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Sport for preventing violent extremism

Copyrights: Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa

Sport for preventing violent extremism

Sport as a tool for preventing violent extremism may seem like a strange topic to many, however for a number of organisations it is becoming an increasingly relevant one.

In December 2018, the UNODC and UNESCO jointly organised an Expert Group Meeting in Vienna to discuss how sport and sport-based learning could be used to prevent violent extremism. Below are a few thoughts on key questions related to the prospect of implementing sport for preventing violent extremism (PVE) programmes. 

What is violent extremism?

The first challenge is to clarify what is meant by violent extremism. In the absence of an internationally agreed-upon definition, UNESCO offers the following: “It (violent extremism) refers to the beliefs and actions of people who support or use violence to achieve ideological, religious or political goals.” The reference to political goals in this definition could be understood to include not only violence related to terrorist groups, but also other forms of extreme violence, including mass violence (such as mass shootings or massacres) and gender and sexual-based violence.

Those working in the field of sport for development and peace (SDP) should contribute to a collective definition of PVE that makes sense for sport-based interventions.

Where to establish sport for PVE programmes?

The answer to this question would of course depend on the adopted definition of PVE. While recruitment by terrorist groups is a global issue, and one that is largely taking place via the internet and social media, it may prove difficult to address internet-based recruitment via sport-based interventions.

Therefore, the most obvious places to start sport for PVE programmes are in regions where children and youth are actively being recruited by irregular armed forces and terrorist groups. Examples include areas affected by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the various Mai-Mai and other armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

How to ensure the safety of participants?

This is perhaps the most critical question that could potentially dissuade many development agencies and organisations from funding sport for PVE programmes. Nevertheless, some  governmental and intergovernmental organisations have already shown interest in the topic, such as USAID, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and UNODC.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but as a general rule of thumb sport for PVE programmes operating in regions where there is active recruitment by armed groups should aim to maintain a low visibility. The last thing a sport for PVE programme should do is put youth at additional risk of being targeted by armed groups as a result of their involvement. This requires creative thinking on a case-by-case basis, but with the right partners on the ground there is potential for programming to seamlessly integrate into the local environment.  

Finally, to be effective in building resilience among youth towards violent extremism, sport for PVE programmes should adopt a long-term view and offer programming over a period of several years.  

The stakes are high. Will sport for PVE programmes be up to the task? 

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Monday, January 14, 2019 - 12:21

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