Johann Olav Koss: Right To Play

by Wendy Jewell from The My Hero Project

"I get very emotional and upset when I see this. And I want to show strength,
that we are caring for them, that we are here to do something and not only make promises."
- Johann Olav Koss -
Johann Olav Koss, founder of Right to Play (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))
Johann Olav Koss, founder of Right to Play (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))

Years of civil war throughout the continent of Africa have displaced millions from their homes and lives. We've seen how this type of systemic violence has fractured families and thrust young children prematurely into adult roles; from caring and working for their families to taking up arms and fighting as soldiers. One of the things these children skip over in their truncated youth is something that teaches them trust, cooperation, problem-solving and in a very basic way, friendship. It's play; the games that lead to the laughter and dizzying memories that enrich our childhoods and it's something that ultimately, makes us who we are.

Playing children (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))
Playing children (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))

For Olympic Gold medalist and World Champion speed-skater, Johann Olav Koss, it's this kids' stuff, tag, hide & seek, soccer, blind man's bluff, that forms an essential part of growing up and becoming the kind of loving, trusting adults that make for good neighbors and peaceful citizens of the world. That's why this former Olympic star has foregone the good life afforded him as an Olympic icon in his native Norway and set off across the dirt roads of Africa. Johann is the founder of Right to Play. In a land saturated with guns and ammunition, Johann is distributing an even more powerful weapon to the children of Africa: joy.

Playing games (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))
Playing games (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))

"What do you learn from these games?" Johann asks a young girl who has fled war-torn Somalia, fearing for her life. "We learn how to be friends. We don't fear from our friends." Together with an army of volunteers, teachers, coaches and diplomats, Johann goes into the settlements and refugee camps of Africa, armed with the tools of his trade: soccer balls, hula hoops, blindfolds and chalk. "Right to Play's goals, in addition to having fun and playing." Joahann explains, "They really learn through the games - basic life skills of the child, which could be physical, psychological and social development, or it is in the area of health. prevention messages so they can prepare themselves in protection from diseases. Or, if it's in the area of cooperation and conflict resolution."

Right to Play board room (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))
Right to Play board room (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))

"I don't think there's a place we came where they didn't ask if we couldn't reach more children." Johann says, "It's very tragic to meet children who just weeks ago had to run away from their homes with nothing, to come to a settlement because they're afraid of being killed. and some of them have lost family members. I get very emotional and upset when I see this. And I want to show strength, that we are caring for them, that we are here to do something and not only make promises." Johann isn't the kind of man to show up and tour the camps, make some lofty promises, go home and forget. "These images - doesn't matter how many times I see them, I'm always carrying it with me."

The girls like the games too (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))
The girls like the games too (Right to Play (Frank Marshall))

All around the world, Johann Olav Koss teaches children the most fundamental lesson. He teaches them to play. "It actually feels greater to have this goal than it was to fight for a gold medal. In many ways it feels like I have an opportunity to give back for all the things I've been given in my life." And for this Olympic champion the things he's giving are easy to see in the children he works with: the joyful smiles, the spring in their step and the eyes that can't help but shine with a new reason to hope.

Page created on 3/26/2015 1:19:07 PM

Last edited 1/6/2017 11:50:41 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Right To Play - The UN recognizes play as the right of every child. Play is NOT a luxury; it is a tool for education and health. It can bring entire communities together and inspire every individual. A game of football can teach children about tolerance and peace, and a game of tag can teach about malaria. Play helps teach important life lessons and develop skills like cooperation, leadership, and teamwork. Mission: Right To Play's mission is to use sport and play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. Vision: Right To Play's vision is to create a healthy and safe world through the power of sport and play
Right To Play (movie excerpt) - My Hero Film Festival FINALIST: Excerpt from the feature documentary Right To Play directed by Frank Marshall. Instead of cashing in on his Olympic haul, Johann Olav Koss embarked on a remarkable journey that has established him as one of the world's greatest ambassadors of sports. As the founder, President and CEO of Right To Play, Koss and his army of volunteers, teachers, coaches and diplomats have used the power of athletics to elevate the lives of the world's neediest children.

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Author Info

Director Frank Marshall's response to his film "Right To Play" winning Best of Fest and The Ron Kovic Peace Prize at the 2012 MY HERO International Film Festival:

"Back in 1994, in Lillehammer, when I watched Johann Olav Koss win his three gold medals in speed skating and break three world records at the same time, I was dazzled by this remarkable achievement. And since then, I’ve been even more dazzled by his success as the founder of Right to Play and it’s growth and impact on children around the world.  Now in its twelfth year, Right to Play continues to impress me with it’s dedication to changing the lives of children, and through play, bringing them the one thing that they can’t seem to find anywhere else, HOPE. 

      I saw this hope on the faces of the children we filmed in Uganda, and there I learned that Right to Play is about much more than teaching kids to play. It’s about giving them the tools they will need to lead successful and productive lives, and to bring peace and change to the world they live in. 

Johann and his organization are literally heroes to children in need around the globe.  So it’s extremely appropriate and a great honor to accept these two awards from the My Hero Project on behalf of our film on Johann Olav Koss and his incredible organization, Right to Play." 

The short film, Right to Play Directed by Frank Marshall, is a finalist in the "Excerpt" category in the 8th annual MY HERO Film Festival.