News 16 Jul 12

Cricket For Change Arrives To Serbia

Youngsters across Serbia will have a unique opportunity to play cricket this summer, with the aim of promoting tolerance and cooperation between different ethnic groups.

Marija Ristic

Cricket4Change in town of Bujanovac

Photo by Transconflict

A series of events have been organized by  “Cricket4Change in Serbia”, the umbrella name for three nongovernmental organizations – TransConflict, the Serbian Cricket Federation and Cricket4Change from the UK.

Ian Bancroft, the co-founder of TransConflict, which focuses on conflict transformation projects and research, says that cricket is a great tool for bringing together divided communities.

“Although cricket is relatively novel to most people in Serbia, it is also a non-contact sport in which everyone has the chance to actively participate - making it ideally suited to community development. “

“Cricket for Change have extensive experience working in a variety of contexts - from inner-city London to Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip - and bring an enthusiasm for cricket's unifying potential that quickly communicates itself to all the young participants,” said Bancroft.

 Cricket4Change in town of Bujanovac

Photo by Transconflict

35 Albanian, Serbian and Roma children from the town of Bujanovac in the south of Serbia were the first children to be given a chance to play cricket in Serbia.

Bancroft explains that the reason why Bujanovac was chosen as the project’s first stop, was to draw attention to the sizeable, yet much-neglected, Roma population within the town.

“Often the challenges in south Serbia are talked about solely in terms of relations between Serbs and Albanians, or with respect to neighbouring Kosovo. The Roma community - which is believed to account for some 10% of the local population, though exact figures are unknown - is often overlooked, despite the fact that many of them face additional problems, by virtue of being internally-displaced persons from Kosovo,” Bancroft notes.

“It’s also clear that many young people are now growing up without learning the language of the other communities, making it even more imperative to work towards  social cohesion,” he told BIRN.

 Cricket4Change in the town of Bujanovac

Photo by Transconflict

The children of Bujanovac played Street20 Cricket, a simplified form of cricket, designed to be played in urban environments, making use of basketball courts, sports halls or the streets itself.

Four, ethnically mixed teams competed against each other in a series of six-a-side matches, where each team bowled 20 balls each.

“We were delighted to be asked to contribute to the great work being carried out by the Serbian Cricket Federation and TransConflict with marginalized young people and their communities. We understand the power of cricket to bring young people together in a neutral and safe environment and this is exactly what we saw taking place during our visit [to Bujanovac],” said Andy Sellins, the chief executive of Cricket4Change.

The event in Bujanovac was supported by the UK Embassy in Serbia, UNDP, UNICEF, Municipality of Bujanovac and the Centre for Tolerance and Integration in southern Serbia.

Organizers say that the next stop for Cricket4Change in Serbia will be Serbia’s capital Belgrade, hoping that similar events will follow in other parts of the country, such as Novi Pazar, Subotica, Novi Sad and central Serbia.

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