In the context of contemporary culture, sport is often celebrated for its competitive spirit and the pursuit of excellence.

However, its influence can extend far beyond the field of play, serving as a vehicle for peacebuilding and the promotion of positive societal values. Through the lens of the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) and its Positive Peace research, we can investigate the intricate relationship between sport and peace, exploring how the principles of fair play, respect, and teamwork inherent in sports are reflective of the conditions necessary for a peaceful society.

Research by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) provides a comprehensive analysis of the factors that build, predict, and sustain peace. Positive Peace – defined as the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies – can offer us a unique perspective on the role of sport in helping to create societal resilience, and long-term sustainable peace.  

IEP’s Positive Peace research, which seeks to quantify peace and its benefits, underscores the systemic nature of peaceful societies where the same factors that create lasting peace also lead to other positive outcomes such as robust economies, ecological sustainability, and overall well-being. It is within this framework that sport can function as a powerful tool for peacebuilding, transcending cultural, economic, and political barriers to unite individuals and communities. 

The Positive Peace Index (PPI), a key component of IEP’s body of research, measures the resilience of 163 countries, covering 99.7% of the world’s population. The PPI is built upon eight Pillars of Positive Peace, which include factors such as the Free Flow of Information, Equitable Distribution of Resources, and Acceptance of the Rights of Others. These Pillars are not only indicative of a society’s peacefulness but also its capacity for progress and development. 

Sport, in its essence, aligns with many of these Pillars. Through international competitions and events, sport facilitates the exchange of ideas and encourages a sense of global citizenship. It can also champion inclusivity and equality, breaking down barriers that include race and socioeconomic status. 

  1. Well-Functioning Government: Sport requires effective organisation and governance, mirroring the need for a well-functioning government in society. The rules and regulations in sports ensure fair play and order, just as a capable government provides structure and stability to a nation.
  2. Sound Business Environment: The sports industry contributes significantly to the economy, creating jobs and stimulating innovation. From small businesses to multinational corporations, sport can help to generate a sound business environment that mirrors a peaceful society’s economic resilience.
  3. Equitable Distribution of Resources: Sport promotes inclusivity and equal opportunity, reflecting the equitable distribution of resources. Programs like community sports leagues ensure that everyone, regardless of background, has access to the benefits of physical activity and teamwork.
  4. Acceptance of the Rights of Others: Sportsmanship is grounded in respect and acceptance, part of a society’s acceptance of the rights of others. Athletes from diverse backgrounds can come together with a culture of mutual respect and understanding.
  5. Good Relations with Neighbors: International sports events often serve as diplomatic tools, improving relations between countries. The camaraderie and competition between athletes can mirror the peaceful coexistence of neighbouring states.
  6. Free Flow of Information: Sport encourages the sharing of knowledge and information, from coaching techniques to health and wellness advice. The free flow of information is essential for both the development of sport and the advancement of peaceful societies.
  7. High Levels of Human Capital: Training and education are as fundamental in sport as they are in society. Developing human capital through sport can lead to better health outcomes, increased productivity, and a more educated population.
  8. Low Levels of Corruption: Fairness is central to sport, and intolerance of corruption in sports governance reflects the need for transparency and integrity in a peaceful society. Anti-doping agencies and regulatory bodies in sport are examples.

IEP’s research highlights the transformative power of Positive Peace, drawing parallels with medical science’s shift from pathology to the study of health. Just as understanding what keeps us healthy has revolutionised medicine, focusing on the conditions that create and sustain peace can transform societies. Sport, with its emphasis on fair play, teamwork, and respect, encapsulates these conditions, serving as a microcosm of a peaceful society. 

Countries with higher levels of Positive Peace experience more rapid recoveries from crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Sport has played a pivotal role in these recoveries, providing a sense of normalcy and community in times of instability. The resilience of high peace societies is mirrored in the resilience of athletes and sports teams, who often become symbols of hope and unity during recovery periods. 

The research also includes a deep dive into systems thinking, which is essential for understanding the multifaceted nature of societies and their development. Sport, as a system, reflects this complexity, with its interconnectedness and ability to influence various aspects of society, from health and education to diplomacy and social cohesion. 

As the world grapples with global challenges like climate change, social inequality, instability and conflict, Positive Peace and its systemic approach serves as a reminder of the importance of holistic approaches to problem-solving. Sport, with its capacity to inspire, motivate, and unite, is a vital component of this holistic approach, offering a blueprint for peace that extends far beyond the playing field. 




Darren Lewis

Director, Global Communications — Institute for Economics & Peace

Vision of Humanity

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague, Harare and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.