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Nations Find Peace on Athletic Field

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2010 - Nations may not always see eye to eye in the political arena, and militaries may find it difficult to agree in how to manage conflicts around the globe. But one area where armed forces may find a common ground is in their enthusiasm for sports and competition.

Members of the board of the directors for the International Military Sports Council, also known as CISM, kicked off their annual weeklong meeting today at Bolling Air Force Base here to discuss sporting events and issues for the next year.

The U.S. Defense Department hosted this year's board, which is made up of directors from 17 countries and represents an organization of 132 national militaries, including those of North Korea and Iran.

The program promotes goodwill among the armed forces through sports and physical fitness, and often is the only chance for various militaries to build their international relationships, Air Force Maj. Gen. Darren McDew, vice director for strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff and the U.S. delegation chief for CISM.

"CISM presents a great opportunity for countries to interact with each other on a military-to-military basis, and sometimes it's the only venue where we have our respective militaries operate together," McDew said. "We have many, many wonderful things in common, and sports is a wonderful way to celebrate those commonalities."

Each year, CISM holds 18 to 24 championships worldwide. CISM also sponsors the Military World Games every four years. Events for both include boxing, cross-country, wrestling, volleyball, soccer and basketball, to name a few.

India hosted the 4th Military World Games in 2007, and for the first time in history, more than 100 countries were together in peace. Brazil will host the next games in July 2011, when at least 110 nations are expected to compete, Italian army Maj. Gen. Gianni Gola, CISM president, said.

Considering the emerging conflicts and crisis throughout the world, this level of involvement is "truly fantastic," Gola said.

"The idea to use sports to bring together the fantastic ancient, and at the same time modern, idea [of athletic competition] – it works every time," he said. "As military organizations, we are crossing challenging times. Many armed forces of the world have suffered, too many conflicts have risen. But at the same time, we have created outstanding expectations from the point of view of sports."

Among those expectations are "sports for peace," Gola said. He explained that although the council receives much support from the International Olympic Committee for the military competitions, the goal of the council goes beyond sports.

"From the other point of view – solidarity, development, technical assistance, humanitarian [and] peacekeeping activities, this is kind of the second pillar of our main goal," he said.

The role of military sports can take nations a long way in peace-keeping processes, he said, noting that the United Nations acknowledged CISM as an important facet in the global efforts for peace.

Even when nations don't entirely agree on policies and actions, they must find an area to be united. Sports and athletic competition can be that area, and lead the way for peace on a global front, he added.

"If you want to go fast, walk alone," he said, "but if you want to go far, walk together."

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