On November 20, Peace Builders Colombia (COP Colombia), a soccer school in the town of Usme, received the special award from the jury in the 2021 edition of the Peace and Sport Awards in Monaco. The award, which has the support of the Principality of Monaco and several elite athletes, was awarded to this organization for its work in consolidating peace initiatives through physical activity.
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With this recognition, COP Colombia joined a select group of organizations linked to sports that work to positively impact society. The list of winners is adorned by the Barcelona Foundation, the footballer Lionel messi and the Spanish basketball player Pau GasolThese last two, chosen as champions for peace in previous editions.
But the history of COP goes beyond recognition and football. In fact, the architect of the project, despite being an enthusiastic fan of this sport, initially sought to be the voice of children affected by antipersonnel mines in one of the most complicated moments of the internal conflict.
At just 14 years old, a boy named Gerson Flórez He left his hometown, Bogotá, to travel to the World Conference in The Hague in 1998. The reason for this visit was none other than to receive the World Youth Award for Peace and Tolerance, an award created to highlight the contributions of young people in terms of tolerance, social justice and reconciliation in their countries.
“In memory of the children who have no voice, for all those who through the recklessness of many have lost their lives to the mines and for those whose fragile lives depend on the actions of adults, I lift up my pain to God and to men who have the challenge of achieving peace in my beloved, long-suffering, but beautiful Colombia, “he said in the acceptance speech for his award.
Years later, Gerson had another trip to Europe. This time his destiny was Oslo (Norway), the place where he arrived as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 – an award that was awarded to former US President Jimmy Carter – and where, as if it were a divine design, he came up with an idea.
During his trip to the Nordic country, Gerson met the president of the Norwegian Football Association and discovered the Norway Cup: an international youth tournament held in Oslo. “He realized that this game can be a powerful tool for social work and that social sports programs can promote reconciliation from the field,” explains Hugo Flórez, father of the young man and director of international relations for COP Colombia.
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That trip not only changed his life, but in the long run, it managed to impact the lives of thousands of young people from Bogota.
“My brother brought up the idea and that was when we started working. We wanted to become actors of peace, but linking football. For this reason, we began to work with displaced children and with others who belonged to the Usme barracks. It was a very nice project because we managed to consolidate a group that forgot about the differences, ”he says. Carolina Flórez, director of COP Colombia.
The idea was consolidated in 2009 thanks to the support of the Norwegian Government. That year, 20 children from were invited to participate in the Norway Cup with young people from all over the world. “His experience abroad generated a reflection on tolerance and the value of life. Opportunities such as international sports exchanges and the possibility of obtaining a higher education change behaviors and give young people a vision of improvement, ”says Hugo.
During this period of work, the vision of COP was cemented. “Our work is to link boys, girls and young people from the most vulnerable areas of Usme. We believe in a culture of peace, gender equality and social inclusion, and we use this game as a catalyst for social transformation ”.
From that moment on, the invitations became more and more frequent. Were in Mexico, Argentina, Sweden, China and France, in men’s and women’s soccer tournaments.
Sergio Ospina was one of the lucky ones. He says that the possibility of traveling and doing it with this sport marked him for life. “What struck me the most was the cultural shock, the differences in behavior and the sense of belonging that people had for their territories,” he says.
Today, Sergio is one of the teachers who previously played at COP. Together with him, the school has four peace animators –this is how instructors are called– and more than 150 children and adolescents.
“We have a project called Forming Leaders and the trainers we currently have came from there,” says Carolina.
It is precisely this leadership that has generated sympathy for his approach. And it is that the work of Gerson and his family was not only recognized in France, they also received an award last Tuesday for being the best sports training school in the city in the Bogotá Team Awards of the IDRD.
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It’s not football, it’s values
It was the last minute of play in the tournament of the Maracanã Social Club and the sub-10 team of the soccer school COP Colombia lost 16-0 against Porto, another team in the same category. The children’s faces were not long or disgusted, they looked calm and on some faces you could even perceive smiles.
Neither the rivals nor the spectators understood the reason for that attitude, much less some parents. The one who was capable of understanding this behavior was Carolina Flórez.
“Although winning is important, for us there are values that are above sporting achievement. We do not conceive an idea of the game that is not linked to the training of people. They scored goals every two minutes and there was a lot of pressure from the parents, but the children were happy, ”says Carolina.
That way of seeing, understanding and living football is directly linked to the methodology they apply in training. To do this, they use an application provided by Peace and Sport that serves as a guide for work on the playing field. There, they not only explain technical or warm-up exercises to peace animators, but also include activities that enhance life skills.
“We want all training to have a purpose. For this reason, the exercises not only seek that the boys and girls learn to control a ball better, it is also a question of what learning they take me from here and how they can apply them in their context ”, says Hugo.
At this point it coincides Camilo Bernal, a 15-year-old player, who lives his first experience in a soccer team thanks to COP. “This is not just a school where you learn to kick the ball, they don’t tell us how to behave either. It is through the teachers’ exercises that we assimilate their ideas and understand the importance of applying them with classmates or in our homes ”.
“Currently, sports institutions have forgotten something very important and that is social responsibility. Regardless of how many children train, or the social stratum, the love for the game must be instilled in them and they should talk about the responsibility that as a rival or partner they have with the other ”, Hugo concludes.
What is Peace and Sport?
Peace and Sport is an organization that uses sport and its values as an instrument for peace. It was founded in 2007 by the Olympic pentathlon medalist Joël Bouzou, and the former Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba is vice president.
“The use of sport as a pedagogical tool has motivated the international sports movement to take tangible action. In parallel, our success in the field has made political leaders and governments realize that sport can be a genuine and effective mechanism for peace “, they explain on their website.
For this 2021, organizations such as the World Rafting Federation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Rudy Gobert, French basketball player for the Utah Jazz, were also awarded in different categories.
CAMILO A. CASTILLO
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Award-winning Usme football school in Monaco