UNMISS 'Sports for Peace' event gathers diverse crowd of many thousands in Bentiu
UNITY – The adage is old, but it still holds true: Sports unite; most recently some 10,000 people in Bentiu. They arrived from outside and within the town’s camp for internally displaced persons to watch a football match and a game of volleyball game, organized by peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
“I feel lucky to play and to be given this opportunity. I think sports brings people together and when we’re all together there can be peace. I hope that we can all learn something from today,” said Nyachiang Peter Llab, one of the volleyball players overwhelmed by the support from her community.
The participating teams, representing Bentiu town and the internally displaced community, respectively, were brought together for a local “Sports for Peace” happening. With thousands of wildly cheering fans on the side lines, outsiders would have been forgiven for believing that a World Cup final was under way. That impression would have been further strengthened by the presence of typically busy politicians and other dignitaries.
The crowd got what it had come and hoped for: Excitement and value for the money they did not have to spend to attend the fiercely competitive but universally festive spectacle, with the football game requiring a nerve wrecking penalty shootout to crown a winning team, and an equally thrilling volleyball match.
“If you want to bring lots and lots of people together to have a good time, you can count on sports. Sports is very important, especially for the youth. We play football every weekend and we always look forward to it,” explained Robert Tuak Pan, a resident of the camp for the internally displaced and an enthusiastic supporter of Central Boys, its club.
Everyone, not just the celebrated competing teams, was a winner on the day, as both communities involved also received a variety of sports equipment - including uniforms, volleyballs, footballs and netting for goal posts - to further promote joint athletic endeavours and the sense of togetherness they can bring.
Lieutenant Colonel Prince Tandoh, Commanding Officer of the peacekeeping mission’s Ghanaian military contingent based in Unity State, was moved by the scenes he witnessed.
"Today, sport has shown its power to bring together and unite diverse communities, promote dialogue and thus make mutual understanding possible. It is clear for all to see that it can be an important catalyst for change,” he said.
Not one to be “out-eloquented”, Ruai Top, Deputy Chair of the Community High Committee of the camp for the internally displaced, commented on the bigger picture, extrapolating the significance of the event beyond Unity State.
"What we watched here today was not ‘just’ all of us being united in spirit and purpose for a couple of exciting games but a vivid testament to the pursuit of peace and reconciliation in all of South Sudan.”