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Jana’s new shoes

Street-ballin’ with big sister
It’s Friday afternoon and the street basketball practice in the GAME Zone Bourj el Baranej has just begun. Children are running around playing, laughing and snacking beside the court. On the court the players are concentrating on the drills and giving each other high-fives when succeeding. One of the girl practicing is 8-year-old Jana. She has been playing basketball in GAME for two years. She started after her bigger sister contacted GAME through Facebook and now both of them are playing the urban version of basketball every Friday in their nearby ‘GAME Zone’, which is located in the southern part of Beirut. In her spare time, Jana meets up with her friends to play basketball. Jana explains that even though she likes playing street basketball at GAME, sometimes she’s too lazy to go. When that happens, her mother encourages her to go anyway. When she sees her friends and starts playing she thinks to herself, “Thank God I came”. She loves the ‘GAME Playmakers’ (young volunteer coaches and role models, red.) and the reason is not only that they are funny. Jana likes them because they teach her the fundamentals of the sport and because they are simply nice talking to. She has made several new friends at GAME and mentions three of them. When asked if she had made more friends than the three she quickly answers, “of course!”. Other friends, who have yet to attend their first practice have asked her to bring them, but not all have parents who will allow them to go. Less than being cultural the reason is often that their parents don’t know GAME and don’t know that the practices are for free.

Access to sports a huge challenge
The weekly basketball and soccer practices GAME organizes for free are unique in Lebanon. Both basketball and soccer are some of the most popular sports in Lebanon, but most parents can’t afford the membership fees. It usually costs 50-100 dollars a month to play sports in a club. A girls football academy in Beirut even charges 150 dollars a month. On top of this comes expenses related to equipment and sports shoes. Such costs exclude most children in Lebanon. Before the war in Syria started, one out of four of the residents of Lebanon had problems covering the basic needs such as rent, food and health care. With the increased number of refugees this number is now estimated to more than one out of three today, making the high membership fees seem like a wall keeping the young generation inactive.

Why not just play in the public parks? This is easier said than done. Beirut has very few public spaces where you can play and exercise. In Beirut public spaces only make up 0.5 % of the city. An average European city has 12 %. In addition to this, there is a fence around the biggest park in the city and the entrance is restricted and currently completely closed to the public. The combination of the high membership fees and the few public spaces has caused physical exercise to be a privilege for the well off.

Shoe donation
Although the GAME practices are for free, many of the children still can’t afford proper sportswear and shoes. For that reason, the Danish sports retailer SPORTMASTER in collaboration with GAME handed out 300 pairs of sports shoes for children in two of the GAME Zones in Beirut. The shoes were collected by the customers of SPORTMASTER and given to the children in most need. On the winter day when the shoes were handed out, it was cold and rainy, but despite of that many of the children showed up in flip-flops or sandals, because they had no other footwear.

Jana didn’t know anything about the shoe hand out when she attended the practice back in December. She was surprised and very happy to get her own pair of sports shoes. The shoes are white and gold and Jana says, that they can be used for practice but also for everyday life. After telling her story, Jana runs back to the other children. They are doing an exercise balancing a cone on top of the head while dribbling with the basketball. Jana joins the queue and when it becomes her turn, she gets a cone on top of her head. She concentrates and runs slalom between the cones on the asphalt while dribbling with her basketball. She completes the exercise without dropping the cone and receives credit and a high-five from a Playmaker. With a confident smile on her face, Jana gets ready for her second turn – this time with a bit more speed.