Peace Through Sport: Prince: how sport can give peace a real chance

Jordan's ambitious project to unite conflicting nations

These are frighteningly critical times in the Middle East, but is there a glimmer of hope that one day sport might help bring about peace? Just down the dusty road from the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea lie what used to be the seedy Biblical citadels of Sodom and Gomorrah. With all that is happening on and off the playing field these days it seems a rather appropriate base camp for a new sporting enterprise. Yet if it succeeds, it could turn out to be a veritable Garden of Eden.

Behind the revolutionary roadmap, aimed at helping unite warring nations through sport, is Jordan's Prince Feisal, the younger brother of the king who, when we met during our visit to one of the most sportingly ambitious nations in the Arab world, exclusively revealed what he terms his "Peace Through Sport" initiative. He has already laid the foundations for a pilot scheme, to be launched this summer, which will bring together in Jordan nations who traditionally have had conflict. He explains: "We hope the project will look across boundaries, showing that sport can teach teamwork and help us learn about each other.

"It is the Olympic ethos which tells you that the man standing next to you is not an enemy but a friend. We all share the same sorts of concerns, fears, worries and hopes. We want to build bridges across cultures and divides that existed in the past."

The idea is to begin with five countries: Palestine, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. After that, the world? Ultimately it might even see Arabs and Israelis competing together as one team, hard as that might be to envisage amid the present attrition. But then the prince remains sanguine. "Rather than compete as nations we want to meld them together. I think this will be the first time this has been tried across borders. I am hoping that in the not-too-distant future we can involve Israel once we have built a solid programme. We have already had talks with people in Israel about this. We must make sure we have the right formula that will also work with bigger issues.

"Sport has always been instru-mental in breaking down barriers. We have had ping-pong diplomacy, the cricket Tests between Pakistan and India - which if you had looked at it five years ago, they would have probably have ended up killing each other. Sport helped end apartheid in South Africa, and I have also heard about the progress it has made in Belfast. Now we have North and South Korea marching together in the Olympics."

One of the spin-offs will be to help establish Jordan not only as a sporting peacekeeper but a nation where the prince's long-term ambition to host global events will be realised. In May Jordan successfully hosted a spectacular Middle East Motor Rally Championship, hopefully a prelude to staging a leg of the FIA World Championship. It is a beginning.

Dominating Amman's main football stadium is a picture of King Abdullah, in a Jordanian team shirt, gleefully celebrating a victory over Iraq in a World Cup qualifier. Sporting passion runs high in Jordan's royal family. "Part of our mission is to make sport part of every day life," says the 42-year-old prince. "In the past few years we have come quite a long way, not only in the level of competition but in demonstrating that we are capable of hosting large sporting events. In the slightly longer term we are looking at the possibility of staging the Asian Games, which continue to grow and expand into one of the world's biggest sporting events outside the Olympics.

"It is important that sport plays its part in our society. So far there is only a limited amount of professionalism, but we need to create icons who could be positive role models for our youth. Half of our population is 18 or below."

Although an Islamic nation, Jordan openly fosters multi-culturalism, and unlike some Arab neighbours encourages the participation of women in politics, business and all sports. Prince Feisal's 16-year-old daughter, Princess Ayah, is an accomplished volleyball player, and he serves on the IOC's Women and Sport Commission. "In this country our constitution guarantees that women have total equality. We also have the highest level of participation of women in sport in the Middle East. Every sport here is open to women.

"When we went to the Olympics in Athens, half of our athletes were women."

The prince himself is a sporting all-rounder. "I think I played football in every position, working my way backwards from striker to goalkeeper. I enjoyed volleyball and swimming and, of course, rally driving. I picked up the bug for motorsport from my late father [King Hussein]. My brother, King Abdullah, has twice been the national motor rally champion, and I raced as co-driver for three years."

He added: "Look, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. Jordan has always been to the forefront when talking about peace and moderation, trying to build understanding, and this is a legacy we want to continue.

"West Asia is seen globally as a region of strife and conflict, but I believe that through sport we can start to change these perceptions. Maybe this is our contribution to making the world a better place."

Jordan's unique desert flower, the black iris, may yet become a symbol of sporting tranquillity as well as a marker for a nation with high hopes of making a name for itself in the world's sporting theatre.

The World Cup and Olympics may be a princely pipe dream for the moment, but as you stand atop Mount Nebos, where Moses is said to have looked across at the real thing, you can believe that sport's Promised Land in Jordan may not be that far distant.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all