Muslim women in Birmingham are set to train as football coaches in an attempt to break down cultural barriers and tackle crime in the city.
The "Bend it like Birmingham" sports inclusion project, launched today at Birmingham City's St Andrew's ground, will see the creation of a virtual sports academy in East Birmingham.
The two-year scheme will involve more than 1,000 people in a range of sporting projects such as tournaments and coaching, with a focus on football, cricket, netball and other popular sports.
Individual projects will be set up in Sparkbrook, Bordesley Green, Shard End, Sheldon and Nechells, with an aim to tackle low-level crime and anti-social behaviour.
In addition, the project – put together by five housing associations and Birmingham City Council – aims to break down cultural barriers arising from issues such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion and disability.
It has already received funding in the form of a £72,047 Football Foundation grant – funded by the Premier League, Football Association, Sport England and the Government – and is set to get money from Sport England's National Lottery-funded Community Investment Fund. Yesterday project officer Kameron Hussain said it would challenge stereotypes of ethnic groups.
"We will be challenging traditional taboos and crossing cultures so people can see the 95 per cent that makes us the same, rather than just the five per cent that makes us different," he said. "For example, we have dozens of Muslim women interested in playing football and cricket and even training as coaches.
"There is now culturally-sensitive sportswear available so we are able to make this happen.
"Also, young people in these five areas are telling us they want to get involved in sport rather than hanging about on the streets.
"Likewise, the older population want exercise classes suitable for their needs."
The scheme has been delivered by the five housing associations – Ashram, Midland Heart, Waterloo, Harden and Friendship Care & Housing – in partnership with the council.
It will encourage people to help set up and run events in their area, with the project co-ordinated by the Tyseley-based Ashram Housing Association, an agency for social inclusion and social impact.
Rauf Mirza, chairman of the West Midlands Regional Sports Board, said the project would make a difference to people and their lives, while having a major impact on community cohesion.
"This project will be great for all the housing areas involved, getting people taking part and enjoying sport together in the local community," he said.
"The numbers of people expected to be involved in the project will certainly give a boost to our aim of getting 200,000 more people active in the region by 2012."
Olu Olanrewaju, Midland Heart managing director, added: "We are delighted to be involved with this initiative to promote and foster cohesion between different communities in Birmingham in line with our social purpose."