Christians and Muslims are working together for peace – through the medium of football, a British Muslim told a United Nations meeting in Istanbul.
British Pakistani professional footballer Kashif Siddiqi, co-founder of Football for Peace, told the United Nations Alliance of Civilisation how young footballers could be valuable in countering violent extremism among youth.
He was joined by Dutch footballer Wesley Sneijder, who plays for Turkish club Galatasaray and was named as one of the three best midfielders in the world by FIFA in 2010, as well as Turkish International player Oğuzhan Özyakup.
Siddiqi was in Istanbul after addressing a conference in Rome last week.
"Football is the one universal language that evaporates language, cultural and religious barriers the world over," said Siddiqi. "It is fundamentally the greatest way to diffuse tensions and turn down the heat between competing factions.
"Role models from the world of football speak volumes using the power of sport."
"Get out on the field and kick a ball" is a powerful way to speak to young people, he added.
More than 200 youth leaders from 30 different countries were at the event along with government organisations, charity and education leaders. It was taking place as part of the UN's "prevention of extremism" action plan and included sessions such as "sports as a means to prevent violent extremism".
Siddiqi told Christian Today: "Sport helps people understand cultures more deeply." The football matches involved teams of all faiths playing together – Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. "If you don't pass the ball you will never move up the pitch," said Siddiqui. "We have drawn up a plan to work on programmes involving football and sport that will integrate society more."
Football for Peace is in the process of launching "cities for peace" around its dreams of using sport to counter radicalisation. Already Birmingham has embraced the scheme. The next one in the UK will be launched in 2017 in Newham, London.