Empowering People with Street Sports - GAME Streetmekka Copenhagen

The urban hiker following the railroads path from Copenhagen Central Station to the West, may end up to Enghavevej street, a large artery connecting the neighborhoods of Vesterbro and Sydhavnen. Continuing southward, the walker will find him/herself in front of one of the former tramways terminuses used until the early 1970’s. 

These industrial buildings, still known nowadays as "Enghavevej Remise", have been converted into various public facilities, for schools, non-profit associations, and sports activities. The railway past is tangible, and the layout of the tram rails is noticeable on the ground along the curves formed by the steel strips. 

Arriving from the north, one must go beyond the big skate park and then rush into the right to find a courtyard around which a circus school and a unique space of its kind rise up - the GAME Streetmekka.

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An outdoor/indoor facility

What is it about? A place of 2200 m2 dedicated to urban sports and street culture created by GAME, a non-profit organization founded in 2002. The spot opened in 2010. "We Love Asphalt", the GAME's motto, makes full sense as soon as the visitor enters the building. Here, boundaries between the street and the indoor are blurred by the same floor covering used outdoor. Reva Hagins, General Manager, explains the reason for this choice: 

"The building is unique and this is the first in Copenhagen with an indoor asphalt. The idea is to keep the energy and the spirit of the street. Everybody can relate to the street, whether you are old or young. For a lot of players, it gives a lot of freedom."

Empowering the Players 

Let's take a short look at the history of this place which, as its name indicates, draws its roots from the street. It all started in 2002, when 3 basketball players living in Nørrebro, a working-class and multi-ethnic district, decided to narrow the gap between basketball players in clubs and those less favored, for whom the street was the only place to practice sports in general. 

These young sportsmen and activists set themselves a golden rule: to foster a lasting social change by getting local volunteers involved in the project. That empowerment principle became one of the core values of the Playmaker Program. As Reva Hagins explains, "it is very important to create a real empowering dynamic. If someone from outside the neighborhood comes and teaches the kids to play basketball, it would work in the coaching sense, but not in the empowerment sense.”

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That principle was initially put in practice by the three founders, who coached young people eager to play basketball in their local area. Gradually, the simple fact of playing basketball became an opportunity for the founders to transmit the values of the overall project to the players, and to train them to coach other people. 

The idea provoked a snowball effect and led to the creation of an ever-increasing number of "zones" in the city, where volunteering Playmakers have been facilitating a grass-roots network of players, reached out to local associations and municipal structures. 

There are now 3 zones in Copenhagen: in GAME Streetmekka Copenhagen, and two zones in the less advantaged neighborhoods of Mjølnerparken and Frederiksberg. 30 zones were also created in the rest of Denmark, 12 in Lebanon, and 5 in both Jordan and Somaliland. All the GAME zones are led by young volunteers – Playmakers. These role models are a huge part of the social change that GAME creates.

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365 days a year

A few years after the launch of the Playmaker Program, 2 active volunteers shared with the founders their thoughts on the project. According to them, the social impact of GAME could be even stronger by ensuring continuity of its activities throughout the year. In a country like Denmark, having an indoor space where people could come in and play without the weather dissuading them would be a real asset. 

Excited about the idea, the founders and the 2 volunteers launched a lobbying campaign with the municipality to raise the necessary funds and find the right place. In 2008, the building was found. After the building renovation by BBP Arkitekter, the GAME Streetmekka opened in 2010 and received a great success from its first year of activity. 

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A sense of ownership and flexibility

GAME is now firmly established in Copenhagen. The articulation of the "zones" with the Streetmekka is very strong, and the increasing number of subscribers shows how more important the project is becoming. The place is not managed with rules, but much more with guiding principles. 

"We create guidelines, but not rules, in order to encourage people to come here and make it their own place. We need to develop a sense of ownership to the place, to encourage them to take care of it." Membership and entrance fees are in line with that idea. "A membership card costs 50dkk (6,7 euros), and then when you come back, you pay between 10-20 dkk (1,4 to 2,4 euros) the activity. The whole idea is that everybody can get in here. We have 15-20 activities a week which members can attend. We have basketball, football, dance, school DJ, street art, parkour, yoga classes. You can attend these classes and then go back to play basketball again. It's flexible because you don't have to come back next week, you will not have an angry coach. We are open every day, all year long."

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Female challenge

Since August 2017, GAME has launched an action plan to increase the number of girls among visitors and participants, named GAME Streetmekka Girls. Currently, females represent only 30% of the members. GAME's goal is to reach 50%. With this aim in mind, several studies were carried out by the NGO before forging their program. "The program is mainly focused on girls between 10 and 16 years old, from various ethnic backgrounds. Our volunteers are going to schools and encourage those girls to come in here". 

The purpose is to organize specific moments and spaces where girls can choose their activity and occupy space in their own way. "Basketball is such a male-dominated sport, the facilities take a lot of room, and eventually it excludes a lot of females. So when those girls are here, they choose what they want to do and the boys need to step back and sit." 

Another project, called International Women’s Day, gives pride of place to women. As part of this annual event, tournaments are organized in a variety of disciplines: DJing, dance, Parkour, basketball … Here as well, the organizers voluntarily push women to the forefront but do not want to put men aside. "It's focused on women, but there are still guys around, so we do not exclude anybody. "

Top 200 NGO

The NGO saw its efforts rewarded by appearing in the World’s 200 best NGO’s ranking in 2017, rating made by the independent media organization NGO Advisor. This ranking pays tribute to GAME action not only in Denmark (Copenhagen, Esbjerg, Aalborg and Viborg), but also in Lebanon, and very recently in Somaliland and Jordan. The NGO is also currently expanding in 4 European countries and in Tunisia.

Through this article, I also want to take my hat off to the fantastic job done by GAME, and invite the readers to go to see the GAME Streemekka. You will definitely love asphalt!

Words by Charlotte Sabouret
All imagery to the courtesy of GAME