Preventing violent extremism through sport: UNODC launches new tools in Central Asia

Many parts of the world, including countries in Central Asia, have faced a surge in extremist ideology and radicalization in recent years, particularly among young people, posing a direct threat to peace, stability and development. Given the youthful population across the region and the vulnerability of young people to recruitment by violent extremist groups, it is essential to cater to their needs and put in place preventive actions that will address the root causes of violent extremism.

To counter these challenges, Government and other experts in many countries have developed national policies to address the root causes of violent extremism and devise effective responses, alongside the Joint Plan for Action in Central Asia, which calls for youth in initiatives for education, sustainable human development and social justice and the promotion of social inclusion in order to reduce their marginalization and vulnerability to violent extremism and recruitment by terrorists.

At UNODC, through its Youth Crime Prevention through Sport initiative, the organization supports Member States in their efforts against violent extremism by developing technical guidance materials and building the capacity of policymakers and practitioners on the effective use of sport to address key drivers of violent extremism. This support is guided by international frameworks such as the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE) and various resolutions which emphasize the key role that young people play in crime prevention and peacebuilding efforts.

Building on the tools recently developed by UNODC on the topic – a Technical Guide, an e-learning course, and a Practical Guide for practitioners on Preventing Violent Extremism through Sport – UNODC is organizing a series of workshops in Central Asian countries aiming to underline the importance of prevention by addressing push and pull factors, promoting holistic and multisectoral approaches to prevention and discussing the role of sport as a tool in this context.

Sport has long been considered a valuable tool for fostering important human values and can be used as a mechanism to promote, among others, respect, teamwork, a sense of belonging and community, tolerance, diversity, and inclusion. In the context of PVE, sport can serve as an effective platform to address the ideologies and root causes of violent extremism by strategically providing a tool to create ideal conditions for learning, social participation and the meaningful and positive engagement of youth within communities. It can therefore be effective in preventing radicalization processes and recruitment of young people by extremist groups. Interwoven through the guidance materials are five areas of intervention considered key to predict youth resilience and empowerment through sport: safe spaces, social inclusion, empowerment, education and resilience.

The one-day workshops start with a policy discussion around key concepts, trends and policies on the prevention of violent extremism at the national level, followed by the completion of the UNODC e-learning course on PVE through sport. Aiming to build the capacity of policymakers and practitioners, this e-learning course provides guidance in an interactive format on policy development, programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of sport-based interventions to prevent violent extremism and disrupt radicalization processes.

The first such workshop was held in Tajikistan on 30 June in a hybrid format, against the backdrop of a recently adopted National Strategy on Countering Extremism and Terrorism (2021–2025). This new strategy replaces the previous one and underlines several prevention priorities among adolescents and youth, explicitly mentioning the role of sport in achieving attitudinal and behavioural change.

Shabnam Rakhimova, Head of International Relations Department of the Youth Committee, outlined Tajikistan’s increasing efforts in using sport as a tool for learning and to divert young people from crime and violence, providing access by youth to sports and cultural institutions. “These efforts,” she pointed out, “contribute to reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which underlines the growing contribution of sport as a tool for peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect.” Alluding to a new draft Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on Combating Terrorism, Nusratullo Gayurzoda, Senior Specialist of International Legal Relations Department of the Ministry of Justice of Tajikistan, meanwhile emphasized the importance and timeliness of the discussion on cooperation in countering terrorism and extremism. The Director of the Tajik civil society organization ‘Javononi Peshsaf’, Malika Dodoeva, also mentioned that she “believes this workshop will attract the attention of Government officials, civil society, development partners and experts to the importance of this topic and will help to take appropriate measures to prevent violent extremism among youth”.

A second workshop, hosted by UNODC Kyrgyzstan, was held on 1 July and brought together 30 participants who also presented the National Programme on Countering Extremism and Terrorism (2017-2022)and other national policy developments before completing the UNODC e-course.

“Sports unite, strengthen disposition, develop leadership and communication skills, and generally have a positive impact on personal development,” stated Bakyt Dubanaev, Vice-President of the Academy of the Ministry of Interior during the event. “The Kyrgyz Republic welcomes the use of this course in the training process for students and learners; it plays a crucial role in preventing violent extremism”. Gulnaz Isaeva, Deputy Director of the State Religious Affairs Agency in the Kyrgyz Republic, meanwhile commented that “religious extremism has multiple causes in our country, and one important thing is early detection and prevention. In this regard, we view this course as a robust tool that we’ll be using in our day-to-day work”.

Additional workshops on preventing violent extremism through sport are planned to take place in Lebanon, Uganda and Uzbekistan in the coming months. UNODC will continue to support Member States in raising up to the challenge of building youth resilience to violent extremism by providing opportunities for social development and active civic engagement.


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