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Using the ethos of boxing to counteract extremism

Tamworth boxing
Andy Chubb Photography
John Dennen finds out about the important work of programmes at Tamworth Boxing Club

AS well as restarting boxing training after the coronavirus lockdown, Tamworth Boxing Club has been running a programme to prevent radicalisation and extremism.

Having to restrict numbers, due to Covid precautions, it’s a relief that boxers have now been able to return to the gym. “I think mental wellbeing of young people as a whole took a massive dip. I think that by Christmas we will realise the impact it’s had because of the number of kids that will be struggling in school. And I think a lot of the kids that are potentially holding it together are holding it together because of the boxing club. It’s their release. They come down here four nights a week, bash the bags, work hard, get the aggression out, have some discipline put into them and some good morals and everything else. That was enough to keep the vast majority that were struggling on the straight and narrow. But now we haven’t been doing this for five months now, and all of a sudden in September they’ll be expected to go back to school and be how they’re supposed to be, I think a lot of young people will struggle,” head coach Alan Keast told Boxing News. “Any club is an extended family.”

The work of many clubs extends beyond the boxing and Tamworth is no exception. They have been running an anti-radicalisation programme with the support of a £9,000 grant from the National Lottery. It’s a project they hope to be able to roll out nationally.

“We felt, and obviously the Lottery felt, there was a real need for it,” Keast said. “We know that there’s clubs that do more than just the boxing, clubs that are already working in schools and working in the local community. It’s a great little course for coaches going into schools and you can work with it.”

Boxing is an inclusive sport. Clubs are representative of the areas where they’re based but any given club will be welcoming to participants from all backgrounds. Keast finds just the same. “There’s only two colours in boxing, red and blue,” Alan said. “The clubs are made up of where they are. But it’s just a great opportunity to extend what happens within our sport and using the sport of boxing to extend that message.”

Their Prevent course is designed to counteract radicalisation, which comes in different forms, for instance not just the Islamist extremism, which is often thought of, but also an increasing threat from the far right. “If you don’t know what other people are like,” Keast says, “you’re going to be exposed to accepting stereotypes.”

Isolation during the months of lockdown can exacerbate these problems. “Part of the course is if you’re isolated and you only reading certain things via the internet, that’s the perfect platform to radicalise somebody,” Keast said. “It’s the perfect platform. You’re stuck on your own, let’s be honest the key group is young males, yes there are exceptions, [but] it’s young males that are 16 to 30 [that are most susceptible]. You’re stuck at home, you’ve got no school, no job and then somebody comes on and [says] ‘it’s because of them Muslims,’ [or says] it’s because of this, it’s because of the far right. People are constantly being picked on. If you’re depressed anyway, you’re a prime candidate to be radicalised. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s slow, it’s a very, very slow process.”

“Because they are isolated. They get stuck. They’re looking for someone to blame,” he continued. “There’s conspiracy theories and all this racial tension that we’re getting at the moment.

“I don’t think coronavirus has helped.”

The course is also about finding a way to share different views, holding diverse opinions but communicating in a way that doesn’t lead to aggression. “Just making people aware that people are vulnerable and they can be radicalised. It’s also okay for you to believe [something], even though I disagree with you,” Keast said. When it leads to aggression is when you need to worry about it.

“It’s okay for people to think differently and they should think differently, we should all have our own opinions,” Alan said. “When people start becoming aggressive and using violence to get to their aim, that’s what it’s about.

“You can actually become quite aggressive saying, ‘Do this, do that.’ That’s the start of it. [The course makes the point that] yes, you can think totally different things but I’m still your mate. You’re still in the same club. [Whatever your view,] it doesn’t matter as long as you can accept each other.”

The course can be delivered in a block or in segments discussed after exercise. The club, which also provides alternative education for children excluded from school, have found that approach to be very effective. “It’s been well researched that physical exercise makes people more receptive to learning. We actually run alternative education during the day. Our timetable is very physical,” Alan explained. “They’ll do physical work, then some lesson, then physical work.”

“Kids as young as five that are excluded from school for attacking teachers, get back into mainstream education,” he adds. “The coaches, because we call them coaches, we don’t call them teachers, the coaches coach, not teach.

“They build a relationships, [asking] why are you upset? Why did you attack him this morning? Why have you just trashed the classroom, why have you just punched and kicked another member of staff? It’s finding out why.

“There are some people out there who need that little bit of extra support.

“We still need traditional education [but] we use the ethos of boxing and coaching as a medium to deliver education. It works.”

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