The London Olympics were in full swing on Aug. 5, but in Battambang, Cambodia, on the other side of the world, the Oslo Cup pitted four soccer (or football, as it's called in Cambodia) teams against each other. The winners? Team Landmine and Cluster Munitions Survivors. It was an awesome match, worthy of the Olympic ideals of excellence, respect and friendship. The match finished in drenching rain, stretching into overtime. Among the heroes was one young man who used his head instead of the arms he had lost in a landmine accident to shoot a goal.
The tournament took place on the sprawling grounds of the Catholic Church in Battambang. Jesuit priest Father Enrique Figaredo (known as Father Kike) is the Apostolic Prefect there. He has worked in Cambodia almost non-stop since 1985. He works closely with the Jesuit Refugee Service, Cambodia, which has a long, distinguished track record. Jesuits were among the first foreigners to return to Cambodia from the refugee camps on the Thai border after the brutal years of killing under the Khmer Rouge and its aftermath. The Jesuit Service Cambodia has been and remains a leader in the International Campaign to ban landmines and cluster munitions. Indeed, the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to the Campaign lives at the Metta Karuna Reflection Center in Siem Reap.
Oslo was the name and motif for the tournament because of the upcoming meeting in Norway on cluster munitions in September. The idea was to raise awareness and encourage the Cambodian government to sign on formally to the Convention (it has expressed support but not yet signed officially). The Convention was signed in Dublin in 2008 and came into effect in August 2010.
Cluster munitions and landmines are brutal reminders of the horrors of war. U.S. bombing and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia happened more than 40 years ago but the cluster munitions that were dropped then still explode and people, especially children, lose eyes, limbs and lives. After intense clearing and education campaigns, landmine accidents are far less common today than they were. Indeed, an Italian supported hospital in Battambang whose specialty was treating landmine victims came close to shutting down early this year because there are "only" four or so cases a week (the good news is that Japanese philanthropist Haruhisa Handa stepped in and the hospital is being converted into an emergency treatment facility).
The tragedy is that both landmines and cluster munitions are still used in some of the world's hotspots. And that is despite how well we know that both are extraordinarily difficult to clear. In longtime war zones like Cambodia and Burma, no one knows exactly where the mines were laid and they represent a virtual museum of different styles and histories, lingering long after citizens of the taxpayers of countries responsible can recall only dimly the history of the wars, far less their objectives. They still kill and maim.
The Oslo Cup was thus a blend of joyful competition and celebration and a vivid reminder of the purpose: to raise awareness and keep the issue of landmines and cluster munitions alive so that something is done about it. The Cambodia campaign and the Jesuits put on a remarkable show. The indomitable Denise Coghlan, a Sister of Mercy originally from Brisbane, Australia, was plainly the organizing genius at work for the tournament (as well as the Cambodian campaign). Father Kike was on hand to hand out the awards and to celebrate. I could not keep my eyes off Song Kosal, a longtime ambassador for the cause. Now 24, she lost her leg to a landmine when she was 6 and today works for the Campaign. With one leg and a crutch she literally sprang up and down stairs like an Olympic gymnast, with a warm smile for everyone.
The Campaigns against Landmines and Cluster Munitions have united a remarkable variety of people, including celebrities like Princess Diana and the Pope. Behind the public facades are determined civil society coalitions. They are motivated, driven, in many cases by a relentless spiritual passion determined to bring war to an end. Sister Denise and Father Kike are exemplars of what has made the Landmine and Cluster munitions campaigns among the world's most successful. They bring a rare blend of patience, love, outrage, humor, anger and gritty determination to their work. They know the names and stories of countless people who are directly affected, young and old, and respect their courage. At the Siem Reap center where Sister Denise welcomes refugees and survivors from around the region, there's a painting of a young boy with one leg pitching hay onto a cart, goaded by his father to continue life despite his loss. Today ,that boy is a grown man who brings his son to see the picture and celebrate the courage that honoring him inspired.
Sister Denise, Father Kike and their collaborators accept only what is excellent. They offer a true friendship, including a living openness to different cultures and religions. And they bring a deep, authentic respect for those they work with and for. They stand for a just peace, the kind its backers have in mind in pushing for the Olympic Truce. Those are the values behind the Olympic Movement and they were very much on display at the Battambang Oslo cup.