A level playing field: Peace-building through sport

Kosovo, May 28, 2004

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    Kosovo Albanians and Serbs participated in a friendly three-day soccer tournament designed to bring together members of these different ethnic groups. Photo: Mercy Corps Photo:

Ongoing ethnic tensions often limit opportunities for interaction between Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb youths. When young athletes in Prishtinë/Pristina expressed an interest to meet together with youth of other ethnicities through the medium of sport, Mercy Corps assisted them in organizing an inter-ethnic soccer tournament. Team representatives were fully involved in planning the soccer matches, which took place at a sports complex located on the Graçanicë/Gracanica-Prishtinë/Pristina road. This particular venue was chosen because it's a safe and unbiased location for teams of different ethnicities to interact.

Over a three day period, fourteen teams - including three teams from the Kosovo Serb community, three from the Kosovo Albanian community, a United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) team, a police team, and a Mercy Corps team - played each other in the tournament. To maintain objectivity, referees were chosen from both Kosovo Serb and Kosovo Albanian communities. After many well-played matches, the UNMIK team won. The Gracanica Kosovo Serb team came in second place, while the Dorna Bernica Kosovo Serb team placed third.

After the games, Kosovo Serb and Kosovo Albanian team members took time to eat and talk together at a nearby restaurant. Two older Kosovo Albanian men sitting nearby were overheard remarking: "It's wonderful to see Serbs and Albanians talking and laughing together like this. This is how Kosovo should be."