The twilight zone

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Football and boxing are the people's sports, yet they are not the activity of choice for promoting social inclusion, says Stuart Waiton

There is a boxing club in Coatbridge that has been running for years, a club that has had little if any outside financial support. It has no agenda - to improve young people's health, to get them off the streets or to improve their self-esteem. The club has no reason for existing except for one man's love of boxing.

This same club is often packed and has been responsible over the past few years for producing some, if not most, of the best young boxers in Scotland. It is what I would call a "real" club. So what is a "real" club?

It is a club often set up by local people, that appeals to something within that area and attracts young people because they are interested in that sport and want to be good at it. It is a club that is motivated by a love for the sport, by a belief and passion in the skills of that sport and, as such, it has an ethos of excellence.

These clubs today, however, are being challenged by a new breed of sports club -the socially inclusive club. They are often heavily funded by sports organisations, Government quangos and local authorities. While at first glance they appear similar to "real" clubs, they are in fact so different that it is questionable whether the terms "sport" or even "club" should be used to describe them at all.

One example of this type of "club" is the twilight basketball initiatives set up in the past few years, often in deprived areas such as Glasgow's Easterhouse.

Following some apparent success with twilight basketball in the United States, local authorities in Scotland are throwing money at these initiatives partly because they are believed to be "urban and cool". But while this may be the case in America, the fact that the Scottish Rocks are the only professional basketball team in Scotland suggests that this initiative is something of an alien import that has little basis for development within communities.

The Rocks are involved in these initiatives all over Scotland and, while involving some young people in learning to play basketball, the motivation seems to be almost anything other than to develop a passion for sport - the ethos is certainly not the pursuit of excellence. The Rocks are involved with Crimestoppers and the Scottish Executive in an anti-drugs campaign, and the funding for these schemes that comes in part from seized "crime money" looks set to increase.

Rather than the love of sport, these initiatives appear to be based more on the fear of crime. Twilight basketball ticks all the right boxes today. It is, we are told, "inclusive by its nature"; it aims to encourage a "healthy lifestyle"; the Rocks are promoting "Rocks against racism"; and, in the first Easterhouse v Govan game, there were apparently "no real losers, everyone played brilliantly".

Clearly, this is not the only sports activity for young people in Easterhouse, but I would suggest that the reason this type of basketball training is so appealing to the Executive and local authorities is exactly because it does not involve local people around their passions.

The obvious clubs to develop in most of Scotland, and certainly on the west coast, are locally run football clubs. But, as one of the Easterhouse basketball leaders told me, "there's a lot of baggage with football". In our PC world, locally run youth football is often seen as too aggressive, too competitive, often involving real passions and rivalries: in other words, it is simply too much like real sport.

Twilight basketball in comparison has no parents screaming from the sidelines, but rather has "instructors" who pat everyone on the head and hand out certificates just for turning up. There are no great rivalries because no one cares about basketball, and consequently there are few, if any, local adults involved.

These state-funded "social inclusion" clubs represent the future, especially for the poor. They are the antithesis of sport and should be kicked into touch.

Stuart Waiton is a director of GenerationYouthIssues.org

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