By spreading the Olympic spirit and values, national Olympic committees are working to improve relations in the region.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 04/02/14
As the world's athletes converge on Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Games, national Olympic committees in Southeast Europe are collaborating on initiatives that will advance the Olympic spirit and improve regional relations. [AFP]
Olympic committees are embracing the Olympic spirit of collaboration and co-existence and putting the legacy of war in the past by working together to plan joint projects.
Among those leading the effort to achieve such co-operation is former basketball star Vlade Divac, now the president of Serbia's Olympic committee.
"Co-operation of our countries' Olympic committees happens on a daily basis and it can be a good example to numerous relations among people in various spheres of life in the former SFR Yugoslavia," Divac told an audience during a recent visit to Sarajevo to meet with Bosnia and Herzegovina's Olympic committee.
Divac emphasised that this kind of co-operation can be a model for other regions as well.
"I believe we showed that we have mutual interests, goals, and that we truly believe sports can unite people," Divac said.
All national committees in the region already conduct educational workshops to teach children how the Olympic values should serve as general social values, and similar activities will be among the first joint projects.
"The Olympic Committee of Serbia, in co-operation with national committees from the region, seeks to implement as much possible projects for youth, such as the project 'Olympic spirit building for children and youth' we are developing at the moment, which implies co-operation of national committees from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia," Djordje Visacki, secretary general of Serbia's Olympic committee, told SETimes.
"After experience exchange, we got the idea to put all of them in one and to make a unique event in all three countries. Special accent is on a sports camp which we'll have at the end of each school year. The plan is to have 20 children from each country and to organise the camp in a different country each year," Visacki said.
He added that the event will be a unique chance for participants to meet their peers from other countries and discover their similarities and differences through education and sport.
"These kinds of projects are contributing to reconciliation in the region and children are those who should connect our countries because they are the future," Visacki said. "Our goal is to have tolerant young people who respect religion, racial and national differences and who will create a better world in the future. And, overall, sport has to be, always, in favour of peace and prosperity."
"All of us are very proud on this project because it will the first time in the Olympic movement to have co-operation realised in this way," Visacki said.
Asmir Kolasinac, a two-time Olympian and the reigning European indoor champion in the shot put, has been participating in similar Serbian Olympic Committee projects and supports the goal of regionalisation.
"The most important value of these projects is the chance for youths to learn, from their earliest years, what are real values which will lead them through life afterwards. These projects are giving a chance to them to meet youth from neighbouring countries and build valuable friendships," Kolasinac told SETimes.
Visacki said Serbia is pursuing a joint initiative with the BiH Olympic Committee that will work to encourage social inclusion through sport and informal education.
Said Fazlagic, secretary general of the BiH Olympic Committee, told SETimes the plans are related to implementation of projects supported by the EU's instrument for pre-accession (IPA) funds.
"IPA projects are dedicated to cross-border co-operation, for the purpose of training national committees' employees. One national committee shares its experiences with others and so on. We are going to exchange experiences about big sports events organisation, how to use funds for spreading Olympic solidarity or in promotion purposes, as well as for building an Olympic museum," Fazlagic said.
BiH is spearheading one of the most important such projects in the region as it prepares to play host to the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Sarajevo and East Sarajevo. The event will include 1,500 participants from 48 nations -- an even larger group of athletes than Sarajevo saw for the 1984 Winter Olympics.
"The main goal of this project is to hold games in the best possible way in order to promote BiH as a safe and sports-touristic attractive destination for tourists and investors but, also to offer to the youth sports content and projects," Fazlagic said, adding that co-operation between the Olympic committees is at a high level, including occasional gatherings of 13 national committees from Central and Southeast Europe.
"It is interesting because it leads to the reconciliation of the sides that were, until yesterday, in war but now share common goals and organisation," Fazlagic said. "Friends from surroundings are helping us and we are thankful indeed."
While joint projects are taking shape at the administrative levels, some of the region's top athletes have broken down barriers as they have worked side-by-side to hone their skills.
Serbian alpine skier Nevena Ignjatovic told SETimes that she and BiH counterpart Zana Novakovic "are very happy" to have spent the past couple years training together. Both will be making their second Olympic appearances after competing in 2010 in Vancouver.
How will collaboration between national Olympic committees help to advance regional reconciliation? Share your thoughts in the comments section.