Sports clubs must continue to play a prominent role in helping people from ethnic minorities feel a sense of belonging and offer the support to challenge social issues head on, according to London Lions captain Justin Robinson.
As the country looks toward life returning to some degree of normality following the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, engaging in active sport remains a positive outlet for many.
Research commissioned by the Lions revealed 37 per cent of people from ethnic minorities felt most included within their community and peers when playing sports.
Part of the study, which was conducted across a nationally representative cohort of 2,090 respondents, also showed 42 per cent of people from ethnic minorities feel they would have been more likely to deviate away from anti-social activities in their youth if they had greater access to sport and community programmes.
Robinson grew up in Brixton before going on to further his basketball career in the United States collegiate system.
The 34-year-old point guard still has close ties to the south London district and believes projects such as those initiated through the London Lions Foundation can make a real difference.
Robinson told the PA news agency: “Especially in the city communities, I think they are imperative really for the kids, because it gives them a sense of belonging.
“It is probably even more so now, especially with the lockdown. A lot of the kids have been out of school and stuck back at home, where we know there can be all kinds of issues for different families.
“To be honest, I think things have gotten worse than when I was growing up.
“A lot of public funds have been cut and a lot of the local youth centres have been shut down – I am not making excuses for these kids, but when you are idle, who knows what you can get up to?
“When I go into schools and talk to teachers, they point out specific kids and say: ‘he is being pressured by gangs to join’.
“I don’t think these kids have an outlet – there is not even a youth centre in my area, a place where these kids can go during the summer holidays or be taken on trips to see the different parts of the UK.
“This is why it is so important to have that representation, when they see and hear from someone like me, they know I am coming from a place of sincerity, from where they have come from.
“It is really important to show them there are positive things to do, there are outlets and options.
“If they want to join an academy, their local team or need help going to university, they have to know there is somewhere to reach out to.
“Speaking from my own experiences, a lot of kids can feel hopeless, that no-one cares about you or your future.
“So when someone comes into your school to give you options or an outlet, somewhere you can go and be safe, to learn life skills, when you interact with them, they lap it all up.”
Robinson feels the social issues run deeper, even with the additional support the Lions are able to offer.
“If you don’t really target or tackle the root of the problem, then the problem just kind of quietly grows,” he said.
“In spite of facilities and putting a pathway for these kids, we still have to tackle the social problems on the ground.
“Whether that is knife crime or bullying in the schools, they all have to be incorporated into the programmes.”
London Lions general manager Brett Burman added: “We are trying to include our local community in everything we do here.
“We realise how important the local community is to our team and want to repay them in any way possible.”