MPG Leaders’ Summit. The MPG leaders pose with members of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) and the members of the Madaris Volunteers Program (MVP). Both the MPI and MVP provided key insights to the MPG leaders in how to best use sports in the peacebuilding initiatives in Mindanao.

By John Juenz Rubillar

When people think of sports, the first thing that usually comes in mind are players competing in tournaments for gold medals, or athletes clashing for the position of first place. But behind all the fanfare and competition lies a sense of enjoyment and sportsmanship that connects players, both teammates and competitors alike.

This is what lies at the heart of the Mindanao Peace Games (MPG), a sporting event that goes beyond traditional sporting events by using sports as a catalyst for peacebuilding.

The Mindanao Peace Games had its humble beginnings in 2014, when a small group of coaches and sports leaders shared their hopes and dreams on the development of Mindanao. More coaches from schools all around Mindanao soon joined the discussion, united by their shared love for sports. They conceptualized the Mindanao Peace Games to introduce sports as a medium in the development of the region.

The MPG is now held annually since its conception. It gathers athletes of different religions and ethnicities from all over Mindanao. The MPG goes beyond traditional sporting events by aiming to provide an avenue where student-athletes learn more to be better people, where coaches learn more to be better mentors, and sports directors and coordinators learn to be transformational leaders.

MPG Community Outreach. The various team captains of the participating schools pose for a picture with the CDO DepEd Superintendent after conducting a sports clinic for 200 public school kids in Cagayan de Oro City.

Aside from games and tournaments, it also conducts coaches’ forums, community outreach programs, and even hosts TED talks. Coaches and athletes from all over Mindanao gather together to discuss topics centered on Mentor-Leadership, History of the MPG, and the Value of Empowering Women through Sports. The MPG also conducts discussions emphasizing the role of the coach, not only as a sports mentor, but as a teacher in the overall development of his or her athletes as well.

The companionship formed from playing sports and the values learned from other activities allows players to form friendships and connection which, in turn, may pave the way for peacebuilding. Sports transcends across cultural, political, and religious boundaries, and at the same time provides a common platform for a more united Mindanao.

Using sports as a catalyst for peace is not unheard of in the International community. In Jamaica, the Jamaican Red Cross uses sports to strengthen resilience among young people in urban communities with a long history of violence. Similarly, in Rio de Janeiro, The Brazilian Olympic Committee spearheaded the “Community Champions” project, which uses martial arts, sports, and personal and educational programs to realize the potential of young people and coaches in communities affected by crime and violence.

Regardless of race, nationality, or ethnicity, sports is an activity that everyone can relate to. Relationships are at the heart of peacemaking, and the MPG builds on this by using sports to develop supportive relationships in a way that is fun, engaging, and real.