What single activity is best at binding communities and nations together? Is a universal language passionately embraced locally and globally? And is as spontaneous and dramatic as nature itself? The answer for me is football! Jogo bonito (beautiful game)! Soccer!
It should therefore come as no surprise that football is the world’s most popular sport, features the world most renowned athletes and provides us with the world’s most watched event – the World Cup!
Football has a longstanding history of prominence in Jamaica and is a common recreational activity for males and females alike, whether it is watching or playing. Due to it is popularity, it is oftentimes used to curb anti-social behavior and promote positive social change among young people all over the world. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-financed Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) of the Government of Jamaica is one such operation that has been organizing football matches between rival communities as a means of bringing them together and restoring peace.
I recently attended the IDB’s Institutional Capacity of the State (ICS) Division’s Knowledge Week held May 12-15, 2015 in the tropical city of Montego Bay, Jamaica. The Wednesday morning of May 13th was dedicated to the ICS team carrying out outreach activities in some CSJP communities (activities ranged from the donation of reading material, beautification exercises, sporting exercises and motivational talks), including a football match between the IDB and a CSJP community football team – IDB’s Argentinos versus CSJP’s Granville United. I was a part of the Argentinos for the highly anticipated matchup.
The sunny morning was buzzing with enthusiasm as the Argentinos strategized on how to save themselves from humiliation when information leaked of Granville United’s superior physical condition and prowess. Surprisingly however, the match was very competitive and ended in a 3-2 score line in favor of Granville United. More importantly, football as a catalyst for promoting social cohesion was on display as there was instant connection and camaraderie all around. It was evident that the activity was a master move as it brought positivity and inspiration to the community, be it short or long term.
As I reflected on a morning well spent, I realized how the game instantly became a medium of expression for the introverted and marginalized. I pondered a bit deeper about how football could be used as a means of instilling discipline, self-respect, self-confidence and other positive social traits in youths at risk of becoming criminals. One just has to research the effect of “jogo bonito” on Brazil for an attestation of the powers of the amazing game.
Football is already engrained in all social spheres of Jamaica, including the most volatile communities. For many of these communities, such as Tivoli Gardens and Arnett Gardens, a prominent community football club and international football players are arguably the most positive products of which they can proudly claim ownership. Therefore, if football is the most pronounced “beacon of light” in these communities, is it being under-utilized as a tool to fight crime and violence, and does the sport have more to offer in improving the lives of youth-at-risk in Jamaica?
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