Global Cooperation

5 ways sport is creating social change

Alexandra Chalat
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As the summer begins to wind down and autumn appears on the horizon, the United Kingdom is getting closer to welcoming the world for the Rugby World Cup 2015. With London 2012 still fresh in people’s memories – the friendly volunteers, the magical atmosphere of Super Saturday, the celebratory way the city came to life for those two weeks – here in the country’s capital, we are looking forward to having rugby lovers from across the globe join us in October.

In addition to showing the world what a friendly place the UK can be, the Rugby World Cup has the opportunity to do something else: shine a spotlight on how sport can actually trigger positive social change. This is really what I am looking forward to the most: for the world’s eyes to be on sport and, therefore, the opportunity it has to help change society.

In my work, I am lucky to get the chance to see what rugby – and sport in general – can actually do when utilized by those trying to make a positive impact in their communities. Yes, sometimes, in the professional capacity, rugby can be an aggressive, quite violent game. And yes, sometimes, the sport’s fans can get a bit rowdy. But at its heart, the values and essence of the game has some amazing qualities that can lead to helping and supporting people who need it most. In light of the Rugby World Cup coming to England, the majority of which will be played in London, the city where I am a Global Shaper, here are five ways rugby can show us just how sport can create social change:

Crime intervention in Venezuela

Since its inception in 2003, the mission of the charity called Project Alcatraz is to peacefully eradicate crime and transform violent leadership of youth offenders into virtuous leadership using the values of rugby. The programme recruits gangs – not gang members – and aims to rehabilitate them and, after two years, reinsert them into society. As they advance in the recruitment of gangs and as they understand the philosophy of “violence breeds violence and trust stimulates trust”, Project Alcatraz brings these gangs together and obliges them to make peace, hence bringing the crime rate down dramatically. Under a zero-crime motto, members participate in programmes that combine community service, civil values training, vocational training, psychological assistance, and rugby training. Once participants have completed the three months training, graduates can choose from a job within the company, partnering with the company in a project or continue their training with Taller del Constructor Popular.

Employability across England

The HITZ programme tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today: unemployment, crime and disillusionment. Delivered nationally by Premiership Rugby, HITZ uses rugby to increase young peoples resilience, self-reliance and confidence. It gives them the skills to get back into education, vocational training, apprenticeships and employment. HITZ gives those with no hope new hope. HITZ has supported the development of 3,000 targeted young people every year; 500 of these young people enter a personalized study programme. An incredible 90% complete the course, of which 75% will go on to achieve a positive progression into further education training and employment.

Education in Memphis, US

In low-income charter schools throughout Memphis, academic achievement often takes a back seat to survival. American football and basketball are glamourised in the US – so many young men without hope of a bright future invest their time into these sports. For many young men in Memphis education is even lower on their priority list than football or basketball. For years the school systems have allowed athletes (especially the most talented ones) to forget about their education and focus on sports. Before introducing rugby in Memphis schools, it was virtually unheard of. Now, with the creation of the Memphis Inner-City Rugby Programme, it is a sport that kids quickly fall in love with. They become attached to the idea of running with the ball, tackling, and the camaraderie of the sport. The culture of achievement that has been developed in the programme is centred around education and having a plan for the future. By playing rugby and participating in the programme, a young person agrees to invest in themselves on a deeper level and prepare themselves for success beyond schooling.

Social inclusion in Bradford, UK

The Bumbles are unique in England as the first team playing Mixed Ability Contact Rugby Union. Founded in 2009 by a determined young man with cerebral palsy and learning difficulties, the team has been guided by an established Welsh Inclusive Rugby Side, the Llanelli Warriors. With the support of the RFU and an established home at the Bradford and Bingley Rugby Club, the Bumble Bees are a stand-alone club, having over 40 registered players with and without disabilities and play regular fixtures against able-bodied teams. Four years ago the Bumbles attracted the attention of the WEA (Workers Educational Association), and were able to set up a class for players with learning disabilities, the WEA Inclusion in Rugby Group, aiming to promote disability awareness, social inclusion and equality through Rugby. These players have created a promotional training package and presentation designed to encourage the creation of new Inclusive Teams and the expansion of Mixed Ability Rugby.

Bridging divides in Australia

The National Rugby League aims to promote social integration for young people who have been socially isolated as a result of gaps in education and cultural detachment. Australian indigenous people are the most disadvantaged within areas including life expectancy, educational achievement and employment outcomes in Australia (Social Justice report, 2005). To tackle these issues, there is great need to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal students to a level playing field comparable with those of the general school population. The National Rugby League uses Rugby League concepts to improve the integration process for new citizens and their families to become active participants in their communities. The NRL has chosen to specifically target these groups who both face many of the same social issues. Some of these issues include: social isolation, segregation, racism, bullying and cultural disconnection. Through the values of the game, the NRL is capable of improving social outcomes for both the participants of programmes and the wider community.

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Author: Lex Chalat is a Global Shaper and Curator of the London hub. She is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of thinkBeyond, which advises charities, brands, and governments on how to use sport to better engage communities and trigger positive social change.

Image: General view as fans watch a rugby match. Action Images via Reuters / Henry Browne

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