UNODC Launches Technical Guide on Preventing Violent Extremism through Sport

Abuja, 30 August 2020 - Although sport might seem a surprising tool for preventing violent extremism, several evidence based studies, including the UNODC Desk Review on Sport as a Tool for the Prevention of Violent Extremism, have shown that “sport can be a helpful tool in not only diverting young people away from crime and violence, but also as a vehicle to strengthen youth resilience”.

Young people are the critical demographic in the fight against terrorism. UN Security Council Resolution 2250 highlights the vital role young people can play in promoting and maintaining peace and security globally, but equally it is primarily from among the youth that extremist groups attract their new recruits. Helping young people make good choices, and ensuring that they have good choices to make, is a critical plank of terrorism prevention.

UNODC, in line with the Doha Declaration adopted in 2015 by the 13th United Nations Crime Congress General Assembly Resolution 74/170 on Integrating sport into youth crime prevention and criminal justice strategies, promotes sport as a mechanism to encourage youth to reject participation in criminal and violent activities. Experts agree that the complex political and socio-economic factors that contribute to the susceptibility of young people to recruitment by violent extremist groups require a youth-focused multi-sectoral response on the part of government and civil society actors to successfully blunt terrorist recruitment.

The newly launched UNODC Technical Guide on Preventing Violent Extremism Through Sport adopts a five-pillar approach to preventing violent extremism, which includes: establishing safe spaces, empowering young people to that their voices are heard, building resilience to extremist narratives, promoting social inclusion, and ensuring access to education. In addition, the technical guide offers guidance on strengthening the design, implementation, and monitoring & evaluation of sports-based initiatives.

References to these five pillars can already be found in Nigeria’s existing national security policy frameworks. The Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, developed by the Office of the National Security Adviser, emphasizes the importance of education, youth engagement and creating safe and creative spaces for youth, in preventing violent extremism. Similarly, the National Security Strategy, 2019 supports youth empowerment and social inclusion, by prioritizing vocational training and socio-economic development for youth.

The Technical Guide was launched virtually on 2 July 2020, and was attended by a wide range of Nigerian government agencies and civil society organizations. The launch provided a platform for both government and non-governmental partners from around the world to share their experiences on the effective integration of sport-based programming into national policy frameworks, and featured presentations from UNODC, UNESCO, Generations for Peace, the Austrian Ministry of Arts, Culture, Civil Service and Sports and the National Counter Terrorism Centre of Kenya.

This sports-based approach not only contributes to wider national counter-radicalization strategies, but also aspires to achieve lasting societal impact by supporting social cohesion and resilience more generally. The complex socio-economic factors that drive violent extremism in Nigeria suggest that an emphasis on social cohesion and community resilience has an important part to play in any sustainable solution to extremist violence.

There are undoubtedly many challenges that still need to be addressed these programmes, including inadequate community resources, lack of trust within communities, fears of retaliatory violence by extremist groups, and more recently, the physical restrictions imposed as part of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges will require practical, collaborative and innovative solutions, but at least now the Technical Guide is there to help.

The Neem Foundation, a leading Nigerian civil society organization already involved in counter-radicalization efforts in the BAY states, welcomed the publication of the Technical Guide, noting that it “supports member states, policymakers, civil society organisations and development practitioners in providing culturally relevant, contextually appropriate, effective, and safe measures for sport and prevention of violent extremism interventions. It provides a holistic and practical direction towards utilising sports as a dynamic, and cost-effective mechanism as well as an entry point that bridges social divides, promotes personal development and growth, encouraging pro-social thinking and behaviour while providing opportunities and alternatives that prevent factors leading to violent extremism.’’

Building on the launch of this new Technical Guide in the months and years ahead, and acting in partnership with the international donor community and national stakeholders, the UNODC Nigeria will be looking for opportunities to support innovative sport-based initiatives to both prevent and counter violent extremism in Nigeria.