Our newspapers and television news are bombarding us at the moment – almost literally – with images of war and its dreadful effects. Whether the images are from the streets of Gaza or from the fields in Ukraine where Flight MH17 came down, we are confronted hourly with the horror and destruction that results when human beings choose to give into intolerance, hatred and anger. Heartbreakingly, 80 children (including 3 babies) were aboard MH17 – all killed. Reports from Gaza suggest that many children too are amongst the casualties.
This is in stark contrast with the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, which I attended on Saturday evening in Glasgow. Without giving too much away – for there will be some surprises on Wednesday night – it was an extremely good-humoured, warm and uplifting affair, with a strong sense of cohesion and togetherness that reached out and stretched across the continents of the world. The venue – Celtic Park, home to Celtic FC – has seen its fair share of intolerant behaviours in the past, and many of the countries of the Commonwealth have suffered too in their distant and recent histories from ethnic violence. The Commonwealth Games, however, through the shared endeavour that is sport, transcends these human difficulties and takes us to a better level of human co-operation.
Sport has the potential to heal divisions – for the competitors, it takes place in an arena where competition and mutual respect and tolerance join hand-in-hand, rather than exist in opposition. Sport can engage its spectators both in pride for their own team, but admiration of others. Neither, again, is mutually exclusive within the realm of sport. Unity and diversity can co-exist – can, indeed, be inextricably entwined. Sport proves this so.
Where sport leads, so other aspects of our human activity must – absolutely must – follow. The message is so, so simple – let us lay down arms and channel our energies into harmony, accord and union. Sport shows us that we have the human capacity to do so. How many more children must die in conflict before we realise this?