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Sport as a tool for crime and violence prevention

Copyrights: Jadir Taekwondo Association

Sport as a tool for crime and violence prevention

Analysing the case of Rio de Janeiro, this article examines how sport offers a promising opportunity to become a tool for crime and violence prevention and peacebuilding.

Worldwide, sport is increasingly being relied upon as a mechanism to promote peace. Not only do sports provide an opportunity for personal growth, but they can also promote positive change within communities – particularly where crime and drugs prevail. As UNODC recognises, “sport offers an ideal area within which life skills can be built”, and the development achieved through sport is “essential” for providing youth with “an opportunity to escape from crime, violence and drugs which can be so endemic in some communities”.1

As this article will demonstrate, sport offers a promising opportunity to become a tool for crime and violence prevention and peacebuilding in Rio de Janeiro. This research will first explore crime and violence in Rio. Second, it will demonstrate how alternative policies, such as the promotion of sports, offer a more effective alternative to prevent crime and drugs, and promote peace. The benefits of sports will be discussed in relation to the following themes: teaching life skills and values, improving wellbeing, promoting social inclusion, and creating opportunities.

Crime in Rio de Janeiro

Located in southeast Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is a city marked by perennial levels of high crime, where the potential for sports to prevent crime and drugs is substantial. Over the last 30 years, gangs have had a strong presence in the city2. While not all crime in Rio de Janeiro is directly related to gangs, there is ample evidence suggesting a link between the two3,4; for example, drug trafficking (in which gangs are heavily involved) has been estimated to be linked to 25% to 52% of all homicides in the city5. Conflicts between drug gangs, militias and police have caused many deaths, including the deaths of those with no relation to criminal activity6.

Ensuring that at-risk youth are deterred from criminal activity is essential for sustainably preventing crime and drugs; if gangs are repeatedly able to recruit new members, a cycle of crime and violence will be perpetuated. Initiatives to promote peace must be focused on driving long-term, systemic change, which tackles crime at its core.

1. Teaching life skills and values

In Rio, where gangs have a strong presence, crime and violence have dominated areas of the city, leaving citizens in chronic insecurity. The insecurity can negatively impact a person - for example, victims of crime might feel negative emotions, experience physical changes such as a lack of sleep or feeling unwell, or complications such as depression or anxiety-related illnesses. One of the key benefits of sports is the capacity to teach life skills and values which enable youth to deal effectively with the demands of life.

In a safe environment, at-risk youth can address the negative emotions they feel in a way that harnesses the power of their feelings. Those who participate in sports must remain concentrated, and not allow themselves to be distracted. Young people can gain experience in building and maintaining relationships through competing in sport, and develop their ability to manage stress. These skills can then be transferred to daily life - at-risk youth learn to manage negative emotions, remain focused, and develop positive relations with others.

2. Improved wellbeing

The skills learned through sport offer practical solutions to prevent at-risk youth from becoming involved with criminal activities. Sports can inspire individuals to lead an active lifestyle, contributing to a healthy social, psychological and physiological state7. Programmes centred around sports have been praised for their ability to “promote mental well-being for at-risk communities through trauma counselling and inclusion efforts”8. The effects of sports are twofold; not only does physical activity improve fitness, it inspires participants to make healthier lifestyle choices and avoid drugs or harmful activities9. The improved wellbeing that sports offers could deter at-risk youth from engaging in activities, such as crime and drug use, which affect their ability to participate in sport.

3. Social inclusion

Young people can gain experience in building and maintaining relationships through competing in sport, and develop their ability to manage stress. These skills gained can then be transferred to daily life; at-risk youth learn to manage negative emotions, remain focused, and develop positive relations with others.

In Rio, gangs not only enact crime and violence upon a community, but also seek to provide a sense of personal security to local residents, through resolving disputes and maintaining order10. Gangs aim to build support networks with the particular areas that will help them to sustain power, thus guaranteeing their protection and safety. Criminal gangs “actively recruit disaffected, abandoned, or homeless young people”11. As a consequence, the sense of social inclusion offered by gangs can be attractive to vulnerable youth.

Sport can also provide a sense of social inclusion, away from the harm of gangs. In sports clubs, a community is formed which can welcome vulnerable youths and provides an alternative social network. Those who attend sports clubs can meet new people and find a positive direction in their lives12. Youth from low-income households are more susceptible to violence and drug abuse due to the social and economic challenges they face on a day-to-day basis13. As a result, it is vital that viable alternatives exist in Rio, to prevent vulnerable young youth from being lured into criminal activities.

4. Increased opportunities

Sports can also provide opportunities not just to develop personally, but also professionally. Successful athletes could have fruitful careers related to the sport they practice. Sports can be particularly beneficial in communities where crime is present, offering another avenue away from violence and drugs.

Athletes can also serve as role models for others in the community, inspiring younger members of the community, who view them with admiration. This is a trend that can continue indefinitely; the effects of sport can contribute positive change to a society that lasts for generations. Role models can become leaders within their local communities, promoting peace and sharing the values learnt through sports with others.

As the United Nations recognises, elite sport can be an “extremely powerful mass communication platform that can be used to promote a culture of peace”14. High-profile athletes generate substantial media attention, which can be harnessed to raise awareness of social issues, such as drugs and violence. Internationally, successful athletes can create dialogues on certain topics15, such as building peace.

Conclusion

Sport is a transformative tool that can deter at-risk youth from crime and violence; sports clubs can provide a close-knit community, centred around the values of personal growth, and physical and mental wellbeing. The values taught through sport can promote life skills to overcome adversity, which is essential in places marked by high levels of crime and violence.

Sport offers innumerable opportunities, both at an individual level, and for a society. In Rio, where the issue of gangs is particularly pertinent, initiatives centred around sport prevent crime and violence by offering an alternative; not only do clubs offer a haven from gangs, but the skills and values taught through activities have the capacity to inspire and shape society for generations. As this piece has outlined, sport offers a promising opportunity to become a tool for crime and violence prevention and peacebuilding in Rio de Janeiro.

References

1 UNODC. (2017). Next Phase of UNODC’s Youth Crime Prevention Through Sports Outreach Beings in Rio de Janeiro. Available at: https://www.unodc.org/dohadeclaration/en/news/2017/03/next-phase-of-unodcs-youth-crime-prevention-through-sports-outreach-begins-in-rio-dejaneiro.html

2 Arias, E. and Barnes, N. (2016). Crime and plural orders in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Current Sociology. 65(3): 448-465.

3 Biondi, K. (2017). Prison Violence, Prison Justice: The Rise of Brazil’s PCC. NACLA Report on the Americas. 49(3): 341-346.

4 Zaluar, A. (2005). Brazilian Drug Worlds and the Fate of Democracy. Interventions. 7(3): 338-341.

5 Zaluar, A. (2001). Violence in Rio de Janeiro: Styles of Leisure, Drug Use, and Trafficking. International Social Science Journal. 53(169): 369-378.

6 Misse, M. (2007). Illegal markets, protection rackets and Organized Crime in Rio de Janeiro. Estudos Avançados. 21. 139-157.

7 UNOSDP. (N.D.). Sport and the Sustainable Development Goals. An Overview Outlining the Contribution of Sport to the SDGs. Available at: https://www.un.org/sport/sites/www.un.org.sport/files/ckfiles/files/Sport_for_SDGs_finalversion9.pdf

8 UNOSDP. (N.D.). Sport and the Sustainable Development Goals. An Overview Outlining the Contribution of Sport to the SDGs. Available at: https://www.un.org/sport/sites/www.un.org.sport/files/ckfiles/files/Sport_for_SDGs_finalversion9.pdf

9 Lemke, W. (2016). The Role of Sport in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/role-sportachieving-sustainable-development-goals

10 Gay, R. (2012). Clientelism, Democracy, and Violence in Rio de Janeiro. In Hilgers, T. (eds). Clientelism in Everyday Latin American Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

11 United Nations. (N.D.). Sport and Peace. Social Inclusion, Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building. Available at: https://www.un.org/sport/sites/www.un.org.sport/files/ckfiles/files/Chapter6_SportandPeace.pdf

12 United Nations. (N.D.). Sport and Peace. Social Inclusion, Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building. Available at: https://www.un.org/sport/sites/www.un.org.sport/files/ckfiles/files/Chapter6_SportandPeace.pdf

13 Agarwal, P. (2021). Sport to Promote Peace and Transform the Lives of Youth. Available at: https://ajtkd.org/sports-to-promote-peace-and-transform-thelives-of-the-youth/

14 United Nations. (N.D.). Sport and Peace. Social Inclusion, Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building. Available at: https://www.un.org/sport/sites/www.un.org.sport/files/ckfiles/files/Chapter6_SportandPeace.pdf

15 United Nations. (N.D.). Sport and Peace. Social Inclusion, Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building. Available at: https://www.un.org/sport/sites/www.un.org.sport/files/ckfiles/files/Chapter6_SportandPeace.pdf

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News

Author

Robyn Heitzman

Published

Wednesday, September 14, 2022 - 21:56

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