Home > Sport and arts should be part of youth substance abuse prevention strategy.

Pike, Brigid (2004) Sport and arts should be part of youth substance abuse prevention strategy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 12, December 2004, pp. 16-17.

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Sport and the arts should ‘constitute an essential component of a broader child-centred, multi-tiered strategy for substance abuse prevention’.  This is the main conclusion of an Oireachtas Committee report investigating the effectiveness of sport and the arts as deterrents against substance abuse by young people under the age of 18 in Ireland.1

 Based on a review of national and international literature, and consultation with a wide range of interested parties, the Committee concluded that involvement in sport or the arts facilitates the holistic development of the person and reduces the propensity to abuse various substances.

 Sport was found to be associated with enhanced self-esteem and self-discipline, the prevention of boredom and the promotion of leadership skills, empowerment, positive relationships and role models. Various artistic activities (e.g. music, visual arts, dance, drama) were found to contribute to cognitive development, greater self-awareness and self-confidence, and positive social interactions. Studies from Australia, the UK and the US were cited that found a positive link between engagement in sporting or artistic activities and reduced levels of involvement in substance abuse.

 Exploring current provision of sports and arts programmes in Ireland, the Committee found that the formal education sector fails to give proper recognition to the role of both sport and the arts, as evidenced by a lack of dedicated time within the school day, a shortage of adequately trained teachers, and a lack of facilities. In the non-formal sector, the Committee found many dynamic and effective sporting programmes, but reported that they lacked long-term planning and coherent policy development, and were chronically under-funded and under-resourced. The arts area was even weaker: with youth arts programmes being provided largely as pilots, the Committee found a lack of long-term commitment and resourcing, and poor inter-agency co-operation.

 The Committee made 13 recommendations, which would see the creation of a ‘multi-tiered’ infrastructure for delivering integrated and co-ordinated sport and arts programmes for young people:

§         establishment of a Youth Affairs Ministry and Department, to maintain policy oversight and budgetary control in arts, sport and youth affairs;

§         expansion of the role of statutory bodies, such as the Arts Council and the Irish Sports Council, to undertake tasks such as establishing best practice and ensuring a more integrated approach by the various organisations involved in programme provision and delivery;

§         creation of local arts partnerships (LAPs) and the extension of local sports partnerships (LSPs), to co-ordinate the local delivery of sports and arts programmes;

§         development of a variety of resourcing mechanisms, including innovative use of available resources, extending the school day by 30 minutes to provide for physical education within the school day, and accessing funds from the private sector and monies from the Dormant Accounts Fund and the Criminal Assets Bureau;

§         inclusion of alcohol in the National Drugs Strategy.

 The report calls for improved integration and co-ordination of policies and programmes. A statement on page 13 of the report highlights the challenge implicit in such aspirations:

Many young people come from troubled families and lack respect for the formal education structures where they are preached to and feel marginalized. Within the sporting environment, young people develop respect for their coaches and mentors. Coaches can then use their leadership positions to convey a positive non-[substance] use message to young people and can become positive role models for all participants.

 As well as co-ordinating the practical aspects of programme delivery, such as timing or resourcing, to ensure there are not overlaps or gaps in service provision, it is also necessary to examine the philosophical assumptions and principles underpinning various programmes, to ensure they complement and mutually reinforce one another, rather than cancel each other out or retard progress.2  


1. Houses of the Oireachtas. Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Fourth Report. The Effectiveness of Investment in Sport and the Arts as a Deterrent Against Youth Substance Abuse. April 2004.

2. EMCDDA. Co-Ordination: A Key Element of National and European Drug Policy. Drugs in Focus, No. 9, May–June 2003, calls for research into the effectiveness of present mechanisms for drugs co-ordination at both national and international level as a prerequisite to improvement.

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