TES-D pilot in Italy: UISP Rome sees sport diplomacy as cooperation within communities

By UISP Roma

The objective of our Italian TES-D pilot action was to facilitate through sport for all and public events the meeting between people and therefore to create the basis for dialogue in the city of Rome and specifically in the Pietralata district. This complex local context is experiencing many social critical situations. With the TES-D initiative, they provided an awareness raising activities, such as an exhibition on racism in sport and a round table involving all stakeholders and local authorities of the district discussing how sport for all can be a tool to fight all forms of discrimination.

This was a formula that has been already tested and seems to be useful to create a more suitable climate for people to better understand each other. 

For UISP Rome the concept of Sport Diplomacy represents a tool to promote the concept of a cooperating community.

Some thoughts from UISP Roma from the actions held in Fulvio Bernardini sporting facility (located in Pietralata):
“We have learned on the ground how sport, since the earliest modern Olympic experiences, has been able to unite where every other diplomatic manoeuvre has divided, it has been able to achieve results of sharing and overcoming conflicts even where spaces in that sense seemed closed. We have witnessed nations in open conflict, challenging each other on a ping-pong table, or in front of a chessboard. Leaders in atavistic contrast sitting side by side watching a soccer or baseball game. There have been athletes who have brought serious social issues to the forefront of the general public: from Tommie Smith's symbolic gesture to the athletes on the Olympic refugee team. But even at the grassroots level, sports can do a great deal in fostering dialogue and bringing different parties around the table to promote common solutions. 

UISP has always done this in refugee camps in Lebanon by training teachers, teaching Senegalese fishermen how to swim, running the Vivicittà along the wall dividing Palestine or among the rubble in the aftermath of the end of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and more recently in Romania on the border with Ukraine. But UISP does this on a daily basis in the various cities of Italy by taking physical activity to prisons and the most difficult places in the various cities, but also simply in every sports facility where everyone has value as a person. In particular, for UISP Rome the concept of Sport Diplomacy represents a tool to promote the concept of a cooperating community. 

In order to get out of the health and social crisis that has hit us, the best way is to start again from the relationships of proximity, we need to reconnect threads that have been broken especially with regard to the most fragile and marginal people. Those who have suffered most from the disruption of some movement-related projects have certainly been the elderly, people with cognitive impairment, prisoners and asylum seekers/refugees, people with great difficulty (for various reasons) in staying connected with the world through the Internet. This pandemic, and even more this war so close to us, requires us to get around a table trying to build community solidarity networks that dialogue on how to promote equal rights for all, how to improve living conditions, how to promote sociality without barriers and prejudices.”

The positive experience was the good participation and the feeling of a real involvement and joy of people that took part in the event activities. The quantity and quality of the participants to the discussion in the Round Table has been surely a positive experience as well. It permitted to discuss needs, challenges, difficulties that grassroots sport associations as well as local social infrastructures as the prison and the Mental Health Centres and UISP, has to consider in order to approach and develop common and more effective strategies in the future. Another very positive experience was the level of interaction, curiosity and empathy that was spread by children and young boys and girls from the UISP Summer Centres during the presentation of the exhibition on Racism in sport. Children boys and girls from the district involved in the UIP Summer camp met an occasion to discover and discuss arguments as history and actuality of racism in sport that are not necessarily approached at school or in other contexts. 

Where to now?
Thanks to the project, it was possible to spread the power of the sport diplomacy concept toward other stakeholders that were not aware of the existence of concept as such.  Maybe one of the most relevant result is also the fact that through the discussion at the Round Table and along the organization of the activities the concept has been understood. The power of Sport Diplomacy is visible in particular when developed at Grassroots level. It allows crossing barriers, even when they look impossible to be broken. The joy of people in taking part in the activities despite all forms of physical barriers was the most appreciable result.

Recommendations for new Sport Diplomats and their organisations:

Collaboration and creation of networks that includes different stakeholders and local institutions is a crucial element for any effective success of the activities. Otherwise, it can just be a nice but an occasional event. In order to produce processes, it is important to promote virtuous processes. It is necessary to set up activities that allow each actor to carry out their role, bringing the specific vision and specific skills. Equally decisive is knowing how to interact with local institutions, mutually recognizing the role that civil society has in pressing the institutions and part of the institutions to recognize the essential role of civil society actors. Not only in the ability of the latter to carry out activities but in the skills that are used to develop social strategies for territorial governance.

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Posted on 03/11/2022 by UISP Roma