Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cricket: NYPD using cricket to reach out to ethnic groups

The sport of cricket is making some inroads in the United States, even though most Americans still know little - if anything - about the game. Typical reactions tend to range from bemusement to bafflement. But changing demographics, brought about by immigration from cricket-loving parts of the world, are helping the sport to establish a foothold in a country where baseball remains the national pastime. In New York, the city's police department is finding the centuries-old game a good way to reach out to sections of the community.

Many kids use these fields in the Queens section of New York to play sports like baseball or soccer, but as the demographics of the communities surrounding these parks shift, so too do the games played in them.

Faced with an influx of new immigrants, the New York City Police Department - already the sponsor of several sports leagues - needed a way to reach out to these burgeoning ethnic groups. And they seem to have found it in cricket - an open air game played between teams of eleven players on a large grass field with balls, bats, and two wickets. The object of the game - for your team to score more runs than the opposition.

Deputy Inspector Amin Kosseim runs special projects for the department's community affairs bureau. "It helps occupy their time in the summer. It helps maybe keep them out of trouble," Kosseim said.

Now in its second year, the league has grown from six to ten teams, with 170 players.

Alfaz Ally is from Guyana and has been playing for nine years. He says cricket's popularity is growing in New York, even though it is still not widely understood. "The remarks you usually hear is that cricket is a copy of a baseball. Well, we think baseball is a copy of cricket," Ally said.

Putting together the league is hard work.

"We have to go out into communities, we have to draw interest. We have to put rosters together, we have to get coaches, we have to get managers, we provide transportation, we supply all the equipment, the uniforms, get permits for the fields. Although it's rather overwhelming at times, when you see the look on the kids' faces, it's all worth it," Kosseim said.

And, although the police say they do not use the program to recruit, players like Hanzia Munir from Pakistan are already thinking about a career in law enforcement. "I would like to get in because I would like to be a cop," he states, "and the second thing, you're supporting your community, and I would like to do that."

An ambition that supports the New York Police Department's view that the program is helping the department make contact with the Muslim community - a group police have struggled to reach in the past.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen,
Putting principles before profits