Two extraordinary things happened a couple of weekends ago. A few days of horrendous disorder broke out in London, Birmingham and Manchester. People's homes and businesses were destroyed following an outbreak of violence that many have blamed on disengaged youth and growing gang culture in many of our cities.
At the same time, the England cricket team capped a remarkable turnaround. From being the bottom ranked test playing nation in 1999, Andrew Strauss's team were crowned the world's top test nation only eleven years later following a crushing victory over India. The win happened at Egbaston, only a few miles from the Winston Green area of Birmingham, which suffered so much devastation and tragedy.
Surely now is the time to harness the power of sporting success, such as that of the England cricket team, to help re-engage young people and ensure that the kind of violence that we saw earlier this month doesn't happen again. There are numerous examples of how sport has been used as an instrument to provide focus and meaning to lives previously devoid of both.
Sport generally, and cricket in particular, has displayed an extraordinary capacity to transform lives. The tremendous 'Fire In Babylon' showed how cricket helped bring real pride and determination to an otherwise poverty stricken West Indies in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. You only need to look at the scenes in the film from Brixton and Vauxhall after the West Indies' routing of England in 1984 to see the way that cricket has helped pull some of the communities most affected by the disorder together in the past.
Examples from South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh illustrate the transformative power of sport. There's even an example of former Compton gang members in the States who have seen cricket as their salvation. Boxing and football have also given people a route out of poverty and, in some cases, rescued people from a life of gang culture and crime. Sport not only provides real focus - it also instils the importance of discipline and teamwork. In many cases, sport can enable people to be proud of their achievements, providing a sense of self worth and engagement with society that had previously been missing.
Policy makers need to consider how sport can be used more effectively as a force for the good in deprived areas. Sport in schools is particularly important, but there is also more that can be done to provide the right facilities to harness the power of sport. It's unbelievable that Brixton, for example, rich in cricketing culture from both the Caribbean and England, has only one cricket pitch - the Oval.
Government has a big role to play in this, but so do employers and philanthropists (the cricket and football clubs in the North East were often built and kept up by the local mine of steelworks). Perhaps now is the time for more of the richest people in society to give a little back by giving philanthropic donations to help build sports facilities for some of the poorest in society. Some of the richest in society should be encouraged to give money towards exciting sporting projects, funding cricket and football pitches, boxing academies, BMX and bike tracks and so on that would give a new lease of life to some deprived areas.
Nobody is suggesting that sport is some kind of panacea for social ills. However, it does have an important part to play. Time and time again, the transformative effect of sport in poorer communities has been clear for all to see. We should use the fact that England are now the world's number one cricket team to inspire young people from deprived backgrounds and help reengage many young people in society.
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