Is sport really the answer to these problems on the street?

In the sports sections of the UK newspapers this weekend, amongst the near exclusive coverage of the start of the English Premier League and cricket success, a very specific line of thought was emerging.
Not surprisingly, this referenced the riots of the past week across England and the capacity for sport to be a positive tool in fighting the causes of this anti-social behaviour.
This is the message behind one of London-based paper The Guardian's lead sports articles about professional footballer, Charles N'Zogbia.
The article, leading with the quote "Football has saved me from a life in jail", clearly highlights the positive social aspects sport can have on the lives of the individual.
In his Observer comment piece (sister paper to The Guardian), England goalkeeper David James makes more explicit reference to this idea. He argues that:
"Football can play an... active role in helping communities by really engaging through local projects."
One project already pursuing work such as this is the Laureus-supported Urban Stars, which operates in UK communities from London to the West Midlands to Manchester; the former and latter in areas directly affected by the riots, namely, Croydon and Salford.
As shown above, support for community sports projects has been popular these past few days, but the argument still remains that they're nothing but a luxury; particularly at a time of remarkably tight economic conditions.
My blog of last week made the case for how such 'luxuries' can, in their helping children off the streets, in fact save government money.
And in addition to this, as Laureus visits Urban Stars in Manchester today with Academy Member Sir Bobby Charlton and Ambassador Michael Vaughan, it is worth looking at a case that has shown how valuable sports projects can be to indviduals and the communities in which they live as well.
One of the young participants of the Urban Stars project in Croydon, an area that saw so much rioting, is Natalis.
Before Urban Stars he was frequently getting in trouble with the police, particularly after an incident on a bus where he assaulted a police officer. Natalis had severe anger management problems and needed to channel his negative energy, so he joined the football session of the project.
Natalis has now been attending the Urban Stars project since 2009 and he has engaged in over 400hrs of activities. During this time his character has developed and he has come on in leaps and bounds since his first session.
Natalis, who is now 18, attends college and recently enrolled onto an electricians course.
And though he still tries to come down to sessions from time to time, much of his focus is spent towards staying at home and helping with his family and younger siblings.
Natalis had this to say about his experience of Urban Stars;
"Since coming to the Urban Stars project I have grown in confidence and also made loads of friends and developed my football skills, but I have also calmed down with my anger and become a role model with my brothers."
Cases such as Natalis' may appear modest at first, but it is such changes in the lives of individuals that ultimately work toward a greater understanding of the societal values that lie at the heart of peaceful communities.
Check back here for a report on Sir Bobby and Vaughan's visit to Urban Stars in Manchester and follow us on Twitter @LaureusSport for pictures and news as soon as it happens.

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