John Marks: Can Sports Bring World Peace?


            John Marks, the founder and former president of Search for Common Ground, visited Oxy on November 21st and led a discussion titled "Can Sports Bring World Peace?" As a world renowned international conflict management programmer, Marks has aided US diplomatic missions in an effort to ease foreign tensions and reduce conflict risk. One of his biggest achievements was helping to organize the Wrestling Diplomacy with Iran in 1998 under President Clinton that helped normalize tensions between the United States and Iran through sport.

            Marks acknowledged that sports cannot bring world peace. However, he focused on how sport, as a universal commonality, is a valuable way to bring hostile groups of people together to understand their differences and act on their commonalities. Marks explained that through a combination of sport, dialogue sessions, and trust building games it is possible to build trust between two sides and create an environment that makes it more difficult to engage in violent conflict. Sport is just one piece of Marks’ puzzle to easing divisive political tensions.

            Search for Common Ground has even started regional television drama shows called "The Team" that tackle difficult political issues within individual countries through the perspective of a sports team. For example, the Kenyan series focuses on a youth soccer team that tries to come together, despite their differing tribal identities. Marks’ goal is to bring problematic social divisions to light in order to reduce violent conflict by rehumanizing rival political and ethnic groups.

            In the modern global political climate, in which xenophobia and ethnic division are ever so prevalent, inter-cultural association and fraternization are increasingly necessary to reduce tensions. Sport is an important tool to normalize politically polarized relations and John Marks’ work is an example of sport’s opportunity to succeed in this regard.

 

-Josh Cohen