In early June, as many of the world's great national teams and players were warming up for the carnival that is World Cup 2014, another sporting summit was taking shape far away from Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana Stadium. On June 5, many political and athletic leaders came together in Doha, Qatar, to establish the Global Watch initiative. Their goal? To show a red card to racism and discrimination in sport.
Since its inception, the Global Watch initiative has grown exponentially in size and influence. Spurred by Tokyo Sexwale, the former South African Minister of Human Settlements, activist and former Robben Island cellmate of Nelson Mandela, the initiative added such world leaders as Al Gore, Oprah Winfrey, Desmond Tutu and Sepp Blatter.
Global Watch hopes to benefit from its international sponsors, whose reputation to rally communities and, together with grassroots initiatives that will sprout around the world, effect lasting global change. To that end, in the coming months Global Watch will draft a charter statement aimed at the eradication of all discrimination within sport in the modern era.
As we can see from the collective excitement generated by the World Cup, the uniting power of sport is palpable from Paris to Johannesburg to New York. While sport should offer a unique and equal opportunity to compete, learn and grow in peaceful competition, this utopian vision does not always translate on the world's blacktops and soccer pitches. More often than any would like to admit, sport leagues have been struck by the horrifying spectacle of hate, racism and discrimination.
From the highest levels, sport must fight to eliminate this gangrenous spread. There is no point in obscuring and shifting the blame of these events; rather, they must fight firmly to set a proper example. Whether manifested in racist cries heard in certain soccer stadiums or in more insipid forms -- cultural and religious discrimination within sport, barring females from competition -- these acts are each equally intolerable.
Global Watch, initiated by Sexwale and in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Doha GOALS Foundation, endeavors to address and solve these issues in sport in hopes that eventually they will be dissolved in society as a whole. Governments and politicians can only legislate up to a certain point, so Global Watch will try to recover the values of sport and imbue them into the larger society. Eventually, perhaps the stunted mentalities that serve as the basis for discrimination will adapt and overcome.
The philosophy behind the initiative is summarized well by Sexwale himself: "Global Watch is a call to all humanists, whether black or white, so they stand and face racial intolerance, to be bold and uninhibited and transform playgrounds into places void of racism, discrimination and hatred."
It is significant, also, that this call to action comes from Africa, where the major benefactors have already inspired dozens of organizations on the continent to combat this scourge. Because, to paraphrase the slogan of the international anti-apartheid struggle: "There can be no normal sport in an abnormal society."
And, as Nelson Mandela famously said: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination!..."