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Blog: Can sport hit back against the glamorisation of street violence?

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21: Practitioner in Gang Culture, Training, Extremism and the Criminal Justice System, Tanayah Sam, speaks during a day of discussions concerning how Sport has the power to go ÔBeyond the DivideÕ during Day three of the Beyond Sport Summit at the Grange St. PaulÕs Hotel on October 21, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images for Beyond Sport)

Urban youth specialist Tanayah Samwho leads the Alliance of Sport’s Positive Action Group on Gangs and Youth Violence, explains how young people’s consumption of media is behind the current rise in gang violence – and how sport may be able to intervene. 

The recent rise in knife crime, gun crime and gangs in our urban communities has sent our shocked authorities scrabbling for answers. In my view, working out what lies behind this behaviour is key to finding potential solutions.

As an ex-offender and gang member who now works as a specialist in steering young people away from criminal behavior and extremism, I have witnessed first-hand how this current upsurge in crime differs from the street violence I was involved with in my youth.

The most important difference in my view is the influence of their mobile phones. Young people are now exposed to unlegislated, unrestricted and all-pervasive content that in some cases is being legitimised and endorsed by giant, influential corporate brands. Watch the rap video below – with lyrics promoting violence – and notice how it is bookended by an advert for a popular brand of sports shoes.

Another recent example of this was a marketing event in London by Puma and JD Sports based around ‘trapping’ (a street word for selling drugs).

These sportswear companies are, in essence, endorsing criminal behaviour. And it’s not just sport brands. The record label XL Recordings, who work with Adele and Radiohead, have just released a video by the rapper Nine which tells a story of a postman who helps his friend steal and sell drugs. It blatantly promotes drug dealing and the fact that it can lead to a lucrative lifestyle.

This is a dominant culture right now among young people and the older generation don’t realise how interwoven this is. It’s a globalised, brand-sponsored glamorisation of criminal activity and it’s what many, many kids are heavily influenced by and aspiring to.

Only last week I visited a school where there had just been three stabbings because someone called someone else the wrong name. Videos, social media and music, all accessed through mobile phones, is the key driver to this behaviour.


What we need is a counter-narrative – and it’s here that sport can play a big role. We’ve got to highlight great things being achieved in communities by influential young people in sport, and emphasise to young people that sport (as opposed to gangs and violence) can provide a viable and desirable career path for them.

That counter-narrative must be created by young people, for young people, not sport service providers themselves. We must give the service user a voice or the credibility of the message will be zero.

We’ve seen how Foot Asylum’s logo pops up at the beginning and the end of the video above. They are endorsing and sponsoring that person rapping. It just so happens they are rapping about stabbing people and selling drugs. What if we sponsored a kid from an urban community doing something amazing and aspirational in sport? That video could be just as influential.

As the lead on the Alliance of Sport’s Positive Action Group on Gangs and Youth Violence, I’m well aware of the power of sport in tackling criminal behaviour. We need to get a bit smarter by applying, adapting and promoting that message to reach the younger generation and turn this horrendous rise in violence around.