Was the Game of Soccer Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about soccer/football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The game of soccer/association football was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize!

On April 23, 2000, three people died (and many more were injured) when thousands of fans pushed their way into a packed stadium in Morovia, Liberia to watch a World Cup qualifier match between Liberia and Chad. Less than three months later, on July 9, 2000, a dozen people died in a stampede following a World Cup qualifier between South African and Zimbabwe in Harare, Zimbabwe.

In April 2001, stampedes killed 43 people in a match between the popular Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in South Africa and later in the month, stampedes killed 8 people in the Congo.

In May of 2001, police were called in when fighting began at the end of a match between two of Ghana’s best teams, Accra’s Hearts of Oak and Assante Kotoko, due to Assante fans throwing chairs and bottles on to the field in anger at the end of an Accra 2-1 victory. When police shot tear gas into the crowd, a stampede killed over 100 people. Just three days earlier, a fight broke out between fans at a match in the Ivory Coast, killing one person and injuring over three dozen more.

You might be wondering, “What is the point of mentioning all of this soccer-related death and violence from 2000 and 2001?”

I mention it because soccer/association football was nominated for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.

First off, there is likely some confusion over what it means to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In the other categories like Literature and Physics, the Nobel Prize Committee solicits nominees from thousands of academics in the field of the respective categories. For the Nobel Peace Prize, however, the request for nominees is sent to international courts, governments, professors, former winners of the prize and members (past and present) of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. There are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of nominees for each category. However, unlike the Academy Awards and many other awards of its kind, the Nobel Prize does not have a “short list” of finalists of which one winner is announced. In fact, the other nominees are not announced at ALL for fifty years, when the records behind the given award are unsealed and open to the public. The people who are nominated do not even know it themselves typically. So then how do we know Soccer was nominated?

While the Nobel Prize Committee does not announce the nominees, they allow the people doing the nominating to reveal to the public if they nominated someone. And since a good deal of Nobel Prize nominations are done to “make a point,” they are often announced by the nominator.

In the case of Soccer, the person who nominated it was Swedish lawmaker Lars Gustafsson.

In the preamble to his nomination letter to the Committee in Oslo, Norway, Gustafsson wrote:

Although modern sport has enhanced the understanding between people of different races and religions in different countries, it has never been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Therefore, to put notice on and encourage sports ability to create positive international contacts, a contribution to a more peaceful world, I hereby nominate football, the greatest sport of all, as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2001. I propose that the recipient of the prize should be the Federation Internationale de Football Association, FIFA.

After a brief history of the sport, he continued:

Taking part in the game of football, either as a player or as a spectator, is a way of expressing oneself in a universal language. With its common rules and principles of understanding, football creates a public meeting-place with no hindering boundaries. The game links people together from most nations of the world, from different continents and with varying history and culture.

As examples, Gustafsson pointed out how North and South Korea sent a unified Korean team to compete in the 1991 Junior World Championship in Portugal, well ahead of any formal diplomatic negotiations between the two nations. Along those same lines, Gustafsson refers to the discussions between North Korea, South Korea, Iran and Iraq to establish an Asia-qualification round for the 2004 World Championship. At the same time that politicians could not get in the same room with each other, sports officials were negotiating in a spirit of friendliness.

Perhaps nowhere was this dichotomy between political interaction and athletic interaction more evident than in the 1988 World Cup, when the United States faced off against Iran in the group round. When nations as diametrically opposed as those two face off on the field in a spirit of friendly competition rather than political aggression, then there really does feel as though there is a point to Gustafsson’s seemingly outlandish nomination.

The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize ultimately went to Kofi Annan and the United Nations (which is really odd, considering that Annan did not score a single goal in the 1998 World Cup), with Jimmy Carter taking home the prize in 2002. As far as I know, soccer has not been nominated since (although I know that Afghanistan’s National Women’s Cycling Team was nominated by an Italian politician earlier this year).

The legend is…


Thanks to ABCNews.com for information about the nomination and to Lars Gustafsson for making his nomination letter public!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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