Effects of Football on Peace Building in a Conflicted Society

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In a world full of conflicts and differences in values, interests and beliefs between ethical groups, a development of solutions for peace- and community building is getting increasingly necessary. One solution which has a small but important impact on peace building is the use of sport. Therefore, the application of sport as a device to reunite divided communities is used more and more often in many societies all around the world (Dyck, 2011; Sanije & Besnik Krasniqi, 2019; Liebmann & Rookwood, 2007; Majaro-Majesty & Olusegun, 2011).

So called ‘Sport for Development and Peace’ (SDP) projects are executed since many years now and have the main objective to reinstall stability in affected communities. Football is commonly known as one of the most popular sports in the world and consequently seems to have the ability to overcome social differences and cultural barriers. Football projects such as ‘Football for Peace’ (F4P) are staged nearly every year since the end of the last century (Liebmann & Rookwood, 2007). The outcomes of these projects vary and are depending on the condition that the affected societies find themselves in. Well known outcomes such as from programs in ethically divided countries like Israel, Sierra Leone or Kosovo, promote the use of football as a reconciliation tool.

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As stated before, football seems to unfold its magic of reconciliation when it is played together actively. But there is a lot more to football than just playing it physically. The passive execution of football as an enjoyment, such as watching a football game together and supporting a football club, is another approach for rebuilding broken relationships in divided communities. On the other hand, the joy of watching football together can transform into a bitter rivalry in some occasions. Consequently, too intensive football fan support can have the danger to largen the rift between rivaled individuals of a society even more. It can serve as a stage for spreading intolerance and hate, which is counterproductive to the objective of reconciliating different ethnic groups (Majaro-Majesty et al., 2011; Choto et al., Chiweshe & Muparamoto, 2017).

This paper is divided into three sections and a conclusion. The first section will provide general information on peace building in post-conflict societies. The second section will critically reflect on well-known outcomes of projects that use football as an approach for community building in different ethical or religious tensed countries.

As the second section deals with the effects of executing football actively as a sport, the third section will instead critically reflect on the effects of passive execution of football as an enjoyment. Accordingly, it will evaluate the benefits and dangers of football fan support.

Effects of football on peace building

Peace building in post-conflict societies

With the numbers of civil wars reaching its climax in recent years, the need for peaceful solutions, that can be applied on ethnical and religiously tensed communities, is increasingly inevitable. All the humanitarian crises that the world has to face nowadays are a result of a lack of tools that can resolve tensions inside a society. A civil war reaches its peak when the international community decides to intervene. In some cases, like in Syria or Iraq, these interventions divided the societies even more and made the situation confusing. In order to prevent such conflicts, it is important to start using non-militaristic peace building devices as soon as problems and tensions inside the society appear. According to Rookwood and Palmer (2011) it is necessary before and during the development of a conflict, to use diplomacy wherever it is possible. In the aftermath of a conflict it is inevitable to prevent violence from recurring. Therefore, the use of social activities which can unify endangered communities is highly proposed (Krasniqi, 2019) for the purpose of preventing societies to fall back into old patterns.

The use of football projects as a peace building device

There has been quite a lot of approaches to establish football in order to resolve tensions between groups of a society. In Northern Israel, for instance, the co-existence between Jews and Arabs has been a big problem since the establishment of the state Israel in 1948. The children of these two hostile parts of the Israeli society do not understand the conflict between them and they just wish that they could get along better. Accordingly, the football project ‘Football for Peace’ has been founded in 2001. The project is held annually and has the aim to teach the Jewish and Arab children a better social understanding of each other. It was a big success until a Hezbollah attack on Israel in 2006 had caused the project to be cancelled (Liebmann, 2007).

This incident should follow a critical evaluation of how to execute such projects in a safer area for the purpose of achieving a certainty of a safe success for all participants. Even though a lot of parts of the project was a success, the overall result can be criticized as another failed approach to build peace between Jews and Arabs.

On the other hand, there has been very successful examples of how to execute such projects with nearly perfect results. In post-conflict Kosovo and post-conflict Sierra Leone, football activities have been successfully implemented to a larger peace building process. In Sierra Leone, for instance, young combatants were reintegrated in the society through football activities in camps and the violence between them has been remarkably reduced. It was one of the most popular and effective activities in the camp (Dyck, 2011). In Kosovo, the result was quite similar. The ‘Open Fun Football Schools’ (OFFS) contributed to a paradigm shift in the participant’s perception towards ethnical differences. As a result, broken relationships between members of different ethnic groups have been rebuilt to long-term friendships (Krasniqi, 2019).

Can football club support divide or unify a society?

As football fan support also plays an important role when analyzing the effects of football on a conflicted society, there has been a few case studies about these impacts. In the multi-ethnical society of Nigeria, for instance, a case study about the influence of football fan support of English ‘Premier League’ Clubs has been conducted. The impacts on relationships between different generations and different ethnic groups when watching football together in ‘Pay-per-view centers’ has been precisely observed with a qualitative survey type of research. The study concludes that football fanatism indeed has the ability to reconcile people of different ethnical origin. On the other hand, it also has been observed, that fanatic football fan support can divide the communities that are watching football together. With disregard to the ethnical origin, people that supported opposing football clubs often found themselves in a fight full of discrimination to each other (Majaro-Majesty, 2011).

The outcome of another case study about the rivalry of football fan supporters of the two biggest clubs in the post-colonial Zimbabwe, further emphasizes the dangers of too intensive football fanatism. It shows, how the fan support of the two rivaled football clubs, highly increases violence inside the Zimbabwean society and how it is counterproductive to the goal of relaxing social tensions (Tafadzwa Choto, 2017).


Effects of football on peace building in a conflicted society seem mostly positive when looking at the topic in a superficial way. But with a deeper research in this topic, a few disadvantages and needs for improvements can be recognized. As the insufficient long-term success of the ‘Football for Peace’ project in Northern Israel shows, it is increasingly necessary to stage such projects under safer circumstances. Consequently, there is a need for deeper research into safety conditions of these projects in order to avoid disappointments for the participants. In regard of this issue, the following research question can be formulated:

How safe and effective is the use of football projects for peace building in endangered societies?

As football fan support in conflicted societies plays an additional important part in this topic, a lack of information can be recognized. The literature that was found does not adequately cover this issue. There are only a few case studies that examine the benefits and disadvantages of this topic. Consequently, in order to further examine the dangers of football fanatism, a lot more case studies in conflicted societies should be conducted. For the purpose of conducting such researches, the following research question can help to guide the research:

In what ways can football fan support have the danger to serve as a stage for discrimination and prejudices and what can be done to prevent violence from occurring?


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