The Words of the Gehring Family
The Inter-religious Peace Sports Festival [IPSF] showed how young people from different religious backgrounds could experience one world family. To make this possible there had to be good preparation; we had to have a staff that was itself inter-religious. For the last four IPSFs, twenty to twenty-five of our staff members have been non-Unificationists from various backgrounds -- Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews. Many, though not all of them, came through involvement with Religious Youth Service, with some of them having taken part in RYS as far back as the first project in 1986. Prit Pal Singh first got involved with RYS in 1989, when he was twenty-seven. He later worked as an RYS group leader. He's forty-five now and came this year as a spiritual adviser representing Sikhism. Our Buddhist monk, Balangoda Ananda Chandrakeerthi, from Sri Lanka, has been involved in eleven RYS projects.
Fazida Razak, who was in charge of media relations, was an RYS regional director for several years and first became involved with RYS seventeen years ago. Also on the media team was Shakirah Sharifah Syed Omar, a professor and a Muslim. She became involved in RYS in Sri Lanka in 2000. She has even organized two RYS projects on her own. Ana Olson is Christian; her husband is an ACLC minister, one of the first, a Lutheran. She became involved through RYS in Central America. Yacob Yacob, the minister of culture for Jerusalem city government, was the Jewish adviser. That's the level of diversity that the IPSF staff has had.
Our recruiters also come from all different backgrounds. Some of them are not RYS alumni either, such as the Minister of Sports in Sri Lanka. He's a good Buddhist, and he loves Father's vision. He helped screen the one hundred and sixty athletes who came from Sri Lanka. All the applications came through his department. He either approved them as good enough or he didn't. When Father spoke in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, he brought forty people to attend Father's speech. Baruch Shalev, our recruiter in the Middle East, is Jewish.
I shared with Rev. Kwak that I had a desire to focus on bringing participants from the Middle East this year. One result was that a soccer team consisting of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan made the journey to Korea to take part in IPSF. Jordan now has seven or eight hundred thousand Iraqi refugees living by the border. In the course of the soccer competition, this Iraqi team played against one from the United States, which was a good, tough game. Two nights later, the players exchanged shirts and were arm-in-arm. I saw a pair of them together. The American was saying, "I'm American," and the Iraqi, "I'm Iraqi but we're together." They were like brothers. It was that kind of feeling, a poignant example of nations with issues, from different religious spheres, embracing each other. They could work through their disappointment and share the spirit of what the festival is about.
Because they had exchanged shirts, the Iraqi team didn't have their own team shirts when they were brought out and introduced before the opening game of the Peace Cup tournament, which supports the Play Soccer Make Peace program that the Iraqi team came through. The Iraqi players had to wear IPSF shirts. They were brought out to the center of the field, where they were given soccer balls. It was a festive moment.
We were trying to bring more from Yemen; we just had just one representative come from Yemen.
Dignitaries from Jerusalem also came, including the vice mayor. We want to develop a relationship with them to open the possibility that in the future we can have some sporting events there. Maybe we can hold a future IPSF in Jerusalem. This time they had runners. At the last IPSF, the Israelis participated in several sports; they had a basketball team and sent tennis players. This time they focused on track.
A total of 1,080 athletes participated in this IPSF, representing some fifty nations. I noticed an increase in the athletic prowess in those who came and an increase in the quality of their character. This is the first year, for example, that we didn't have any problems with alcohol use. Every night we had cultural programs. After playing sports, athletes want to celebrate in a healthy way if the structure is in place.
Mornings began with a prayer and meditation session, and a theme for the day. Ten to fifteen languages were in use by the participants. Language barriers meant we could not teach on a grand scale through words. We created the International Night of Friendship for Peace, a high-level cultural performance. In the first half, David Eaton, the conductor of the New York City Symphony, conducted the Meong Gyung Chamber Orchestra and ___ and Kiah Victoria sang. For the second part, cultural dance troupes from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Taiwan performed. The great thing is that it wasn't just for the IPSF athletes. We invited people from Cheonan and some of the diplomatic community from Seoul, thus involving members of the Korean public, who clearly enjoyed the performances. Next time, it is my hope that the cultural groups that come for IPSF will be able to perform at the WCSF opening ceremony.
Our budget was greatly supported by the fact that 83 percent of the airfares were paid for by the athletes themselves, or by their parents, by sponsors or through national (government) grants. Even nations that are not wealthy paid most of their travel bill. Sri Lanka is a good example of this. Their country has an average annual per capita income of about $750, and the airfare was $700. Yet that nation managed to send a hundred and sixty athletes, who acquitted themselves extremely well. Sri Lanka also sent and paid the airfares for a cultural group.
What we are doing is something incredible; how do we get the word out? Many of volunteers working on our staff have journalistic experience. Also for the first time, this year, we used a media company to help us with promotion of IPSF.
We also have some good supporters based in the media. For example, one ambassador for peace is the vice-president of a Indian television company. We asked him if he could cover the event. As things developed, for the cost of three airplane tickets, he came to Korea with two crew members, and they are creating a thirty-minute documentary on the IPSF, which will surely bring it to the attention of a large number of people in their country.
The people at Sun Moon University really worked hard. It is not their job, they are professors and teachers but they tried very hard to bring this event to the public. I really appreciate our hosts at Sun Moon University, our unity with them is the core of IPSF success. We have two years until the next event. There are a lot of peace initiatives we can do through sports and culture. We want to work together to make them great and on that foundation of grassroots work, we can make WCSF 2009 incredible.
Mr. Gehring is the International Chairman of IPSF; this article was based on a report he gave at the WCSF final luncheon and a follow up interview.