Club Cricket Conference

Wednesday, 24th April 2024

Character Through Cricket given London trial

By Charles Randall

27 June 2018

The Government has announced 10 sports-based projects to encourage integration within communities, and cricket is likely to be the most effective, judging from experiences in Kenya.

The London borough of Newham has been targeted for a Character Through Cricket project, funded by the Home Office for £50,000 to help tackle extremism as part of the Building a Stronger Britain Together programme.

The Club Cricket Conference will be involved, setting up the programmes and training the coaches. This follows the achievement of a youth charity called East Africa Character Development Trust, using cricket to raise aspirations in the slums of Nairobi. A 160-page report by two independent specialists under guidance from the Jubilee Centre at Birmingham University gave the Kenya scheme a glowing endorsement.

The Birmingham University report noted that truancy in Nairobi receded, exam results improved and people turned up for work more often. The data and anecdotal evidence suggested that the cricket scheme was highly effective, and the charity's success was picked up by the Home Office.

The cricket charity's impact on Nairobi's youth impressed the Somerset all-rounder Peter Trego during filming of a six-part feature on cricket around the world in 2106, commissioned by Dutch television broadcasters. He reckoned it was one of the most moving experiences of his life.

So it is not surprising that there are high hopes for the Newham project, engaging 600 young people in cricket in secondary schools with after-school activity and through the summer holidays. This is designed to draw communities together, promote citizenship and directly challenge extremist agendas.

The connection between the Nairobi charity and the Club Cricket Conference has been Simon Prodger, managing director of the National Cricket Council  and head of the East Africa Character Development Trust. Prodger said that cricket - all aspects, including scoring and umpiring - had been introduced at schools for slum children to "develop life skills and character" to prepare for life's challenges.

This mantra stemmed from an American educational concept of 'knowledge is power'. Researchers concluded that the key to leading a happy life lay in enlightened behaviour, summarised by seven aspects. These were social intelligence, optimism, curiosity, perseverance, self-control, enthusiasm and gratitude. Cricket was an activity that ticked all these boxes, and Nairobi proved its efficacy.

Prodger said that the Nairobi scheme for 19 primary and secondary schools had helped improve the lives of many young people, many of whom had never ventured beyond the city outskirts. Most lived in desperate poverty.

Prodger added: "We were well aware that not everyone was good at hitting a ball or even wanted to, but an interesting part was that some children enjoyed focusing on other aspects such as scoring and umpiring. Scorers were seconded to club cricket and they flourished  as valued participants, perhaps for the first time in their lives. They advanced socially and this gave them confidence."

Matches were arranged for the better players - with a  gender split of 50-50 - including trips to play the Masai to the north. Perhaps the most moving story involved Alice Muoki, a slums girl known as Naomi.

"Naomi revealed incredible talent as a cricketer," Prodger said. "She had never played before, but she showed ability as a novice against the Masai and topped the wicket-takers in the Nairobi adult league as a 15 year-old.  Now she has been selected for the Kenya senior women's team and is playing international cricket. Her life has changed completely."

Naomi was selected  for the ICC World T20 eliminators in Namibia last September without playing, a tournament surprisingly won by Uganda, but she impressed when Kenya won a four-nations T20 tournament in Rwanda recently.

Prodger knows that the Newham project faces a  different task within the community. "There is less a problem with sheer poverty," he said. "The challenge is knife crime, gang culture and possible extremism."

The Newham programme is part of a wider £400,000 sports scheme across the country, announced recently by Baroness Williams, Home Office Minister for Countering Extremism, in Birmingham.

Baroness Williams said: "The work that Character Through Cricket is doing to bring people from a wide range of backgrounds together shows that sport has a uniquely powerful way to break down barriers and provide a common platform to unite us all."

More than 160 organisations have received support from Building a Stronger Britain Together since it was set up in 2015 as part of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy. Support is given to civil society and community organisations, according to the recent Home Office announcement,  working "to create more resilient communities, stand up to extremism in all its forms and offer vulnerable individuals a positive alternative".

Character Through Cricket will be run by the Club Cricket Conference, Aureus Social Ventures,  Sporting Equals and Sport Legacy Foundation.

The Home Office should be congratulated for giving Character Through Cricket a chance. It has long been accepted that cricket is an ideal sport used for bringing together communities. In 2014, with encouragement from Pope Francis, the Vatican launched a cricket team called St Peter's with the idea of building links  with the islamic world. Cricket reached communities that football could not, and even the Taliban endorsed this western sport in Afghanistan, provided that sufficient piety was shown.

These days cricket is being recognised belatedly by the German government as a tool of integration for the many Afghan refugees in their country, reducing alienation. The result has been a startling explosion of cricket clubs in Germany and several leaps up the ICC world rankings for the national side.