South Sudan has held a peace Olympics to help reconcile communities divided by conflict. The “Twic Olympics” this year marked its 20th anniversary in Twic County.
At this Olympics opening ceremony, a spiritual leader blesses athletes to protect them from injury while a goat represents the belief that power comes from nature.
This is not the winter Olympics in Beijing. It’s the Twic Olympics in northern South Sudan.
The annual two-weeks of games in January attracts athletes from six communities to compete in traditional Olympic and team sports. The aim: to reduce communal conflict.
Volleyball player Ring Aguek Ring knows violence firsthand.
“In May they came to raid our cattle and in the process of protecting them I was shot and at last I succeeded to get my cows back. As I am still in the games, I am an injured person but who still can play because I see it as a unifying factor,” Ring said.
More than 700 athletes participated in this year’s 20th anniversary games, which also promoted health issues such as preventing COVID, HIV, and waterborne diseases.
Twic Olympics founder Acuil Malith Banggol says the games have a mission.
“Peace does not come without agenda. You cannot tell people to remain peaceful without them being active on something that is keeping them away from bad activities. We are building an avenue for communicating and interacting with the youth,” Banggol said.
South Sudan is the world’s youngest country at 11 years of independence, but it has never been fully at peace.
Twic Olympics Association secretary Chol Ajing says involving youth in the games can help end conflicts.
“In South Sudan, the crises of 2013 and 2016 were fueled because young people responded,” Ajing said. “What about if young people didn’t engage in activities like this and do not think about joining the politicians and fuel the war?”
These South Sudanese athletes prefer ‘Tug of War,’ and are urging those still fighting real battles to drop their weapons and join them in the glory of sport.