Sports and Restorative Justice

‘Restorative justice’ – or, indeed, the idea of justice in general – is often associated, first and foremost, with criminality. While restorative justice can be used to restore harm affected by a criminal offender on a victim, solely focusing on this restricts our understanding and the potential of the underlying values of restorative justice in addressing “everyday” harms.

Increasing diversity, cultural pluralism and tensions within our community can often lead to an increase of “social conflicts” amongst community members in their everyday lives. Social conflicts emerge for various reasons, including misunderstandings, poor communication, frustration, clashing personalities, lack of planning, stress and burnout (R3SOLUTE, 2019). These conflicts and tensions manifest themselves in various ways – whether it is a hateful or discriminatory comment or act of violence in a school or on the street – on a daily basis and affect victims and communities differently. However, all such manifestations impact upon relationships within and/or across communities. 

To learn more about using restorative practices to resolve conflict, enrol in RJ4All’s new e-course, Resolving conflicts and addressing group violence youth (click here for more details on RJ4All’s e-courses).

This is where restorative justice comes in. In the same way in which restorative justice can be used within the criminal justice system to restore the harm done and to work towards repairing relations between the offender, the victim and other affected parties, it can also be applied in an everyday life. As explained in the RJ4All e-course, Resolving conflicts and addressing group violence youth, restorative practice can be used anywhere to prevent conflict, build relationships and repair harm by enabling people to communicate effectively and positively (RJ4All e-course). Restorative practice supports people to recognise that their activities affect others and that people are responsible for their choices and actions, for which they can be held accountable (RJ4All e-course).

To learn more about using restorative practices to resolve conflict, enrol in RJ4All’s new e-course, 

Resolving conflicts and addressing group violence youth (click here for more details on RJ4All’s e-courses).

Restorative justice – or relational justice, as it is sometimes called (Sharpe, 2013) – allows participants to reflect on their interactions with others. In the context of a community, this, for example, may mean interactions between neighbours, peers, authority figures and youth, or even friendship groups at school. The restorative justice ethos (Gavrielides, 2007:139) can be applied in multiple contexts to allow the principles of restorative justice (such as equality, dialogue and involvement in decision-making) to be more universally applicable across the community and, for young people, taught through more engaging (and fun!) method. Restorative or relational justice provides an opportunity to actively repair the crucial sense of connectedness, necessary both for our sense of well being and to reinforce community bonds (Transforming Conflict) .

In this way, sports can provide an experiential learning opportunity to actively explore and understand restorative practices. Sports has long acted as a universal “connector” between opposing people, communities and even countries. Perhaps one of the most obvious sporting examples is the Olympic Games. In light of the increasing tensions surrounding the topic of migrants and refugees, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio were particularly significant. For the first time, the 2016 Olympics saw a team of refugees participate, sending ‘an unprecedented message of hope and inclusion to people around the world, showing refugees are individuals like the rest of us, with dreams, aspirations and sometimes extraordinary skills’ (UNHCR).

Similarly, the Paralympics have also acted as a catalyst for change, challenging discriminatory outlooks towards those with disabilities and prompting increased social inclusion in host countries (UN Chronicle, 2016). This includes:

  • Positive change in accessibility, education, law and policy, media coverage and commercial promotion ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games (Inside the Games, 2019);
  • Almost $1million being spent on making tourist attractions in Rio more accessible ahead of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games (UN Chronicle, 2016); 
  • Increased awareness of the issue of inclusion in Russian society as well as the creation of a barrier-free infrastructure in Sochi for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games (UN Chronicle, 2016);  
  • Significant positive media coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, which resulted in millions changing their attitude towards those with a disability (UN Chronicle, 2016); 
  • Improved social status and social security, better educational opportunities and access to employment, new legislation on accessibility for Chinese citizens with impairments as a result of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games (UN Chronicle, 2016).

Even on such a large scale, a sporting event is able to provide participants and viewers alike with a  sense of inclusion and connectedness, while simultaneously highlighting the diverse nature and multicultural character of our international community. Our local communities often act as a microcosm for the wider world, allowing us to interact with individuals from different walks of life, from various faiths, countries and communities. While it may be on a smaller scale, community sports activities (such as those delivered by RJ4All) similarly provide an opportunity for those who share a mutual interest in sports to come together, no matter their nationality, religion, age, gender or ethnicity. Sports – whether viewed or played – can act as a link within and across communities, providing an engaging vehicle through which to realise the underlying values of restorative justice. Sports can provide (young) people with an opportunity to interact with one another, to work together as equals and to break down stereotypes in a positive environment.

Hear from some of the volunteers and participants in our Watersports Youth Matters project (click here for more details on RJ4All’s WYM project)

By creating a safe space in which young people from across the community can come together, RJ4All’s (water)sports projects aim to allow young community members to interact – as equals – with their peers, to engage with those outside their existing circles and to learn to work with one another as a team, as well as learning more about fundamental values and ideas necessary for community cohesion. Indeed, several guiding principles for sports activities (such as fairness, respect and dialogue) also constitute tenets of restorative justice.

Beyond the impact on individuals themselves, increasing integration amongst community members leads to greater community cohesion and stronger intra-community relations. This, in turn, is crucial in encouraging young people not to turn to violence, radicalisation, gangs, or hate writ large and in fostering a sense of unity and connectedness (rather than isolation or alienation). Consciously or subconsciously, activities such as youth sports clubs provide an opportunity for young people to learn new skills together, but, hopefully, also, to give them an increased sense of self-confidence and empowerment, all of which seeks to strengthen their relationships within their community.