By Alex Manfredi and Kasper Delaney-Petersen
‘GAME’ integrates street sports, culture across neighborhoods in Denmark
GAME is what many people would refer to as an ‘integration program’ for Danish and minority youth. While the non-profit organization would fit that description, it does not want to be seen as only that.
Locations are strategically-placed neighborhood hotspots for anyone interested in sports, dance, street art and music.
The organization was founded by Simon Prahm, Martin Schulz, and George M. Goldsmith, three guys who decided to combine their interests into youth programs and neighborhood cultural “hubs”. What started as an outdoor street sports organization has taken off and turned into 32 outdoor “GAME zones” and 4 bigger, indoor “streetmekkas”.
The organization is fully funded by sponsors, the local community, and municipality. GAME also generates its own income by renting out its facilities.
Just one visit to the original GAME streetmekka in Copenhagen, Denmark is enough to confirm that it has long outgrown its founding in 2002. As soon as you step foot into the industrial, urban location, it appears to be a full-blown gym similar to the likes of a California Family Fitness or 24-Hour Fitness.
With Snoop Dogg’s hip-hop classic “Gin and Juice” playing throughout the facility, GAME gives off a much more laid-back feeling than traditional gyms.
What separates the organization from a regular gym is the built-in dance studio, basketball courts, indoor soccer court and music rooms. Throughout different times of the day, there are “free” hours for members to do practically any activities desired and other times where there are scheduled classes and training.
Where did the streetmekka’s begin and why?
“Game as an organization started out in our community areas, on the streets…in the different communities. But in winter time what do we do? That is when we started applying for a house”, said Signe Larsen, Booking and event manager of GAME.
“It was seven years ago since we got the go-ahead for this house where you can do all the activities inside. This is the first streetmekka, or house.”
To call GAME a standard Danish sports association is a misunderstanding, as the informal scrimmages and skills sessions are really more of an invitation than an association. Members are free to come and go as they please.
There is no separation into skill level groups, and no form of pressure, as people of all ages and backgrounds make up GAME’s identity.
One of the most unique aspects is that the sport, music, and general urban culture adopted by GAME are not Danish at all, but global – an important characteristic for an organization that brings together youth from around the globe who have found themselves in Denmark.
“We have rap coaching twice a week, in our hip-hop school” said Larsen. “Our equipment is a bit outdated, we have DJ decks but they are made for vinyl…it’s retro.”
In the summer, GAME is most popular at its outdoor locations. Young children and adolescents gather to learn and practice the basics of basketball and soccer from seasoned coaches.
GAME also takes its show on the road, hosting a full-day training camp with live music in 10 zones. The summer ends with the third and final component, the GAME tournament, where professional basketball players and renowned DJs come to from around the globe.
The usual dichotomy of Danish culture on one hand and “immigrant culture” on the other, does not hold up in settings where GAME operates. There are young kids from Turkey, Somalia and Palestine and American street slang is common. Most do not identify with only one national or cultural tradition.
The togetherness of a GAME playground provides a space to children where no culture rules and where physical and social interaction are the highest-held values.
Larsen said of the youth program “asylum kids, they don’t come as often, as we actually have to fund that. Which means getting a bus to bring them out because they don’t have much funding…but mostly we have a cooperation with some asylum works to do as much for the children as we can.”
GAME is certainly a step, a bounce and a shot in the right direction for bringing youth of all backgrounds together. The only room for improvement comes down to, as with most things, issues of time and money. More courts, camps and coaches would further the success, but that will come over time.
It’s an encouraging sign that the Danish government and the municipality of Copenhagen have found the organization to be important enough to award it state and city funding.
Just a few years ago, GAME was up and running by pure volunteers. As it continues to grow, more and more Danish and minority youth will be able to experience innovative new culture, forms of integration and unity that GAME brings with sport and the arts.
There has also been expansion over the past few years. A nationwide attempt has been made to introduce youth and active people across the country of Denmark to the positives of having a healthy life, both actively and socially.
“Two years ago, another house opened in Esbjerg, on the west coast, and last week we opened a house up in Aalborg, and then in two weeks we open up a house in Viborg” said Larsen about the expansion. “We also have 32 GAME zones’ across the country, which are the outdoor facilities. And that’s often in cooperation with the community or apartment companies.”
This story was written for an audience in the US and could be published on a major news site such as the LA Times or NY Times.