Countering extremism through sport studies

Sports can inculcate mutual acceptance, a sense of belonging, and social cohesion within and among communities

Sports activities engage an individual in physical and mental terms. It is considered an important instrument in developing the skill of teamwork, concentration, communication, a sense of ownership and belonging, along with the values of respect, tolerance, acceptance, engagement, and inclusion. In this context, sports play a vital role in building life skills and a sense of empowerment, particularly within the youth and children in an active and meaningful way.

United Nations have identified five major preventive factors by using sports as a tool of Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) that includes the creation of safe spaces, social inclusion, education, resilience, and empowerment.

Firstly, safe spaces intend to engage the youth in meaningful and positive activities that dissuade the feeling of alienation, and frustration, and at looking life through the optics of negativity and unfairness. Social safety is the fundamental objective that is achieved through building intra-personal relationships with individual and their families. Therefore, the concept of a safe place is based on trust, confidentiality, and a non-discriminatory environment where people are applauded and acknowledged.

Secondly, social inclusion aims at active participation along with sharing opportunities within the community. In this way, the participants learn teamwork and peer-to-peer dialogue that eventually leads them to adapt and co-exist with distinct social norms, values, and beliefs.

Thirdly, education is one of the most significant factors for pre-emptive measures against rising extremism by developing awareness and critical thinking within the community.

The fourth factor is creating resilience in sports that aims to counter the external factors that can contribute to increasing extremist tendencies in youth. Here, the risk factors linked with socio-political and economic factors are treated through developing economic and social mobility, equality, and opportunities for the youth.

The fifth factor is empowerment which includes the collective participation of youth and their skills to identify negative influencers, risk factors, propaganda, and indoctrination through their intra-personnel and leadership skills. In addition, it contains empowerment of thought, ideas, and values. All these above factors increased participation of the youth that is central in sports. Therefore, sports play a significant role in creating positive values and a trait of co-existence and adaptability.

In this perspective, for preventing violent extremism in Pakistan sports can be a very useful tool as it is watched, played, and celebrated across the country. Mental health issues can also be reduced through sports activities as it induces a positive energy and feeling of contentment within the players. A wide range of sports is played in Pakistan including Cricket, Hockey, Squash, Football, Khabbadi, Snooker, Volleyball, Badminton, Tennis, Boxing, and Weight lifting.

There is a need to change the perspective of stakeholders to see sports not only as a physical activity and a game but to understand it as a separate discipline in academic terms as well. Therefore, the inclusion of sports studies as a compulsory subject in theory and practice from the school to the university level would not only institutionalize sports studies but it will also financially empower the people. Through this gradual training, the coaches and facilitators would also be more communicative, active listeners, compassionate, and humane to disseminate positive energy within the youth. Sports can inculcate mutual acceptance, a sense of belonging, and social cohesion within and among communities. In addition, it would make the whole activity more incentive-based and purposeful. Moreover, there is a need for reforms in the spread of sports institutes from the council, and district to the provincial and federal levels. 

Besides, the government and associated departments should also invest in sports that are globally popular and affordable in financial terms as well. For instance, Football, and Volleyball, are some examples that are popular among the youth and are not very expensive games as well. In this context, the empowerment of sports culture through structural and behavioral change towards sports can be a beneficial tool to prevent violent tendencies and to transform youth energy in a positive and consequential manner. 

Dr. Maryam Azam

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), Lahore. 

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