Peace-building through soccer for Colombia’s children

Children from across Colombia are coming together Tuesday for a national soccer tournament promoting peace.

The three-day event, organized by the United Nations children’s agency Unicef, the Colombian presidential youth program and the Antioquia regional government, aims to harness the power of sport to teach children self-respect and peaceful conflict-resolution.

More than 220 children and young people from rural, indigenous, Afrocolombian, and urban areas in ten different Colombian departments have been divided into 20 teams to take part in the tournament, entitled “Golombiao: The Game of Peace.”

The game will not take the form of traditional soccer – although very similar, the specific rules of the game and the overall agenda of the project have been created by the players in brainstorming sessions before the tournament.

There will be no referees and the first goal of each match must be scored by a girl.

Game advisors have helped the children build rules collaboratively along themes of peaceful conflict resolution and co-existence, gender equality, and social and civic participation. It’s hoped the children will adopt the principles of fair play and non-aggression in their daily lives once the tournament is over.

The Golombiao has its origins in Medellin, where children from 16 communes came together for a soccer tournament in some of the city’s most dangerous streets in 1996. John Bath, one of the organizers, told BBC Mundo that at the time Medellin had “‘a border crisis’ — no one could move from one neighborhood to another.”

The event was such a success that it quickly grew, taking the form of an international tournament in 2005. It has since been exported to countries around the world.

This year’s tournament is the first organized by Unicef and the Colombian authorities. Hollywood actor and political activist Danny Glover is visiting Medellin on Tuesday to inaugurate the event.

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