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Beyond Sport Summit Wednesday: Beyond Courage


The 5th annual Beyond Sport Summit concluded with a day highlighted by stories of truly courageous individuals who are using sports as the vehicle to make real, positive measurable change in some of the most challenging environments/hot spots in the world.


And while most of the stories did not focus sustainability in the environmental/fight-climate change sense of the world (as Tuesday’s session did), all of them spoke about how sports plays a crucial role in sustainability in the broader sense of the word–of sustaining humanity in often hellish, inhumane conditions.

So while this GSB post will not have that much “G” (Green), the stories and the storytellers are too inspirational not to pass on:

  • Luke Dowdney fused his love of boxing (British Universities champion in 1995) with his concern for the young people in the Favelas (crime and drug infested slums) of Rio de Janeiro by starting Fight For Peace in 2000.
    • The goal:  To provide an alternative to the armed violence and drug trafficking that plagues the lives of young people in the Favelas.
    • The problem:  Globally, more young people die as a result of gun violence/drug trafficking than in conflict zones. For example, 467 children were killed between 1987 and 2001 during the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Over the same period in Rio, 3,937 children died from gun violence.
    • The methodology:  Attract and work with young people in a holistic project that combines boxing & martial arts with personal development.
    • Results:  In 13 years, Fight for Peace has transformed from a project with just ten young people to a group of international NGOs – based in Rio de Janeiro and London – which support 2,250 young people each year.


Fight For Peace

Luke Dowdney Fights For Peace in Rio (Photo credit: Beyond Sport)


  • Tami Hay, Director of Sport for the Peres Center For Peace, spoke about how her organization uses soccer to fulfill its mission of mission of building an infrastructure of peace and reconciliation by and for the people of the Middle East, in particular Israel-Palestine.  Ms. Hay’s approach is to mix the teams up so Israelis and Palestinians can see, by playing together, the humanity in (and hopefully, a good pass from) the other.  It certainly isn’t easy.  Tami told the story of an Israeli boy who, when his father asked “how can you play with those animals”, said “these kids are not like the people you are talking about.  They are my friends.”  She imagines similar conversations on the Palestinian side of the Wall.


Peres Center for Peace

Palestinian and Israeli kids play soccer in mixed teams through the Peres Center For Peace (Photo credit: Beyond Sport)


  • John Layfield has perhaps the most improbable story of all (and that’s saying something at Beyond Sport!):  He went from being a WWE wrestler to founding and leading Beyond Rugby Bermuda, They work with kids at two schools in Bermuda containing at risk kids who tend to get lost in society by dropping out and/or joining gangs.  The results so far are promising:  There is a 50% black Bermudian male drop out rate; after one full year of the program all 60 kids have either graduated or plan on graduating.


Beyond Rugby Bermuda

The lads from Beyond Rugby Bermuda, with Founder John Layfield on the far right (Photo credit: Beyond Sport)


  • Oliver Percovich, Founder of Skateistan, followed his girlfriend to Afghanistan in 2007 from Australia with 3 skateboards.  He met a group of boys and girls eager to learn how to skate. What began as informal skateboarding lessons turned into something much bigger. Percovich perceived the lack of opportunities for young Afghans, especially girls, and realized that skateboarding was a way to engage them and build community. Skateistan quickly took shape, with the help of international donors and skateboard industry partners. In October of 2009, Skateistan Park officially opened, giving boys and girls in Kabul a secure environment and an indoor skatepark to come to every week.  Sadly, as NPR reported last year, Skateistan is not immune from the awful terrorism that plagues Afghanistan.  Despite the tragedy, Skateistan perseveres and this year, produced the first skateboards ever made in Afghanistan.  Check out this amazing 9 minute documentary short, To Live and Skate In Kabul that juxtaposes the simplicity of skateboarding with the larger, war-torn reality of Kabul.


Skateistan Park

Skateistan Park, Kabul, Afghanistan (Photo credit: Skateistan)
In a future post, GSB will interview Beyond Sport’s Founder Nick Keller, with a special focus on its sustainability-from-the-environmental-POV work.  Let me know if you’re interested in reading more stories from Beyond Sport’s broader arena.



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