“Sports have the power to change the world,” famously said Nelson Mandela – “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” Growing up sport has played a huge part in my social and family life, participating in soccer as well as having season tickets to support my home town team, the Philadelphia Union. Going to the soccer game in Dublin surprised me because of how much it felt like going home, sitting in the familiar folding seats under the white lights, listening to the crowd’s excited cheers with the smell of fried food and beer – I could be sitting at Lincoln Financial Field across the ocean. This comforting familiarity led me think about Nelson’s idea of sports being a common language across the world. In today’s world what unites people across political, social, and cultural spectrum’s is courageous human action – a doctor risks his life to help those he does not know with Ebola, or when an athlete/team captivates the world with their determination and skill. In South Africa the Springboks Rugby team was able to unite across the apartheid in a way politics never could, and in Ireland the National Ice-hockey team has fans that are both Unionist and Nationalists. Despite being on different sides, I have noticed that all fans whichever side they are on appreciate a good play. An example of this was when Ireland scored a brilliant upper 90 free kick, not only did the Irish get up and cheer for their team, but, the U.S. fans surrendered excitedly to comment on how great the goal was as well. In the context of the sports match we understand each other, we know it is just a game, and because of this we are able to see through prejudice and recognize courageous human spirit. Sports, just like any powerful social platform, have been used to separate as well, with the lines between GAA and Unionist sports in Ireland being an example. Experiencing soccer games on a global stage in Dublin, Ghana, and the United States has impacted me on how similar we all are as well as sports ability, if utilized correctly, to unite the world on common grounds in way politics never could.
— Erin Silver Wheeler