Tackling radicalisation through sports

| July 13, 2015

2379611587_b797996183_oTen years ago, on 7 July, four suicide bombers killed 52 people in London. This included the bombing of the number 30 bus at Tavistock Square, just yards away from the building that now houses 3ie’s London Office.

Today, ten years on, in the town of Dewsbury, home to the mastermind of the 7/7 bombings, cricket is being used to combat radicalisation. The NGO Chance to Shine has put together three cricket teams for getting the youth to mix with each other.

The NGO’s approach contrasts the UK government’s stringent new policy for tackling radicalisation. The policy calls on universities to report, monitor and close groups suspected of radicalisation. But does existing evidence really support this policy?

The head coach of the cricket team in Dewsbury says that as a result of the cricket teams, the youth “are rubbing shoulders with people they would never have thought of meeting.” The head coach’s words echo a well-established finding in contact theory in social psychology: increasing contact between groups reduces prejudice.   A systematic review published nearly ten years ago, reporting evidence from 515 studies, showed clearly that contact theory works. Bringing together people from different backgrounds in a variety of settings, such as the classroom, housing projects and the sports field reduces their prejudice about members of the other group.

This finding lends support to the recent growth of sports for development programmes, which are being used , amongst other things, to build trust between youth who have been on opposing sides in a conflict.

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Murder rates fell in the area with the sports stadium, but continued to rise elsewhere
Source: Vijayendra Rao and Ana María Ibáñez (2005)

3ie is funding an impact evaluation of life-skills training and psychosocial support through sports groups in in war-torn Liberia, but the results are not yet in. However, in our work on social funds for the World Bank evaluation department, we took a look at the impact of the Jamaican Social Fund on social cohesion. Social funds are meant to build social cohesion, and we found one case where they had clearly done so. It was a project for the renovation of a new sports stadium in the Arnett Gardens area of Kingston, Jamaica. Whilst social funds are meant to build social cohesion through the process of project planning at the community level, the positive effects of this project were from the product not the process. Quite simply, as local residents put it: “The kids play football instead of killing each other.” ”If there are more sporting activities, the youths will have less time to think about guns.” Following the renovation of the stadium, the murder rate in Kingston fell, whereas it continued to grow in the rest of the country.

This evidence thus supports the recent critique of the UK government’s policy for tackling radicalisation. Pulling in universities to keep a close watch on groups will only drive these groups underground and allow small numbers of individuals to feed each other’s extreme ideas. It is better to get people into the open, to mix with others, to reduce prejudice and distrust. If this policy is to be informed by evidence, it needs to be rethought.



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