Pakistani-Indian tennis duo shows the world how sport can build bridges and foster peace
Ahead of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on 6 April, tennis doubles players Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi from Pakistan and Rohan Bopanna from India are exemplifying how sport can help overcome political divides, promote tolerance and develop friendships with their movement Stop War Start Tennis.
In 2010, the pair made the US Open men’s doubles finals and reached a top 10 doubles ranking. Known as the ‘IndoPak Express’, they appeared on every major media outlet and sent a powerful message to the world.With such a spotlight, the Pakistani and Indian pair took this opportunity to launch the campaign Stop War Start Tennis to promote peace through tennis. Six years later, the campaign has become a fully-fledged non-profit organisation which also helps victims of landmines and other weapons of war in past and present conflict zones resume an active lifestyle.
Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi explains: “Stop War Start Tennis targets people who have been affected by wars or natural disasters. We provide specific tennis wheelchairs and tennis equipment to people who have lost their limbs or legs and can't walk again. Basically tennis has given me everything. I feel like it's my obligation now and my responsibility to give something back.”
Basically tennis has given me everything. I feel like it's my obligation now and my responsibility to give something back.Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi Pakistan
Through several projects on the ground, the foundation helps reconcile communities that have been torn apart during war and gives hope to people with impairments.
Rohan Bopanna, who qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio this summer, adds: “Sport has given me so much that now I want to take the knowledge and give back to youngsters and show them the right direction, whether they become professional athletes or just do anything else in life; just show them the right direction, give them a great positive attitude and share all the experience I've had over the past years.”
Sport has given me so much that now I want to take the knowledge and give back to youngsters and show them the right direction.Rohan Bopanna India
The two friends also share a long-held dream, which is still to come true: playing a tennis match across the Wagah border of India and Pakistan to demonstrate to the world the unifying power of sport.
“Peace is the only way to move forward in this world,” says Qureshi. “I feel like if everybody can be associated or play any kind of sports, it will teach them to respect others - the fair play, the integrity, the friendship part - and this world will be definitely a better place.”
Watch here how sport can transcend borders
Join the movement at #sport4betterworld
Learn more about the IDSDP at www.olympic.org/idsdp