Tribes from around South Sudan are meeting in Juba this week for wrestling matches and peace-building activitiesThe project builds on the idea that sport and competition can bring people together in a unique way, as Nelson Mandela described: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers."
The peace-building initiative will feature wrestling teams from three of South Sudan's largest wrestling states; Central Equatoria, Lakes, and Jonglei. Each team consists of 15 wrestlers, three coaches and six entertainers. Lakes and Central Equatoria will meet on Dec. 14 for the right to face defending champions Jonglei in the finals on Saturday, Dec. 21.
Wrestling Roots founder and executive director T.R. Foley says he believes that the tournament will help build a bond of friendship and repair many of the fractured relationships left after decades of conflict.
"Wrestling has the unique power to unite people around a cultural activity that promotes their commonality and creates dialogue," says Foley. "Traditional wrestling in South Sudan works because the tribes involved in the competition share common values. Wrestling is defined by strength, control and balance -- not violence. Though a sport designed for the physically and mentally tough, wrestling helps deliver the message of peace."
The WRF is partnering with the Fetzer Institute to bring the tournament to South Sudan. The Fetzer Institute works to foster awareness of the power that love, forgiveness, and compassion can have in our world. Located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Institute was founded by broadcasting pioneer John Fetzer.
Fetzer believes the wrestling tournament is a productive start for what could become a larger idea of improving communication and healing wounds through sport.
Program Officer Michelle Scheidt said the project is a way to promote unity. "Wrestling for Peace can help us see the power of sport to bring people together across boundaries. The tournament offers common ground for groups who have suffered from bitter conflicts. Competing provides a way for the athletes to get to know one another and to discover their common humanity, developing personal connections that show the power of love and forgiveness to overcome division."
In addition to competing in front of large crowds in the South Sudan capital, wrestlers will also be asked to engage in a discussion about love and forgiveness on Wednesday, December 18. Local politicians, school children and fans of the sport are expected to attend. The discussion will help draw out the deeper meaning behind the tournament and identify productive next steps.
"We're not just having them wrestle and have fun together," says Foley. "We are interviewing the participants about their lives and recording what effects the week of wrestling and other events have on their understanding of each other. We want the idea of love and reconciliation to grow."
For more information on Wrestling for Peace please contact:
The Fetzer Institute
9292 West KL Avenue | Kalamazoo, MI 49009
Wrestling Roots Foundation
You can also follow along by searching the hashtag #Wrestling4Peace and looking in the Facebook accounts of both the Wrestling Roots Foundation and Fetzer.