This weekend, Beirut experienced a marathon in which Prime Minister Hariri, President Sleiman, and Minister of Interior Baroud participated, among 30,000 others. It was nice to see all creeds participating in such a massive event. From everything I've read, the Beirut Marathon Association did a wonderful job of organizing the race and should be commended for this accomplishment. The Association has been organizing the annual marathon since 2002, holding its first race in 2003, and in six short years it is already attracting international marathon stars.
I envy those with the energy to run a marathon. I'm not much of a sports fan (though I do strictly adhere to the tenets of the Church of Baseball), but I do enjoy the World Cup and the Olympics, and I can appreciate watching Alex Ovechkin score another goal for the Washington Capitals. I can't say I don't turn my attention to a television screen during the last few minutes of a basketball or American football game if the score is close and there is excitement in the air. Ok, so maybe I am a bit of a fan.
What really interests me is the way sport can serve as a bridge builder between competing factions, whether they be nations or neighborhoods. I suppose that is what I find the most fascinating about the global soccer order (Egypt-Algeria and El Salvador-Honduras aside.) You can have countries that hate each other in politics go out and play a game. A GAME. Far better than bullets and bombs!
Civil society organizations across the world have been using sport as a peacebuilder. The NBA has a program Basketball without Borders. In Lebanon, groups like Safadi Foundation, MercyCorps, IREX, and the Rockwool Foundation have developed sports programs aimed to build peace among kids with different politico-religious backgrounds.
Football and basketball are common sports used in such programs, but one group is using an entirely new sport as a means to peace - ultimate frisbee. While in countries like Lebanon, a sport could have sectarian or class implications, ultimate frisbee is pretty unknown outside of American university campuses. Ultimate Peace's mission is "to build bridges of friendship, understanding and fun for youth from different social and cultural backgrounds around the world." The organization has recently ventured into the Middle East and will be implementing an ultimate frisbee peacebuilding program in Tel Aviv in 2010. Could Lebanon be in their future? We'll have to check this out!