PeacePlayers International

Inspiring a Generation of Champions for Peace
02/24/2014 10:21

The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace is a day to celebrate all of the achievements and contributions that sport has made toward peacebuilding. At PeacePlayers International (PPI), every day we witness the power of sport to help children overcome deeply entrenched divides, change perceptions, and become leaders for peace in their communities. PPI’s mission is to inspire a generation of Champions for Peace, young people who work year round to change the status quo and create hope for a more peaceful future. These Champions serve as ambassadors for change, applying what they learn at PPI in their own lives, drawing their peers, friends, and neighborhoods into core constituencies capable of motivating society to take the risks necessary for lasting peace.


In many societies, walls, both physical and social, separate our youth. Language, religion, and culture have created a tight, almost impermeable ethnic boundary between our communities. Individuals are left to learn about the “other” primarily through the media, myths, and stereotypes, allowing prejudice and fear to thrive. These misconceptions serve to justify further segregation, in turn begetting only more ignorance. Structured interactions focusing on the pursuit of shared goals have been shown to powerfully reduce such prejudices, and team sports – such as basketball – serve as ideal tools to facilitate such encounters. After all, children living in a divided society may attend different schools, live in segregated neighborhoods and speak different languages, but they all play sports according to the same rulebook. By bringing different communities together for regular integrated practices and games, PPI provides a neutral forum for the establishment of deep personal bonds and lasting friendships. This sustained contact successfully challenges youths' negative preconceptions of the “other,” allowing them to explore different cultures in a positive setting.


Recent events within the countries where PPI operates - the conflict between Israel and Gaza, the economic recession in Cyprus, the ongoing HIV/AIDs crisis in South Africa, and the riots in Belfast over the union flag, have further exacerbated social and ethnic divides. Despite formidable barriers to peace, one boy was able to overcome generations of fear and hate. Darryl Petticrew grew up in Ardoyne, a traditionally Nationalist and Catholic area of Northern Belfast. Located near the Protestant Shankill Road, Ardoyne gained notoriety for its violent involvement in “The Troubles”, a two decade cycle of sectarian bloodletting between Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant communities. Darryl’s father was involved with extremist paramilitary activity, and lived a fugitive’s lifestyle, drifting in and out of prison, Belfast, and Dublin. Darryl was mainly raised by his mother and grandmother and has almost no relationship with his father. Like many of his peers, Darryl witnessed and occasionally participated in numerous riots as a child. He has been hit with stones and thrown them himself.


Things began to change for Darryl when he was 12-years-old,after he and 39 other Protestants and Catholics from Belfast, traveled to Chicago for 10 days to work together on community service projects. He remarked, “For the first time in my life I realized that I could be friends with Protestants.” His experience abroad led to a specific moment, amidst a riot, when Darryl picked up a stone and then set it back down, not wanting to throw it and perhaps hit any of the new friends he had made.


Several years later, while playing basketball on his club team, The Belfast Stars, Darryl met PPI’s co-founder, Sean Tuohey. Sean invited Darryl to coach at the first Holy Cross girls and Wheatfield “Twinning”, a special basketball event where Catholic and Protestant youth play basketball together on mixed teams. Soon after his first Twinning, Darryl began coaching for PPI on a regular basis and in early 2008 he began working for PPI - NI as the Leadership Development Program Coordinator, talking to youth about his own experiences growing up and teaching them the skills that helped him overcome the cycle of fear and hate. He remarked, “After just one Twinning, I could see the power of PeacePlayers. If children from different backgrounds can learn to play together, then maybe the can learn to live together. Even after growing up through years of violence, working together with Protestants has helped me realize that we are all people capable of living together in peace.”


Darryl is grateful for the opportunity to impart this lesson on to hundreds of young people each year through PPI’s programming. In 2012 alone, Darryl worked with over 100 young leaders, helping them to develop into advocates of peace. Now he believes, “The mission and vision of PPI is something I carry with me in all aspects of my life.” 


Darryl’s story is just one of thousands that illustrates the power of sport to create peace. On International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, we celebrate our coaches who not only serve as instructors but also as instillers of hope. We celebrate the countless number of friendships that have broken down stereotypes and bridged divides between conflicting cultures. But most importantly, it reminds us once again of the world of which UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon spoke – “a peaceful, sustainable world of equality and opportunity…a world where every girl and boy, every woman and man can be a winner.”



Adam Hirsch |