Reflections on the World Cup & Education for a Culture of Peace

Alicia Cabezudo

Escuela de Ciencias de la Educación, Universidad Nacional de Rosario UNR – Rosario Argentina

Barcelona, June  2010

(Please click here for the original Spanish version of this welcome letter)

footballSchool life of children today can be seen as an imaginary “line of fire” crisscrossed by diverse types of violence: violence of the socio-economic system, with successive adjustments and hardships that consequently lead to poverty and misery for a large number of the world’s population; violence of political systems exercised by governments that usurp civil society representation while demanding ethical behavior, democratic participation, respect and consensus decision-making; everyday violence manifested in public and private spaces that tends to be reproduced in all the activities in which we participate – work, recreation, school, and community sites.   

In summary, this socio-economic marginalization recreates tremendous class differences and injects into society a type of violence rooted in social injustice where even sporting celebrations come to be – too often – nightmares. This is happening in football matches and in many other sports in recent years. Let’s have another look.

The Football World Cup is always a celebration for children, for students and for the population at large. It’s a celebration in which people live tending to matches on TV, waiting for scores, results, bets, penalties, famous football player’s names and infinite winning combinations. The Cup is the main conversation with friends, neighbors, family and working partners – and it comes to be an open topic for dialogue; for defending different options and positions; for sharing sport passions and expectations; for lunching or dining with others; for sharing hours in a jolly and collective way.  It is a kind of celebration that facilitates meetings, open communication, exchanges of ideas and socialization through affective (and effective!) relationships. All of these experiences are valuable patterns applicable in the teaching-learning process.

It is an extraordinary educational opportunity for educators to turn this “celebration” into a learning experience to promote the importance of coexistence, respect for others, multiculturalism and social wealth; the celebration of differences and cultural similarities; and explore collective effort as an ethical and political value.

We can turn the World Cup of soccer into a democratic educational opportunity where football “popular knowledge,” experiences, stories and practices can be used as relevant teaching resources and tools for a better understanding of the present world. These tools have a tremendous pedagogical value given by the opportunity of re-thinking the diversity of our societies and the challenge we have when facing its complexity and the ways it shows up in our own realities.

This is an opportunity to think about new topics that can be added to the school curriculum through multiple disciplines.  Studies of “far and exotic countries” (how “far an exotic” when their peoples are our neighbors in the same street?); readings about unknown geographical sites; research on different government practices and laws; learning of others arts, crafts, customs and religions; discovery of the past and present history of diverse regions; economic relationships and linkages; the common problems that affect everyone and the collective search for solutions;  as well as many other topics for discussion that might open possibilities for reflecting, exchanging and learning in an active process.  This is certainly much more creative than simply “watching” the international matches.

This possible application of the World Cup as an educational opportunity for creating culture(s) of peace would confront the traditional teaching that happens around international sporting events: the mechanic recitation of the countries listed in the Cup and a passive observation – sometimes with surprise – of unknown countries – suddenly Big Ones – or the recognition of the Ever Big Ones – well known due to their political and economical power.  

Understanding the diversity and differences, multiple lifestyles and worldviews, different civilizations and their manifestations, the richness of the diverse cultures represented by these football teams, and the possibility of generating dialogue offers a lesson of political, religious and cultural enrichment that are fundamental components in democratic civic education of children, youth and adults.

The construction of all these values; the defense and the recognition to self-determination of peoples; the right to peace; respect for human rights and international law; and learning about the collective effort and solidarity of human beings throughout history as actors in social, political, economical and cultural transformations, are part of this  pedagogical proposal.

It’s time that the present world countries decide to be “good football teams” – where “each football player” helps from its “position” to the urgent construction of “scores and results” that are harmonic, balanced and cooperative.   These would be football teams that would make “fair play” all the time – respecting each other and creating vital lessons of solidarity and cooperation in the world and for themselves.

Let’s work towards this at all levels: with children, youth and adults; with parents, neighbors, friends and colleagues; and … why not with other still unknown partners in this wonderful game towards peace and justice that we all  have to play together?

Let’s seize this educational opportunity without hesitation.