More than 5,000 people, some travelling from up to six hours away, cheered on wrestlers representing Yirol and Awerial communities at a riverside venue in Mingkaman for the Greater Yirol Community Wrestling for Peace Competition on Thursday. The event, one of the first of its kind in the area since South Sudan gained independence, was organized by Solidarity Ministries Africa for Reconciliation & Development (SMARD) and supported by UNDP’s Community Security and Small Arms project.
“We are here for promoting peace and peaceful coexistence,” said Gabriel Modol, Awerial County wrestling committee member and lead referee of the competition. “At this event you will see community, you will see love and socialization.”
The competition consisted of 21 matches, each lasting up to three minutes. The first wrestler to force their opponent onto the ground was declared the winner. If neither wrestler submitted after three minutes the match was a draw. The teams were divided between the “home” community of Awerial and “visitors” from Yirol East and West.
“This event is important as it brings people from Yirol and Awerial together, to meet and interact in a place that allows understanding. Now when [the spectators and wrestlers] return to their homes, they will remember the people they met here. If, say, a member of this group gets in trouble in an opposing community, it doesn’t need to turn into a bigger problem. They will know each other. They will have understanding,” said Sibet Jenena, a Yirol wrestling manager.
UNDP’s Community Security and Small Arms project supports the wrestling competition, and others like it, as part of its initiatives to encourage social cohesion and strengthen ties between neighboring communities.
“The role that sports can play in bringing communities together and building peace is often underestimated,” said UNDP Country Director Kamil Kamaluddeen. “This initiative is community-led, supports an area which has seen many challenges in the past few years, and we are pleased to see the competition organized well, providing the community with a reason to celebrate themselves and promoting cooperation and understanding between the groups.”
Organizers are excited to take the momentum of Thursday’s event forward, as they see opportunities to use wrestling to encourage positive behavior changes in youth, to solidify inter-community cooperation, and to provide an attractive alternative to violent or criminal activities in their areas.
Distributed by APO on behalf of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).