What, if any, is the value of sport to processes of peace and reconciliation? After introducing the largely rhetorical arguments for and against the value of using sport as a vehicle to promote peace building in divided societies, this article makes a more detailed and forensic examination of the evidence based on: the role played by sport in South Africa before and after apartheid; and second, drawing upon the author’s own experiences garnered over more than two decades of conducting research and leading sport-based intervention initiatives in Northern Ireland and Israel. The article argues that sport is intrinsically value neutral and under carefully managed circumstances it can make a positive if modest contribution to peace building. The mobilization of an engaged sociological imagination in the context of a broader human rights agenda is central to this contribution. Drawing upon notions of pragmatism, left realism and praxis, the article concludes by presenting a ‘ripple effect’ model that illustrates the circumstances under which sport can make a difference in the promotion of social justice and human rights in deeply divided societies.
- critical left-realism
- divided societies