The Asian German Sports Exchange Programme (A.G.S.E.P.) is an AGO which has been conducting sport events and international exchanges between Sri Lankan and European sport teams since 1989. The organization is based in Marawila, in rural western Sri Lanka. The philosophy of A.G.S.E.P. is that sport is an ideal way of connecting people and transcending social, cultural, ethnic and religious cleavages. Sport events are considered a neutral platform for participants to experience and learn from each other in a playful and open atmosphere. Linking community development to sport event tourism has proven to be beneficial to A.G.S.E.P., the Aquarius Resort, and the local tour operators in rural Sri Lanka. The sport exchange programme has provided more than 5000 participants with the opportunity to have a socio-cultural experience in a foreign country, and thousands of locals were given the opportunity to participate in peaceful inter-community events and exchanges on the island. In times of difficult socio-political circumstances in Sri Lanka, A.G.S.E.P. has continuously attracted international sport tourists to the Aquarius Resort and has given local businesses and communities the chance to benefit economically.
Using the A.G.S.E.P as a case study this chapter will explore how sport events can be used as a catalyst for change, a positive first step, a tool for friendship and network building, for intercultural learning and appreciation, and ultimately peaceful communities.
Asian German Sports Exchange Programme is a non-commercial AGO (Government-associated -organization), which has been made of the objects of lasting shape the peace process in Sri Lanka by the motto “connecting sportspeople”.
Dr. Dietmar Doering, founder of AGSEP in 1989
Volunteers and University Students from Europe
Headquarters in “The Cosy Beach, Beach Road, Marawila”
A.G.S.E.P. is engaged in the following fields of operation:
1. promoting all kinds of sports and development in the poor and remote areas of Sri Lanka by means of interaction and exchanges between national and international sports teams,
2. undertaking feasibility studies, research, and appraisal, and executing programmes and projects for sportspeople and the community development in poor and remote areas of Sri Lanka,
3. organising diversified training courses, workshops, and seminars that are relevant to international sports programmes in order to promote sports practice, language skills, and providing sports equipment,
4. and promoting and organising social projects and other activities in Sri Lanka relevant for the peace process with the assistance of government departments.
According to the A.G.S.E.P. philosophy sports function as a bridge for intercultural communication and as a medium which is capable of melting the ice between different ethnic groups and cultures. Thus, sports are a form of social communication which can help to overcome language barriers and ongoing conflicts.
Between 1987 and 1989, Sri Lanka suffered from an internal conflict instigated by an ultra-radical Marxist group, the JVP (Janatha Vimukhti Peramuna – People’s Liberation Front). At the peak of the conflict public life was brought to an entire standstill due to curfews declared either by the government or the JVP. The movement declined in 1989, after the execution of the JVP leader Rohan Wijeweera, leaving the country in utter turmoil. The number of victims is estimated 40,000, among them many young people, public servants, and government representatives.
Coincidentally, in 1989, the German teacher Dietmar Doering signed a one-year contract with the Ministry of Sports assigning him the coach of the Sri Lankan table tennis national team. At that time, table tennis world championships took place in Dortmund, Germany. The Sri Lankan table tennis national team manager, however, was unable to pay the required entry fees for his team to participate in the world cup. This was the birth hour of the Asian German Sports exchange Programme.
The question was how to find a quick solution to pay the entry fees for the young table tennis national players. Hence, the idea was born to arrange a friendly match between a local German table tennis team in Essen near Dortmund, and to ask the hosting German club for financial support. Set and done. Two table tennis clubs from Essen took the opportunity to host a national team from Asia for the first time in their club history. The funds generated by the participating German teams were sufficient to pay the entry fees and enabled the young Sri Lankan talents to take part in the world cup in Dortmund.
For the German clubs it was a unique event, national anthems were played, national flags were presented, and the local media covered the event, thereby crossing town council borders. The organisers confirmed that, even on such a short notice, it had been a successful venture encouraging the desire to repeat that kind of sport exchange. The wish for a repetition on a broader scale was uttered by both, the Sri Lankan athletes and the German hosts. Based on the positive experience of this initial event the idea for a regular reciprocal sports exchange programme between Sri Lanka and Germany was born. Under the name of Sri Lankan German Sports Exchange Programme this idea was subsequently realised with over 5,000 sports people from both countries participating between 1989 and 1999.
Since 1995, the programme has been extended to other South Asian nations (Thailand, Vietnam, and the Maldives) and was therefore renamed Asian German Sports Exchange Programme (A.G.S.E.P.).
Although no formal agreement had been signed with the relevant authorities in the North an informal understanding was achieved resulting in the establishment of sports training camps organised and conducted by foreign university students, covering the fields of football, badminton, table tennis, hockey, basketball, volleyball, and athletics. One of the objectives of these camps was to create qualified sports teams which could take part in inter-ethnic sports events with the predominantly Singhalese sports communities from the South, all with the aim of fostering closer relationship among the different ethnic groups living in Sri Lanka
In 2003, the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees represented by Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and A.G.S.E.P. signed a Memorandum of Understanding which laid the foundation for a successful future cooperation promoting the peace process through sport events.
On October 3, 2003, for the first time in 20 years, a Ladies Football Team (Police Team) played a friendly match against a German women’s team in the Tamil dominated town of Vavuniya. More than 15,000 predominantly Tamil spectators enthusiastically supported the Singhalese football team. Representatives of several foreign missions in Colombo and political representatives of the LTTE (who had just opened a town office in Vavuniya) and members of the SLMM attended this unique event. Moreover, representatives of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission and approximately 250 Sri Lankan security staff were also present. In fact, this football match was the very first peaceful physical contact between the conflict parties in two decades. The most significant incident of high symbolic value was the decoration of a Sri Lankan police woman as the most outstanding player of the match by a LTTE political leader – an encounter which was unthinkable even weeks before the football match took place.
In September 2004, A.G.S.E.P. organised the National Run for Peace in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, and the Tamil Eelam Sports Council. 12 cities located in different parts of the island, each of which sent 50 runners, contributed to the event. The runners converged in Kandy, where the closing ceremony was held. After an exhausting two-day run which comprised a distance of approximately 150-200 km from each city to Kandy, finally, all participants united in the heart of Sri Lanka celebrating their common sports spirit. The extraordinary task for the organisers had been to motivate the authorities in the LTTE-controlled areas to participate in an event which would conclude in a government-controlled area. This was the first event in which Tamil, Muslim, and Singhalese sportspeople have commonly taken part since the 1980s. The 1h closing ceremony was live telecasted with approx 3 Mio. viewers at the time
The devastating Tsunami of December 26, 2004, destroyed most of the coastline of Sri Lanka and most of the houses and villages located nearby. As a result, over 40,000 people lost their lives and up to date many are missing. Immediately after this catastrophe one of A.G.S.E.P.’s project partners, Peace Village International, offered significant medical aid for Tsunami victims, mainly focusing on the prevention of post-tsunami water-borne diseases. Six cargo planes reached Sri Lanka within ten days, carrying approximately 400 metric tons of medical supply. A.G.S.E.P.’s voluntary work force – university students, interns, and other volunteers – distributed these medical equipments and medicines to the most affected costal areas all over the island within a very short period of
time. Consequently, more than one million people directly or indirectly benefited from AGSEP’s Relief Action, and fortunately, not a single case of water-borne disease was reported in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the tsunami.
Furthermore, A.G.S.E.P. delivered a water purification machine to the affected areas in the North, providing 15,000 villagers with drinking water, and still serving as a water resource today. Even international organisations, such as the UNHCR and UNICEF, use the resources installed by A.G.S.E.P. for water supplies.
In 2005, A.G.S.E.P., together with PDIP (a think tank dealing with post-conflict and gender issues) organised the “Night of a Thousand Dinners”, an initiative of Adopt-AMinefield, a programme of the United Nations Association of the USA and the
Canadian Landmine Foundation in memory of worldwide landmine victims. This dinner took place simultaneously all over the world.
In August 2006, A.G.S.E.P., under the aegis of Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, a Member of Parliament, distributed manually operated sirens in border districts Since the inhabitants of these villages are constantly under threat, these sirens shall function as a warning system. The sirens had been donated by the Bavarian Central Bank on the initiative of STERNSTUNDEN – WIR HELFEN KINDERN and was meant mainly for costal areas in order to warn the population early enough in case of another tsunami. In this context more than 230 sirens had been given to coastal villages as a precaution warning system against Tsunamis.
below some photos taken during handover ceremonies in Sri Lanka
In this picture , the two former . Minister Dr. Jayalath Jayarwardena U. S. Wijesekera