According to figures released by New Zealand Police and recently reported in the media (read more here), at least 900 people joined gangs in 2020, a 13 per cent year-on-year increase. It was reported that the majority of recruits are young men, with Canterbury University sociologist, Jarrod Gilbert noting that “there were a number of reasons why young people joined gangs, but the main factors were they wanted a sense of family or brotherhood”.

Sport clubs can (and should) provide a positive alternative. Joining a sport club can provide a sense of belonging for youth, “learning they need to be somewhere at a certain time, how to share, how to listen, how to make friends, how to be in a team and take turns and how to win and lose” – in other words, how to become part of the social give-and-take that is a general requirement to be a fully-functioning member of New Zealand society.

One of the reasons why teenagers may be reluctant to join sport clubs today is the lack of a meaningful incentive. The more that some sport clubs have become focused on being a launch-pad for elite athlete development, the less many teenagers feel incentivised to be involved, particularly if their sporting talents and aspirations do not conform to the elite-model with (as a result) club coaching and development resources being unavailable, or inadequate for their needs. By changing focus, sport clubs are ideally placed to provide a sense of family and brotherhood, within and across communities.

In his 2020 book “The Tyranny of Merit – What’s Become of the Common Good?”, Harvard University’s Michael J. Sandel addresses the “rhetoric of rising”, a side-effect of which is the growing global divide between “those who make it”, and “those who don’t”.

This ideology is clearly having a negative impact on New Zealand community sport, with inequality between local community clubs increasing as they actively compete for scarce coaching and financial resources, and talented players. Any supporter of any sport, in any part of New Zealand, will be able to point to community clubs that are “blooming” and those that are “withering”, as a result of this unhealthy competition.

Government has an opportunity to address this inequality, particularly by focusing on increasing youth membership and participation in all clubs, across all communities. This Association has already pointed out how this could occur (click here to read more), which would have the direct benefit of keeping more kids in sport, and well-away from court.