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Extreme Sports and Antisocial Behaviour.

Flicking through the local press recently, several stories reporting a link between extreme sports and antisocial behaviour came to my attention. The first concerned proposals for a BMX park in Flackwell, Buckinghamshire. The plans are being resolutely opposed by concerned local residents, who believe the development will significantly increase the levels of antisocial behaviour in their neighbourhood. The second story comes from Scotland. Police in Nairn have announced that they are going to take a tougher stance when dealing with freerunners. According to the Police, the sport has become so popular locally that it is now necessary to prosecute freerunners as criminals in the interests of preserving public order.

Both the above stories are striking, but for different reasons. In the case of the BMX Park, it is depressing to see such a massive gulf between the perception and the reality of extreme sports. Extreme sports do not create antisocial behaviour, they are the antidote to it, as was observed recently by London Olympic hopeful, Shenaze Reade. Sports like BMX, skateboarding and freerunning require iron discipline and give young people something to focus their energy on (energy that might otherwise be misdirected).

Areas that have dedicated extreme sports facilities regularly experience a reduction in antisocial behaviour, especially when the young people who use the facility are given an input into its creation and maintenance. Such involvement turns disengaged youths into stakeholder citizens, with a direct interest in protecting a public facility and a reason to cooperate with local authorities. It is an important way of demonstrating inclusion and for many young people, it will be their first experience of the local democratic process.

In the case of the freerunners in Nairn, Britain’s national parkour body, Parkour U.K. has responded critically to the statement given by the local Police. They assert that it is wrong to describe the “antisocial” teens as traceurs (parkour practitioners), because they are not undertaking the sport in any properly athletic way. Football as a sport is not blamed every time someone kicks a ball through a greenhouse window, so why should parkour be blamed when kids run across garage roofs?

The point made out by Parkour U.K. is clear, but a bit academic. It would take a big leap of logic to assume the Police were blaming the sport of parkour for the antisocial behaviour, as they’re clearly not. What they are saying is that youths, inspired by the sport, are committing antisocial or petty criminal acts and therefore they should be punished properly. What is so utterly depressing about Nairn Police’s statement is they focus purely on punitive measures to assuage the rise of town centre freerunning. Their policy is all stick and no carrot. There is no mention of working with the local authorities to provide dedicated facilities for freerunners. Instead, at a time when the Government is scratching its collective head over how best to encourage young people to participate in sport, the police in Nairn have announced that they will prosecute erring freerunners because their number is now too great. What a bizarre juxtaposition!

Tags: antisocial behaviour, BMX, England, Extreme Sports, Flackwell, Freerunning, Nairn, Parkour, Scotland, Skate

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