Sport in the Red Zone

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redzone3In war and disaster, children and youth are some of the most at-risk, but they are also some of the most innovative at finding ways to handle new and unplanned situations.

Waikato University senior lecturer Dr Holly Thorpe is on a mission to find out more about how youth (10-24 years) engage with informal sports to improve their own and others’ health and wellbeing.

Studying youth and social change in spaces of war and disaster, she has been awarded a $300,000 Marsden Fast Start grant. Her early research in post-earthquake Christchurch suggests people involved in action sports such as skateboarding, surfing, mountain biking and climbing have helped rebuild networks and community, and facilitated their resilience for coping during the long process of rebuilding.

“They had to look hard to find alternative locations for their activities – travel further to surf or climb, and some skateboarders built indoor skate parks among the ruins. People converged from all over the city to help build and play in these spaces.

“These new alternative mobilities gave them a reason to stay and helped them to deal with the stresses of life in this radically changed city,” says Dr Thorpe.

As part of her Marsden project, other case studies will be Afghan children and youths’ engagement with skateboarding; post-Katrina New Orleans; and a grassroots parkour group in Gaza. In Gaza, a younger generation of technologically savvy Gazan residents are the founders of the parkour group, PK Gaza.

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“This group also feels that running and jumping from broken buildings and training with their friends is important for their everyday coping strategies.”

They have used the internet, cheap mobile phones, and social media for their parkour practices and for broader political purposes.

“I plan to examine trends within and across locations and the potential of youth engagement in non-competitive, ‘action sports’ such as skateboarding, parkour, surfing and climbing, for development and peace-building in disrupted and damaged geographies,” she says.

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