Rasha Qotoub in an interview with Dr. Abd Al-Salam Al-Shunnaq – Director of the Activities Department at the Ministry of Education
Sports for Integration Rather than Segregation
As a badminton player for much of my childhood and the sister of two athletes in the National Tennis Team, sports have always been a central part of my life. My fondness for sports goes beyond its role in developing physical skills and fitness and winning awards and medals. I witnessed firsthand the impact that sports can have on us by refining our personalities, will, strength and determination and establishing the values of cooperation and positive communication with others, even strangers.
I chose to write a blog about sports as part of my participation in the Jeel 01 Program, through which I met Dr. Abd Al-Salam Al-Shunnaq, Director of the Activities Department at the Ministry of Education, to discuss the influence of sports on developing youth and communities. Does it highlight differences between people and create conflict? Or does it, if properly executed, become a tool for cohesion, unity, and peace? How does it build character? Are schools in Jordan equipped to graduate Olympians?
Benefitting from competition…How do sports pave the way for integration?
“The impact of sport and its significant role in society starts from school. Any positive action or activity will benefit our students and our society as a whole,” said Dr. Al-Shunnaq. He continued: “The sports activities that we design in our schools demonstrate great psychological and health benefits for our students, in addition to establishing the principle of benefiting from the competition, rather than competing for the sake of winning and losing. Sport is primarily a means of openness, integrating students, and paving the road for communication, interaction, cooperation, and teamwork between them.”
As a volunteer for a community organization whose mission is mainly to use sports for peace and development, I understand the importance of strengthening the role of civil society institutions and the private sector in supporting sports- based activities. This exceeds organizing short-term activities like marathons, team cycling, and trails, to supporting inclusive activities that give equal opportunities for everyone to participate, such as women, children, and people with disabilities.
At Generations for Peace, the organization I volunteer for, sports- based activities are thoughtfully designed to break down barriers between groups affected by conflict, include people with disabilities, or promote students’ mental health. The curriculum for each program is designed in an integrated manner, starting with training male and female teachers of physical education in public schools on how to use sports in their lessons as a means for development and a promoter of acceptance and respect; Then the students are given a continuous series of sessions filled with sports activities, the aim of which is for these youngsters and children to express themselves and blend in with their peers from different classes and schools, which helps them overcome barriers and prejudices against each other. This certainly contributes to a healthy school community and reduces levels of violence and bullying among students.
Sport is to overcome conflict, not create differences
Commenting on the importance of sports in inclusion and overcoming conflicts, Dr. Al-Shunnaq said: “The practice of sports activities instills in our students a new culture, one that accepts others, no matter how different they are; White, black, tall, or short, all is equal. We need these principles for the prosperity of our society. Today we have students with disabilities participating in our championships and winning medals and first places. This is something of which we are immensely proud.” He added, “We are currently collaborating with a school for the hearing impaired to include them in the King Abdullah II Award for Physical Fitness.”
A student participating in one of the department’s recently implemented programs says: “I practiced patience and not to judge people by their appearance. There were many girls who I thought could not play well, but I was surprised by their level of performance. I talked to them several times; their manners are great.” This 12-year-old student, who is one of Al-Waeden Centres- grassroots centre for the inclusion of people with disabilities - represents a success story, perhaps simple, but it reflects the importance of involving everyone in a purposely designed sporting activity.
You may ask why we focus on the word “purposely designed”. This is because sports activities aimed at behavioral change need to be carefully designed and considered. For example, you cannot include community “A” and community “B” in two competing teams when you know there is a cultural, political, or religious conflict between these two communities. Hence, in Generations For Peace, the “Plus Sport” approach is followed, as sports and non-sports activities are integrated into the programs to overcome conflict and build peace between male and female participants.
When will our schools be ready to graduate Olympians?
As the sister of two athletes who graduated from public schools, many questions come to my mind about how to improve the sports curriculum and school infrastructure so that we can focus on sports as means for creating inspiring models and success stories from our local community.
Dr. Al-Shunnaq said: “There is clear progress and development in the field of sports in schools, but we still need more support. We aspire to have sports academies in Jordan that graduate professional athletes and teach academic curricula at the same time, similar to Aspire Academy in Qatar.” And he concluded his speech with a sobering thought: “If we open a stadium in one neighborhood, we might close a hospital in another place,” referring to the benefits of sports on physical health, and the development of the domestic economy and society as a whole.
Finally, I believe that we need more support and focus on the field of sports in public schools and universities, and this can only be done through strategic cooperation and integrated plans between government and private sectors, along with civil society organizations.
In the meantime, each one of us, as individuals, can practice sports to build ourselves up first, spread awareness about the importance of exercising, and encourage others by leading a simple sporting community activity, so the change can start from small neighborhoods, to reach the largest segment of society.
Photo: Rasha Qotoub in an interview with Dr. Abd Al-Salam Al-Shunnaq – Director of the Activities Department at the Ministry of Education
This blog reflects the opinion of Rasha Qotoub, after she interviewed Dr. Abd Al-Salam Al-Shunnaq, one of the most prominent specialists in the field of sports activities in schools, as part of the “Generation 01” program implemented by Generations for Peace, with the support of the US Embassy in Jordan.