Cricket curing crime?

On Tuesday I went to the inaugural StreetChance Awards at Lord’s. StreetChance is the inner-city solution to The Cricket Foundation’s ‘Chance to Shine’, aiming to provide young people in urban areas with an alternative to crime and gang culture. This was an opportunity to reward the hard work of all those involved in the project.

Since its launch in 2008, nearly 15,000 young people across London have participated in the project, playing a fast paced version of tape-ball, each innings lasting just 20 balls. Coaches and volunteers lead groups of youngsters in weekly sessions, with regular competitions against other groups in the project.

Local police officers also attend the sessions, giving young people the opportunity to get to know them without the uniform. Regular matches against police teams also encourage interaction between the two groups.

Not only does the project aid in breaking down the barriers between youngsters and the police, but also between kids from different backgrounds, schools and, importantly, postcodes. Gang rivalries between estates and suburbs are dissolved through the sport, and the participants get to know each other as equals rather than enemies, with 78% saying they have made friends with people they wouldn’t normally hang around with.

Some more amazing facts about StreetChance:

–       40% of participants are girls.

–       60% of StreetChance community participants say their coach has made them more aware of the negative effects of drugs and alcohol.

–       60% of StreetChance community participants say StreetChance has helped them avoid getting involved with local gangs.

–       75% of police officers involved say young people’s attitude towards them has changed outside of sessions since they became engaged with the project.

StreetChance undeniably do great work. Having met some of the participants, and read the stories of others, the project has made a real difference to the lives of many young people across London.

But perhaps the most important thing that projects like StreetChance do is to introduce the wonderful world of cricket to kids that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to fall in love with the sport.

The debate over cricket being televised on Sky over free to air channels still bubbles on quietly. I have generally been in favour of Sky (not just because I have Sky Sports). The money it generates for the sport is irrefutably beneficial to the ‘grass roots’ of the game in this country.

But someone made me think about it in a new light recently. For those children that don’t have access to Sky Sports, no doubt many of the StreetChance participants, their opportunity to catch Ashes fever, or marvel at the tantalizing talent of their country’s star players, is significantly reduced. How many previously non-plussed English men and women suddenly became hooked on cricket during the exhilarating 2005 Ashes series, aired on Channel 4? It is experiences like those that inspire the younger generation to achieve cricket greatness. Thankfully, project’s like StreetChance are helping to ignite a passion for cricket in young people.  Surely that is the real grass roots of cricket?

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