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International Officials Review Importance of Military Sports Programs

By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service

SPRINGFIELD, Va., Sept. 14, 2006 – Military representatives from 26 countries reviewed the importance of sports in the military at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire’s fourth symposium Sept. 11 through today at the Springfield Hilton.

CISM can best be described as an International Olympic Committee for the military. The organization played host this year to world championships for troops around the world in 24 sports, including parachuting and aeronautic, military and naval pentathlons.

“This is a special year for us because CISM at the end of 2006 will have organized 24 military world championships and many regional and continental events,” said CISM President Brig. Gen. Gianni Gola, of Italy. “We are considered the unique international sports organization. Thousands and thousands of military athletes and coaches and team captains and chiefs of mission are traveling around the world to attend our events.”

In 1951, the United States joined CISM, which today boasts 127 nations dedicated to “friendship through sports to get to peace,” said Army Lt. Gen. James Lovelace Jr., the U.S. CISM chief of delegation.

“The real seeds of this organization started after World War I with General (John) Pershing, but the real development of the organization as we know it today occurred after World War II,” Lovelace said. “It was embraced by Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands as they started this event Feb. 18, 1948.”

Despite approaching its 59th anniversary, CISM is not world renowned.

“We are aware of the fact that in our countries many military authorities don’t know CISM,” said Gola, who sought a solution in Springfield during the symposium, themed “Value and Impact of Sports in the Military.” “Sport cannot be visual only to the military athletes. Sport is a common value for all of the military personnel.”

CISM officials seek a balance between keeping soldiers fit and competition-ready. “We have to dedicate an important part of our activity to physical education reform, but at the same time, we have to promote the competitions,” Gola said. “If we don’t have the competitions, we are not able to bring people together. I understand that some are saying we need to give priority to physical education and not to the competition. It’s not the problem of priority, we need both, but we cannot forget that if we don’t have competition, we lose our opportunity. Only competition obliges people to travel.

“If we promote physical education, all the soldiers can practice physical education at home. There is no need to go to participate for championships. That’s why we are insisting, as we do every year, to organize important events to give the athletes an opportunity to compete. Physical education is the base of this, but then we have to compete.”

After all, international sports competition is what CISM is all about. Or is it? “Our goal to promote universal peace may be too ambitious,” Gola said. “But this is the final goal: Through sport and competition, CISM works to promote values, tolerance, friendship and peace.”

(Tim Hipps is assigned to the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center.)

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