Karate man kick starts sporting campaign

24th October 1997 at 01:00
Former world karate champion Geoff Thompson made public his vision of the positive role sport should play in society to Commonwealth leaders in Edinburgh this week. In private he tried to win over sports minister Tony Banks to his cause.

Thompson is the driving force behind the Youth Charter for Sport which aims to give young people the chance to develop through sport. He believes more local facilities, funded by business and using sports stars as ambassadors, would encourage anti-social young people to change their ways.

If he can convince Tony Banks during the Commonwealth Conference on Sport and Development, schemes tried out in Manchester could spread to cities like Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham, which have already shown an interest.

Nearly 50 pilot projects have been launched, mainly in Manchester, to show what can be achieved. They include a football team with members drawn from Moss Side youth gangs, paying for a talented local basketball player to take a scholarship in America and refurbishing a youth centre in Hulme.

Thompson's decision to launch YCS followed the death of a 14-year-old boy, Benji Stanly, who was shot in Moss Side. He feared the gangland culture of Los Angeles would erupt on Britain's streets unless action was taken.

He said: "I wanted to use sport to provide people with an opportunity to develop in life. We had to change the way our children think in our communities."

Thompson said sport should give something back to the inner-city youngsters who idolise the stars and wear the expensive clothes they advertise. He knows of young people in Manchester who spend Pounds 200 a week on the latest sports fashion. This money clearly does not come from the profits of a weekly newspaper round.

"Millions are being generated through sports for the participants and the businesses behind them," said Thompson. "It seems reasonable enough to ask those making the money to put something back in the areas where there is such a huge following."

After the shooting of Benji Stanley, the boxer Chris Eubank, then a super-middleweight champion, visited Moss Side to talk to the community.

He was the first of a steady stream of sporting figures recruited as ambassadors. These included athlete Kriss Akabusi, cyclist Chis Boardman, tennis player Pat Cash, soccer legend Sir Bobby Charlton, cricketer Clive Lloyd, rower Steve Redgrave and Manchester United Football Club.

Thompson sees the YCS as a bridge between sports clubs, the youth service and schools. Without such a link he believes talent is being wasted and, in the long run, communities will suffer.

Boxer Robin Reid has already visited the youth centre taking shape in a former church on the deprived Langley estate in Middleton, near Manchester. Local youths are helping with the design and doing the labouring.

Terry Smith, the volunteer who runs the centre, believes the community must be involved for such facilities to succeed. Outside agencies cannot just throw money at the problem and expect results.

The centre's projects have included an outdoor activity course and launching a basketball team.

"People said the building would get vandalised and broken into," he said, "but it hasn't because this is the property of the local youth. They're not told what to do. They have a say in what happens."

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