the world's great sporting nations, has the opportunity to lead the way.
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