Ambassador of Sports and Interfaith Diplomacy
Written by Jeannette Viens
Ambassador of Poland His Excellency Witold Sobków won the Grassroot Diplomat Social Driver Award 2016 for his work on Sports and Interfaith Diplomacy. Mr Sobków joined the foreign service following the changes in Poland in 1989 as the nation engaged in a democratic transition. Having previously worked as a lecturer at Warsaw University, Mr Sobków wanted to add his own contributions as a civil servant towards working for the good of the country. He was appointed to his current position as Ambassador in 2012 and will sadly be leaving the post in July 2016 to return to Warsaw.
Mr Sobków and the Polish Embassy have been focused on sports diplomacy, especially in relation to volleyball and football, in which Polish teams have achieved many successes. On the volleyball court, as part of the English Volleyball League, IBB Polonia won the English Championship three times so far, recently winning the 2016 National Cup in both male and female divisions. The Polonia London Volleyball Club is also one of the most established and popular teams among men and women of various nationalities. The embassy provided financial sponsorship and marketing support to propel the sport, such as actively backing the London Legacy Cup tournament in September 2015, where 8 top European teams played in the biggest invitational volleyball tournament in English history. The embassy was also very active on the football field, promoting and engaging young people in the sport. In 2015, alongside the Polish Football Federation, it hosted a group of thirty young football talents of Polish descent who played in English clubs and overseas as well as various Polish coaches and scouts. This first of its kind event culminated with a match played against the Queen Park Rangers.
Speaking of his sports diplomacy work, Mr Sobków said, “We want to see sport unite people. Sport is about team work, doing something together. It is competitive, but being fair is more important than the result.”
For many years, the Ambassador has been very involved in interfaith dialogue, hosting a myriad of events for Christians, Jews, and Muslims from Poland and the UK. The embassy has hosted workshops for Jewish and Polish schools to create deeper links through its unique educational project “Learning from the Righteous.” On a personal level, Mr Sobków studied Islam at university level and visits churches, community centres and synagogues to meet people of different faiths to spread the message of tolerance whilst being a Catholic himself.
“Fighting ignorance, prejudices, stereotypes, xenophobia, and racism is crucial,” said the Ambassador when speaking about the importance of being a leader in interfaith communication. “Together we can achieve more understanding, concentrate on similarities, and not differences, and make this world a better place.”
In considering the future challenges for Poland, Mr Sobków notes three top concerns:
“One of the challenges is Brexit… it has weakened the strength of the EU, but it is also a chance to reform the Union. Another challenge is our ability to cope with waves of refugees coming to Europe and ensure that we can create opportunities, jobs, decent living conditions, peace and prosperity in the countries they are leaving. An important challenge is to ensure NATO, as a defensive alliance, is prepared to face enormous challenges from different directions and sources.”
Although these challenges may seem daunting, the Ambassador is not deterred. In reflecting on his previous work, he is proud of what he has accomplished, especially the United Nations decision in 2011 to officially observe World Down Syndrome Day. On being recognised by Grassroot Diplomat, His Excellency states: “Whatever I do is a result of my convictions and beliefs. It is not something I have to do, or something that I am told to do. Grassroot Diplomat made me feel special for which I am grateful.”
On winning the 2016 Social Driver Award, he adds: “[The award] is a commitment to do even more, not to surrender and to think about new ideas, which I will do. It is a great feeling.”
Grassroot Diplomat has been honoured to work alongside the Ambassador and wishes him the best of luck for the future.