Hamburger Menu Twitter logo Instagram logo linkedIn logo facebook logo Home Scroll Down Arrow

How Birmingham 2022 can be ‘The Games for everyone’ and help tackle crime and inequality

The seventh meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sport and Physical Activity in the Criminal Justice System heard how this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham can help “re-set, re-engage and re-empower young people in our communities”.

The APPG heard from a line-up of experts: Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society, Nigel Huddleston MP (pictured above); former Team GB Olympic and World medallist Marilyn Okoro and Prof. Geoff Thompson MBE, Deputy Chair of the Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee, Founder and Chair of the Youth Charter and five-times world karate champion.

Thompson called Birmingham 2022 “the most important Games we have hosted in modern history” and called upon stakeholders to work “collaboratively, not competitively” to ensure they leave a positive legacy for those who are dealt a difficult start in life.

Inspired by the work in the townships of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa and in response to the death of schoolboy Benji Stanley on the streets of Moss Side in 1993, Thompson founded the Youth Charter as a legacy programme after the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. His hope now is that the charity’s Social Coach Leadership Programme can harness the power of this year’s Games to provide at-risk young people with an opportunity through sport to develop in life.

“London 2012 was an opportunity to inspire a generation and increase participation, but that didn’t happen because what we lacked was coaches,” said Thompson. “We needed community facilities that would allow young people something to do and somewhere to go – and critically, someone to show them.”

The Youth Charter aims to recruit and deploy 10,000 ‘social coaches’ in the West Midlands and nine other cities in the run-up to the Games. Social coaches are employed from within the communities they serve so language, culture, trust, competence and respect are consistent. The coaches are local, relatable role models for disaffected and disadvantaged young people. They lead weekly sport and physical activity opportunities which offer crucial consistency in their beneficiaries’ lives.

“Our work has never been more relevant or poignant,” explained Thompson. “Last year we lost 74 young people under the age of 21 on the streets. Those lives were priceless. They haunt me and inspire me. I’m committed to using these Games to make it an opportunity for all. We can use their impetus to improve young people’s physical and emotional health and wellbeing, give them discipline, self-esteem and collective respect.

“We’re taking a vicious cycle [of crime, gangs and violence] and we’re aiming for a virtuous cycle. It’s the only way I believe we can increase sport and physical activity participation, engage young people and empower them to aspire to higher education, employability or entrepreneurship.”

The Social Coach Leadership Programme is linked to Levelling the Playing Field, the project run by the Alliance of Sport in partnership with the Youth Justice Board to use sport and physical activity to reduce over-representation of ethnically diverse children in the Youth Justice System.

The APPG also heard from Marilyn Okoro, who following her retirement as an international athlete, is now a youth and athlete mentor and delivers sport and physical activity sessions with residents inside Cookham Wood YOI for Sports Connect UK as part of Levelling the Playing Field project.

“I’m so excited and honoured to be a sporting role model and to impact on young lives,” said Okoro. “I have a passion for effecting positive change for disaffected youth, especially those within the Criminal Justice System.”

The former Olympic and World Championship bronze medallist explained how athletics changed the course of her life having grown up on the Stonebridge estate in Brent, north-west London. The borough is renowned for high crime and poverty rates – it has 22 known gangs with 288 members, 80% of whom are black and 7% of whom are under 17 years old. As Okoro states: “We were born into an overdraft that we spend our lifetimes trying to pay it off.”

But she added: “It’s not always about where you started, but whether you’re willing to do what it takes to change your direction, have the courage to set goals and go after them.”

She fosters a growth mindset with residents at Cookham Wood YOI – teaching resilience, perseverance, discipline, consistency and routine. “Accessing a ‘champion mindset’ requires you to go to a place that isn’t always fun or comfortable,” she said. “Results are not instantaneous but the rewards are incredible.

“Sport brings competition which is the fun bit, but also teaches integrity, morality and ambition. It brings direction, confidence and self-esteem. The biggest thing, no matter what cards life has dealt you, is the courage to dream big and have hope.”

Okoro’s first big breakthrough was at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and Minister Nigel Huddleston outlined to the meeting how this summer’s Games will leave a legacy of inspiring people to get involved in sport and help divert lives on to a positive path.

The legacy programme Gen22 will give 16-24-year-olds from the West Midlands employability-boosting opportunities. It is designed particularly for those who might usually struggle to access such opportunities due to lack of confidence, being a young carer or parent of having a criminal record.

In addition, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner has pledged £200,000 to support projects working with young people already in, or at risk of becoming involved with, the Criminal Justice System. There are also 13,000 volunteering opportunities related to the Games which include 250,000 hours of training. £30 million has also gone towards increasing access to school facilities for young people out of school hours.

“Sport and physical activity are major contributors to turning lives around and we have been working with sport governing bodies, Sport England and schools to ensure the interest and momentum provided by Birmingham 2022 is sustained,” said the Minister for Sport and the Commonwealth Games.

“The Commonwealth Games will be the largest sporting event ever held in the West Midlands. As we recover from the pandemic, sport and physical activity can play a vital role in improving mental and physical health, and delivering positive social change. Birmingham 2022 is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate this by energising the region and being the Games for everyone.”

The APPG’s Chair Clive Efford MP added: “Inspiring young people to become involved in sport is so important because we know it is a big catalyst for developing relationships with trusted adults such as youth workers or coaches. I have fulfilled those roles myself and am well aware that such relationships at times of stress in a young person’s life are important to prevent them from slipping into a life of crime. It’s for those reasons we hope the Commonwealth Games can motivate and energise communities in the West Midlands and beyond.”