Can sport help prevent violent extremism?
UTS Associate Professor Nico Schulenkorf recently participated in a UN meeting on the use of sport to prevent and counter violent extremism.
The use of violence and terror to support political, religious or ideological beliefs is often seen as a problem plaguing developing countries, but there is the potential for violent extremism in all societies, and Australia is not immune.
While large sporting events, such as the Olympics, have been a target for terrorists, sport also holds potential to promote messages of peace, unity and tolerance. The FIFA Women's World Cup, which Australia and New Zealand are due to host in 2023, could provide such an opportunity.
UTS Associate Professor of Sport Management Nico Schulenkorf recently participated in a UN Expert Group Meeting on the use of sport to prevent and counter violent extremism. The session included sport practitioners, policymakers and academics from around the world.
Sport can provide not only physical activity, but also messaging, connection and social cohesion.
Associate Professor Nico Schulenkorf
“The aim of the meeting was to develop an official UN Guide and to create a ‘think tank’ on the use of sport as an effective prevention tool to disrupt radicalisation and recruitment processes, and address push factors towards violent extremism,” said Associate Professor Schulenkorf.
“If someone's already radicalised, then a sporting program isn't going to fix that; it needs a completely different approach. But for prevention, sport can provide not only physical activity, but also messaging, connection and social cohesion aspects as part of a tailored program,” he said.
The UN Guide will provide a roadmap not only for governments and policymakers, but also for large and small sporting and community organisations, to support and strengthen programs that engage young and vulnerable people, and promote values such as tolerance, teamwork and respect.
"Sport and sporting events play a significant role in addressing and preventing violent extremism by empowering youth, showcasing the importance of gender equality, and facilitating integration and community resilience," said UN Counter-Terrorism chief Mr Vladimir Voronkov in his opening address to the UN Meeting.
“Sport helps children and teenagers across the globe to build the psychological and emotional strength to be better, more tolerant and respectful citizens. Sport equips them with the tools to resist terrorist propaganda," he said.
Associate Professor Nico Schulenkorf
Associate Professor Schulenkorf, Director of the UTS Master of Sport Management, said he was invited to take part in the UN meeting because he has undertaken extensive research on the implementation and effectiveness of sport-for-development programs.
“The focus of my research is on the use of sport for non-sporting outcomes – such as promoting healthy lifestyles and community reconciliation," said Associate Professor Schulenkorf.
“I’ve previously worked in Israel and Sri Lanka on sporting programs that had conflict resolution at their heart, and aimed to bring different parties together by engaging in community activities and networks without the drama of politics in the background.
"Most of the sport-for-development programs we have in Australia are focused on socially or economically disadvantaged communities, including refugees and new arrivals," he said.
As part of the UTS Master of Sport Management, students examine sport’s role in the community, as an agent for social change, and as a means for intercultural engagement, particularly in the subjects ‘Sport Development’ and ‘Sport Globalisation’.
“These sport-for-development initiatives are not designed to directly prevent violent extremism, but rather to build community cohesion, and integrate or include disadvantaged groups of people into society,” said Associate Professor Schulenkorf.
“Many corporates and some of the largest sporting organisations have corporate social responsibility programs and they provide money to community organisations in developing countries, but there is little evaluation of the long-term impact of these activities."
At the UN Meeting Associate Professor Schulenkorf called for a stronger academic commitment to building a body of evidence specific to preventing violent extremism, and to understand sport-related factors.
He also called for greater collaboration between UN entities, policymakers and stakeholders, and a commitment to developing systematic mechanisms to discuss and share information.
“This should include a stronger engagement with non-sport partners including criminologists, psychologists and political scientists who have specific expertise in these areas,” he said.