Growing up, I was never much of a sportsperson. I looked at sports as something which was for people who are athletic by build and personality. However, I reinvented my whole relationship with sports while working with vulnerable groups in the development sector. Throughout the last couple of years, I have seen sports being used as a medium of connection, bonding, and team-building for diverse groups of people.
Sports participation leads to personal development, personal growth, social harmony, and social change (Wankel & Berger, 1990). It provides the person with the opportunity to be an engaged part of the community (Sherry, 2010).
My first introduction to this was when I was reading a colleague’s Master’s thesis. She researched how sports can lead to the dismantling of stereotypes and prejudice about different groups such as refugees in a school setting through different team-building activities. Such events can bridge the bonds broken through war, violence, and displacement (Spaaij, 2012).
My AIF Fellowship host organization, Turn Your Concern Into Action (TYCIA) Foundation, hosts weekly workshops under “Project Unlearn”. It aims to reduce gender-based violence by facilitating dialogue among diverse communities. The project has conducted workshops on power, privilege, meme culture, and sexism in Bollywood.
During December 2020, a workshop was conducted in Deer Park on gendered pathways in professional and personal life. The workshop was conducted with ex-inmates and volunteers working with the organization. During the workshop, everyone was given a profession and they had to describe the first person who comes to their mind when they think of the profession. This activity helped in reflecting on our biases, stereotypes, and attitudes towards people in male and female atypical professions. The negative consequences of such views for the individuals such as prejudice, harassment, and discrimination were discussed.
In closing, a friendly cricket match was played between the ex-inmates, volunteers, and team members. The match was an exciting opportunity for integration. Post this match, one volunteer stated how she never got the opportunity to play cricket before. She viewed sports are seen as a male-dominated profession. She reflected on how society sees “playing like a girl” as “weak” and “frail”. This made her reluctant to seek opportunities where she could be open and play sports.
This led me to ask myself that such activities bring enthusiasm, excitement, and vitality outside the prison so what is their impact inside the prison?
One such intervention was conducted in a Young Offenders Institution in South England. It showed that how such activities can have positive psycho social consequences and can be used to engage vulnerable groups in rehabilitative services (Parker et al., 2014). Another study reiterates how sports can lead to the re-engagement of prisoners in resettlement programs (Meek & Lewis, 2014).
These interventions give space for alternative methods and techniques when conventional means deem ineffective. More such programs need to be envisioned and implemented with robust monitoring while working with vulnerable groups to achieve constructive results. I look forward to individuals working with criminal justice reform implement more such programs in the Indian context.
Meek, R., & Lewis, G. (2014). “The Impact of a Sports Initiative for Young Men in Prison: Staff and Participant Perspectives”. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 38(2), 95–123. https://doi.org/10.1177/0193723512472896
Parker, A., Meek, R., & Lewis, G. (2014). “Sport in a Youth Prison: Male Young Offenders’ Experiences of a Sporting Intervention”. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(3), 381–396. https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2013.830699
Sherry, E. (2010). “(Re)engaging Marginalized Groups Through Sport: The Homeless World Cup”. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 45(1), 59–71. https://doi.org/10.1177/1012690209356988
Spaaij, R. (2012). “Beyond the Playing Field: Experiences of Sport, Social Capital, and Integration among Somalis in Australia”. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 35(9), 1519–1538. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2011.592205
Wankel, L. M., & Berger, B. G. (1990). “The Psychological and Social Benefits of Sport and Physical Activity”. Journal of Leisure Research, 22(2), 167–182. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.1990.11969823