Sunday, June 13, 2021

Grisham’s Timely Reminder of the Power of Sport: A Call to Peace?


The publication of a new novel by John Grisham is always an exciting event. His most recent novel, published earlier this year, is no exception. The novel, “Sooley,Tells the story of a 17-year-old South Sudanese boy, Samuel Sooleymon, who was selected to play in a basketball tournament in the United States.

While in the United States, his father and sister are killed by rebels waging a brutal civil war against government forces in South Sudan. His mother and brothers reach a camp for displaced people in Uganda; they are relatively safe but poor. After the tournament, Sooley is offered a scholarship to study at an American college, where he becomes a famous basketball player, a legend of the sport.

The book is an excellent example of how storytelling can enchant a reader to the last page. In his novel, Grisham provides a lot of interesting information – though not always historically accurate – about the civil war that began shortly after South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, following a referendum that led to a staggering 98 , 83 percent of the people. vote for independence.

The civil war, which lasted until 2018, resulted in about 400,000 victims, with more than 4 million people displaced, living in refugee camps in neighboring countries, mainly Uganda. Currently, the country is governed by a coalition of the main opposing parties.

Remembered Sudanese drive to receive humanitarian aid
Abandoned Sudanese drive to receive humanitarian resources in Kalma camp for internally displaced people in Darfur, the capital Niyala, on October 9, 2019. (Ashraf Shazly / AFP via Getty Images)

The theme of Grisham’s book is the ability of sport to bring people together and heal conflicts within a nation and between nations. This theme is a timely reminder of the potentially powerful role that sport can play during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide people with a temporary sense of relief and excitement.

South Sudan seems to have the highest number of tall people in the world, which is why interest in basketball is a traditional sport in this young but traumatized country.

As skillfully illustrated in Grisham’s book, basketball brings joy to thousands of people who proudly celebrate the achievements of their South Sudanese players and compatriots in the United States. Success with basketball thus contributes to the formation of a South Sudanese national identity and leads to long periods of peace and stability in this difficult country.

Nevertheless, it is appropriate to question the validity of Grisham’s theme – that sport is a co-operative force in society – now that the world is hosting major sporting events in the next three months, including the Tour de France, Wimbledon, the European Football Championship . and of course the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, Japan, during the period from Friday 23 July to Sunday 8 August 2021.

The theme of Grisham is obviously not new. It is believed that even during the Ancient Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia between the 8th and 4th centuries BC, all conflict between the participating city-states was suspended during the Games.

The aim of promoting peace and international friendship was also in the mind of Baron Pierre de Coubertin when he organized an Olympic Committee to hold the first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896 in Greece.

In this context, Wilfried Lemke argued that “Sport is the most unifying and inspiring tool for development and peace in the world. No other social activity brings people together in so many numbers and with so much passion and pleasure … Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, everyone enjoys sports; its range is unmatched. More importantly, sport promotes universal values ​​that transcend language and culture. ”

Olympic flame handover ceremony
Olympic flame handover ceremony
General view of the Olympic flame during the Olympic flame handover ceremony for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2020, in Panathenaic Stadium, Athens, Greece, on March 19, 2020. (Aris Messinis / Pool via Reuters)

Paul Feinstein, who confirmed Lemke’s assertion, contained in a recently published article 30 examples of sporting achievements that brought the world together, emphasizing the triumph of athletes, tolerance, endurance and endurance, and to the glory of individual athletes and national proud of the nations where the athletes come from.

However, this sugar-coated view of the role of sport in society can simply be the expectation of an expectation rather than a statement of fact. Indeed, sport has often been used to incite strife among nations and to incite hatred.

Not infrequently, sport functions as a political weapon to punish the host of the Olympic Games or to oppose participating countries.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics, for example, were boycotted by the People’s Republic of China because it objected to the participation of athletes from Taiwan. Due to their segregation policies, South Africa and Rhodesia were banned from participating in the 1972 and 1976 Games.

The United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union retaliated by refusing to participate in the 1984 Los Angeles Games because of hostile anti-Soviet propaganda. In addition, the Games have been affected by alleged allegations of doping by athletes, the use of drugs that improve performance, gender discrimination (countries sent only by men’s teams) and fraud.

But, as Grisham optimistically points out, basketball brought the South Sudanese people together and contributed to a fragile peace between the two major warring factions in the country.

He also wisely confirms that sport can likewise be manipulated by big business interests to destroy the future of promising sportsmen who may not be able to handle the fame that accompanies success. It was indeed fame, inexperience and gullibility that was the downfall of Grisham’s protagonist, Sooley, who could not resist the temptations of fame and notoriety after his choice to play in the National Basketball Association league.

A reading of Sooley reminds us that sportsmanship is a gift that needs to be cherished, protected and honed for positive purposes. But, using the words of U.S. Judge Learned Hand, sport must be complemented by a spirit of freedom that ‘tries to understand the minds of other men and women’ and ‘weighs their interests side by side without prejudice’.

Gabriel A. Moens AM is an Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. He served as dean of law and vice-chancellor at Murdoch University and taught extensively in Europe, Asia, and North America. He is the author of short stories and a novel about the origins of the COVID-19 virus, ‘A Twisted Choice’ (Boolarong Press, 2020).

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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