Yvon Dandurand

Last December, in its resolution 74/170 entitled “Integrating sport into youth crime prevention and criminal justice strategies”, the U.N. General Assembly encouraged States to use sports-based activities more widely to promote primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of youth crime and the social reintegration of young offenders. The resolution also called upon Member states to promote and facilitate research and the monitoring and evaluation of relevant programs and initiatives, including gang-prevention initiatives, in order to assess their impact.

ICCLR and other members of the U.N. crime prevention and criminal justice program network of institutes (PNI) were urged to examine effective ways and means of integrating sport into youth crime prevention and to include the issue in their own research programs.

As an immediate follow-up, UNODC, the Government of Thailand and the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) hosted an expert group meeting on the subject (Bangkok, December, 2019). One of the meeting’s main goals was to review available research evidence relating to the effectiveness of sports-based programs in preventing crime. Unfortunately, that kind of evidence is still quite limited and, although there may only be limited evidence for making a causal link between sport participation and the prevention of crime and recidivism, the expert group concluded that there is some evidence that suggests that sport can be an effective tool for increasing participation in broader crime prevention interventions that mitigate risk factors and strengthen protective factors of crime and violence.

There is tentative evidence that sport may be effective in crime prevention for achieving diversion (physical and in terms of shifting perceptions), engaging difficult to reach groups, as well as achieving certain social objectives (justice, inclusion, equality) and positive personal developmental outcomes (life skills, attitudes, employability). However, the root causes of youth crime, whether understood at the individual or societal levels, cannot reasonably be expected to be single-handedly addressed by the provision of sport opportunities. The power of sports to produce social change should not be overestimated and sport should not be seen as an alternative to public investments in education, access to employment, social services, access to justice, and rehabilitation programmes. Furthermore, interventions that produced crime prevention outcomes in a certain context cannot necessarily be assumed to be immediately transferrable to a different context, intervention models applied in a different context must be developed locally or adapted to the new context.

Since robust evidence is still missing, one might wonder what leads people to assume that youth sport programs, in themselves, can solve problems of deviance and violence when research clearly shows that these are complex problems related to broad social, economic, and psychological factors.  Clearly, the concept of sport-based crime prevention is still in need of standardized definitions, including operational definitions of what constitutes a sport-based program other than the idea that the program includes a sport-related element. There is critical need for further research and theory to identify the context and processes through which sport participation may contribute to crime prevention. For instance, further research is needed on the cognitive processes through which skills acquired through sport participation can be effectively transferred to other aspects of the participants’ life.

The proceedings of the expert group have now been made available on the website for the Kyoto Congress. Another excellent review of existing research on sports-based crime prevention programs is also available from Public Safety Canada.

Other resources:

Public Safety Canada (2017). Sports-Based Crime Prevention Programs – Research Highlights. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada.  https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/2017-h03-cp/index-en.aspx

Fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Outcome of the expert group meeting on integrating sport into youth crime prevention and criminal justice strategies, Report of the Secretariat. https://undocs.org/A/CONF.234/14

Dandurand, Y. & Kaetler, L. (2018). Recent Research on Sports-based Crime Prevention: Bibliography. Vancouver: ICCLR. https://icclr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Dandurand-Kateler_2019_-Crime-Prevention-and-Sports-Bibliography.pdf?x30145

Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash.

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