Wrestlers Grapple for Understanding

  • Competing with Compassion The centuries-old sport of wrestling is being parlayed as a means of building understanding and reducing violence among rival tribes in Sudan. Image Credit: Benjamin Lowy

  • Competing with Compassion The centuries-old sport of wrestling is being parlayed as a means of building understanding and reducing violence among rival tribes in Sudan. Image Credit: Benjamin Lowy

  • Competing with Compassion The centuries-old sport of wrestling is being parlayed as a means of building understanding and reducing violence among rival tribes in Sudan. Image Credit: Benjamin Lowy

  • Competing with Compassion The centuries-old sport of wrestling is being parlayed as a means of building understanding and reducing violence among rival tribes in Sudan. Image Credit: Benjamin Lowy

  • Competing with Compassion The centuries-old sport of wrestling is being parlayed as a means of building understanding and reducing violence among rival tribes in Sudan. Image Credit: Benjamin Lowy

Wrestlers Grapple for Understanding

Editor's note: The project described in this story was interrupted by an outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013. Journalist and Wrestling Roots founder Tim Foley was there and sent along these insights in a blog about compassion and competition

It’s been said that there are no losers in wrestling, just winners and learners. In that spirit, a wrestling tournament is being staged in South Sudan to teach rival tribes that they have much in common and that they can coexist without violence.

The event planned by the Wrestling Roots Foundation (WRF) was inspired by a 2010 tournament hosted by South Sudanese Wrestling Entertainment (SSWE). That event had an unexpected outcome of creating bonds of promoting healing and peace between tribes with longstanding conflict and violence.

Chicago-based WRF is working with the Fetzer Institute to replicate this highly successful event, and to learn more about how connecting with “the other” through sport contributes to communal healing and creates bonds of understanding through the experiences of the participants.  A 10-day wrestling tournament in December 2013 will bring together tribes in South Sudan who are currently in disputes with each other over cattle rustling and past acts of violence. 

Sports diplomacy occurs in many contexts, as athletes are often among the most popular and admired figures in a nation’s culture. The WRF feels that wrestling is especially suited to drive change since the sport is easily understood across different cultures and has a history dating to the beginning of human civilization.

The athletes and members of the participating communities will be in close contact as they live and work together during the tournament, learning about the other cultures and forming relationships based on their shared love of the sport.

Video interviews with athletes, audience members, tribal leaders and other community members will collect reflection on participants’ experience, adding to understanding about how sport can contribute to peace and reduce aggression between rival groups.  Highlights of the interviews will be shared through social media and on the Fetzer and WRF websites.

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Sport and Embodied Spiritual Practice.

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