Sport plays vital role in inner cities

Is Eton a deserving cause? Lottery award to school for the privileged stokes debate over allocation of lottery money
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The Independent Online
JOJO MOYES

Lottery chiefs will no doubt justify awarding Eton pounds 3m and Hackney, one of Britain's poorest inner-city boroughs, pounds 4.8m for the building of their respective sports complexes, but there is evidence to demonstrate which award will show the greater social benefit.

In inner-city areas, which suffer disproportionately from unemployment, crime and a lack of opportunities, the building of sports centres fulfils a dual purpose. According to Dr Barry Cripps, sport psychologist with the British Olympic archery team, the most significant is that it removes young men, the main perpetrators of casual crime, from the streets.

"Sport has a role in reducing crime. If you leave kids on the street then they will get into trouble," he said. "The nature of young people is that if there's nothing for them to do then they will find something, and that is very often outside the law."

It also offers young people with few opportunities the chance to experience a sense of achievement, as well as providing an outlet for their frustrations.

"Any physical educationalist will say that sport is used for two purposes - to keep them fit and healthy and also as a kind of catharsis," Dr Cripps added.

"When you kick a ball or hit a cricket ball it uses energy and that is a very positive outlet. It gets rid of some of the frustration of life in really positive ways. If those opportunities are not there ... you can get some problematic behaviour."

The erosion of sports in state schools - more than 5,000 playing fields have been sold since 1982 - has meant that many young people do not have the chance to use their energy positively.

Recent research by Save the Children shows that schemes to occupy bored teenagers reduce crime rates and tension on estates and help older residents feel less threatened.

"Things like summer play schemes, where there are all kinds of physical activity, certainly reduce crime in the summer," said Steve Osborn, of the Safe Neighbourhoods Unit, a charity researching crime reduction and improving housing.

"For one reason or another young people do not engage in anti-social behaviour when these schemes are run"

An example of this can be found in the Golf Links Estate in Ealing, west London - a multi-racial 1960s-built estate suffering from typically endemic problems of racial tension, rising crime rates and an increasingly fast turnover of tenants.

In 1984, the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders and the Department of Health and Social Security funded a project to provide sports, outdoor activities and a drop-in centre.

By 1987, when the funding ran out, the annual incidence of burglary cases had dropped from 82 in to 11, criminal damage from 82 to 21, and the total number of reported crimes from 285 to 65. After the project's closure, crime rates began to rise, and by 1990 the total number of reported crimes had more than doubled to 164.

From the playing fields to Hackney Marshes: Comparisons and contrasts

Population

ETON3,660 in Eton itself, which is in the Royal Borough of Windsor

HACKNEY 181,248 in the Borough of Hackney Ethnic make-up ETON White 98%. Other 2% HACKNEY White 66.4%, black Carribean 11.2%, black African 6.8%, black other 4%, Indian 3.5%

What it's like

ETON Twee ancient town in quiet commuter belt, 11 miles west of Heathrow south of the M4. Close to Windsor Castle.

HACKNEY One of poorest inner-city urban areas in the country. Off the London Underground map. Contains large green-field site (Hackney Marshes).

Stereotypes

ETON College boys in top hat and tails; antiques shopping by Range Rover; green wellies and Barbours; rail commuters.

HACKNEY Community workers bidding to overcome 'loony-left' past; squatters with dog-on-string, gentified terraces occupied by City workers and media types.

Owner occupied homes/

public sector

ETON 52.6%/22.3%

HACKNEY 27%/47.9%

Where to eat

ETON Antico's: 18th Century, bow-windowed, Olde English style High Street bistro.

HACKNEY Kebab shops and curry houses galore.

Unemployment

ETON 4%

HACKNEY 23%

Educational high spots

ETON Eton Wall game

HACKNEY Hackney Downs taken over by Government hit squad; teacher banned Romeo and Juliet for being 'too heterosexual'

Typical comment by outsider

ETON 'The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton' - the Duke of Wellington.

HACKNEY 'Labour's Town Hall trickery' The Sun

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