Sporting Chance

Our final example of the importance of understanding our hunter-gather legacy lies in consideration of modern manifestations of the hunting psyche, some less socially-desirable than others. It is now clear that a burglar, whether stealing from houses or cars, makes use the same skills that an ancient hunter would have done. Professor Jeffrey Brantingham of the University of California and Los Angeles studies hunter-gatherers in Northern Tibet, and puts that research to use with the Los Angeles Police Department in the analysis of crime patterns. As he has stated: "Criminal offenders are essentially hunter-gatherers; they forage for opportunities to commit crimes: the behaviours that a hunter-gatherer uses to choose a wildebeest versus a gazelle are the same calculations a criminal uses to choose a Honda versus a Lexus."

Hunting, gangs or football?

Again, an urban street gang is, basically, a modern-day perversion of a hunting group, with its powerful bonding and adherence to a very particular territory. Gang culture therefore needs to be seen not just in present-day societal terms, but its deeper roots also need to be appreciated, if an effective remedy for its violent spiral is ever to be administered. A heavier police presence, knife and gun amnesties, counselling, bootcamps and employment training are just some of the approaches advanced to counter this social problem, but often with no concerted effort to establish the relative long-term effectiveness of these widely-contrasting methods.

That sport can be used a socially-positive proxy for hunting (and therefore gang culture) has been ably demonstrated by the ‘Midnight Basketball’ movement, that started in the USA in 1986, and proved equally as effective in Australia, where it has operated since 2007.These programmes offer organized sport, education and personal development, rather than a life of petty crime, drugs, violence and other social problems. In London, where football is the team sport of choice, especial mention must be made of the KICKZ programme. Working in inner city schools, the Arsenal-in-the-Community team encourages increased participation in sport, providing positive personal development and a healthier life-style. Its wider goals include improved social cohesion as well as lowering crimes rates. Their project on the Elthorne Park estate was run in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police and began in 2006. By 2009, the annual crime figures showed a drop of 66%. The social success of these schemes can be amply justified by their results: from our perspective, we would argue that the study of the evolutionary determinants of urban wellbeing -in this case the hunting psyche- provides the detailed rationale upon which such success is based.

But for such valuable schemes to develop and they need appropriate facilities, not least in the provision of football pitches: town planning issues thus underpin any further success this scheme might anticipate.


Laureus Sport for Good Foundation 2010 Teenage Kicks: the Value of Sport in Tackling Youth Crime