Sport and development in Turkey: community sport participation, leisure spaces and social inclusion

Sel$uk Agikgoz, Gokben Demirba? and Reinhard Haudenhuyse


The Republic of Turkey, with a population of approximately 83 million (TU1K, 2020a), is one of the largest countries amongst the Southeast-Mediterranean countries, located between Europe and the Middle East. As of 2019, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Turkey is 754-8 million US dollars, and the country has become one of the fastest developing countries in the world, particularly with the actions taken in the early 2000s (OECD, 2018). In the last decade, however, developmental investments have declined due to an economic recession, lack of investors and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. The country also experienced social turmoil and several related problems in the last decade. The most notable ones were an increasing youth unemployment rate (24-6% as of May 2020), a 2016 failed coup attempt and the dismissal of hundreds of academics over a peace petition that condemned the conflicts in Southeast Turkey. Apart from the negative economic impact, these problems also are said to have had an impact on the democratisation processes.

Despite these recent social issues and economic setbacks, Turkey continues to prioritise developmental actions. In this regard, sport has received an increasing amount of attention. The Ministry of Youth and Sport (MYS) has commenced various sport-based developments such as athlete development systems, community sport initiatives, sport for development programmes, investments in sport mega-events and sport infrastructure (e.g., football stadiums, multi-purpose sport gyms, athletic fields and recreational areas). Aiming to contribute to youth development, MYS has invested in Youth Centres. Such centres often not only include different aspects of athlete development but also include leisure opportunities and the organisation of social, cultural and religious activities for youth.

Despite the high investment in sport for development initiatives, the extent to which youth centres in Turkey produce sport and social developmental outcomes is unknown. Therefore, this chapter presents findings of a qualitative research study conducted at three youth centres, as a part of the sport for development policies in Turkey. The study utilised Lefebvre’s (1991) spatial trialectic concept

(i.e., perceived, conceived and lived spaces) to interrogate the rationale behind the construction and execution of youth centres as leisure and sport space. The chap- ter proceeds with an outline of sport and development in Turkey, where different sport and development programmes initiated in Turkey are presented. Subsequently, we give information on youth centres and their current status and importance for the achievement of government objectives. The chapter also provides more insight on space and leisure and, in particular, why it is important to support leisure and community sport from the perspective of sport for development.

Policy areas of sport and development in Turkey

Sport development and sport for development have increasingly been used by the Turkish government’s policies in the 21st century (Acikgoz, Haudenhuyse and A§gi, 2019; Tinaz, Turco and Salisbury, 2014). Sports have been used widely in political and social spheres as well as within athlete development. Sport development initiatives have accelerated with the launching of Turkish Olympic Preparation Centres (TOHM) project which prioritises developing sport athletes, signing agreements with public institutions (e.g., universities and the Ministry of Education) to increase participation in sport in school settings and to support the dual career of athlete-students. Besides investing in athlete development, policy authorities in Turkey continue to naturalise foreign-born athletes to increase the number of medals in international competitions (Reiche and Tinaz, 2019). To strengthen sport mega-event experiences as a host, Turkey hosted many international sports competitions at different levels, hoping that this would increase the chances of hosting a Summer Olympic Games, for which Istanbul has applied five times (Leopkey, Salisbury and Tinaz, 2019). Mega-sport events are also being used by Turkey for “nation branding”, similar to other developing nations such as South Africa and states within the Arab Peninsula (Knott, Fyall and Jones, 2017; Testa and Amara, 2015). The sport for development concept, on the other hand, is still an emerging concept in Turkey. There are a limited number of sport for development projects organised and financed by MYS. The majority of the projects are short-term, poorly planned and primarily focused on football (cf. Agikgoz, Haudenhuyse and Hacisoftaoglu, 2020).

Sport infrastructures, both as economic and social development, are the focus of the MYS’s current policy objectives. Like in other emerging nations, the construction industry has a predominant role for Turkey (Gregori and Pietroforte, 2015). Previous research has defined the construction sector as the locomotive of the Turkish economy and demonstrated how the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, in the last two decades, has worked side-by-side with the private sector (Balaban, 2016; Giirek, 2008). The government facilitates the regulations to allow the private sector to continue to invest in its construction business and, even more, supports the private sector through public subsidies and bidding processes for constructions demanded by the government (i.e., urban transformation) (Balaban, 2016).

In line with the economy-politics of the AKP government, in 2011, the reestablished MYS invested in infrastructural development and new sports facilities such as stadiums, sports gyms and youth centres. The initial investments in football stadiums in Turkey also helped merge football with the private sector. The MYS spent 4.4 billion Turkish lira on 32 football stadiums that were built and planned in the last eight years (MYS, 2019). Together with these 32 football stadiums and another 2,000 neighbourhood sport fields, the MYS has also built over 300 youth centres across the country since 2012 (MYS, 2019).

The significant increase of the annual budget of the MYS (from approximately 4.4 billion in 2012 to 17.8 billion Turkish lira in 2020) is an indicator of the increased focus on sport investments in Turkey (Resmi Gazete, 2011, 2019). On the other hand, Erturan-Ogiit (2014, 2020) addressed the questionable contribution of the infrastructural development on social life and instead focused on the development’s encouragement of the construction sector through public-private partnerships, financing contracts and public subsidies. In a similar vein, Arnara (2012) questioned the legacy issues of sporting infrastructures and how they become ineffective and economically burdensome for countries in the Arab World.

In addition to the high level of sport infrastructure investment and sport development, participation in sport competitions has also increased in Turkey. The total number of people with a license to compete in sport competitions increased from 278,046 in 2002 (Yitce and Sunay, 2013, p. 97) to 4,957,000 in 2018. As of 2018, the number of active participants in sport competition in Turkey is 695,000, with 433,000 male and 262,000 female participants (SHGM, 2018).

These figures, however, do not provide information on how often citizens actively participate in sport in their daily lives. The data show that the youth segment of the population, which could be expected to participate in sport at a higher percentage, lacks participation. For example, in 2015, the ratio of children in the 10-17 year age group participating in sport activities was 4.1% for basketball, 6% for cycling, 13.7% for football, 4.1% for volleyball, 4-8% running, 1.9% for swimming and 3% in other categories (TUIK, 2016). These low figures lead us to question the legacy of the sport (for) development investments in the country.

In the midst of social and economic development, community sports also gained attention from the public authorities. However, there is limited knowledge of how sport facilities are used for social inclusion purposes, which is considered to be one of the objectives of sport for development programmes. In this regard, the following section highlights the importance of youth centres as a social space.

Sport for all: the production of leisure spaces and social in/exclusion

Community sports participation (i.e., sport for all) is part of the right to leisure, which is considered a right of all human beings, yet it is not equally accessible to everybody (Henderson, Bialeschki and Shaw, 1989). This issue attracted many sport for development programmes around the world to focus on increasing social inclusion opportunities for diverse groups in sport activities (Haudenhuyse, 2017). Similar to any social practice, leisure is embedded within a multitude of discourses which are all implicated in relation to power (Friedman and Van Ingen, 2011, p. 87). It is, then, meaningful to treat leisure as a social space involving all kinds of social rules, conventions and expectations which may limit or expand opportunities for leisure-related decisions (Wearing, 1998, p. 42) and produce exclusionary or inclusionary and socio-spatial practices.

Public leisure spaces, for instance, are ‘ideally’ defined as common places where people from diverse backgrounds can share and interact with each other. Yet, such spaces form a homogenous group of participants (e.g., Thompson, Russell and Simmons, 2014). For instance, Yuen and Johnson (2017) discuss how the characteristics of customers in certain places are exclusionary towards some under- served, lower-income communities. Social exclusion, a multidimensional and dynamic process, manifests itself in spaces and determines the access to social resources and services (Akkan, Deniz and Ertan, 2017, pp. 74-75). Consequently, it was crucial to understand the characteristics of space when assessing sport-related development investments.

The study used Lefebvre’s theoretical toolbox to understand the production of space and, in particular, to analyse operations, and sport and social outcomes of youth centres, a social space built to promote and support sport (for) development in Turkey. Lefebvre’s (1991) production of space framework consists of three forms of social space: (1) spatial practice (perceived space); (2) representations of space (conceived space) and (3) representational space (lived space).

First, spatial practice (perceived space) forms the very basic phase of social space, a material environment where daily routines take place. For instance, physical activities or engaging with certain activities within a space can be defined as a spatial practice from walking through the streets to playing sports (van Ingen, 2004). Second, the representation of space (or conceived space) defines the imagined and constructed space. Here, social space is designed by a certain dominant vision that belongs to, for example, policymakers, city planners and authorities. Conceived spaces directly reflect the space of power holders, and they aim to sustain ‘routine subject formation’ (van Ingen, 2004, p. 203). Lastly, representational space (or lived space) explains the unfolding of conceived spaces. It defines whether conceived spaces are deconstructed by actual practices in social spaces, in that users reproduce social spaces based on their own needs, interests and worldviews.

In his conceptual framework, Lefebvre (1991) underlines the unequal role and power of mediators in the production of space. The representations of space, conceived with a combining ideology and knowledge, have a substantial role and a specific influence in the production of space: “By production of space, ideology, which is characterised by rhetoric, by meta-language,.. .by ‘culture’ and ‘values’... achieves consistency” (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 44). The representations of space, according to Lefebvre (1991, p. 50), leave a limited margin for representational space to displace the former and achieve symbolic force; yet, the latter is capable of disrupting the expected forms of social practice in a conceived space. For instance, young people are able to reimagine or reconstruct spaces through their social interactions with peers, such as using spaces for their own priorities instead of what is expected from them (Lashua and Kelly, 2008; Sharpe, Lashua and van Ingen, 2019).

Youth centres in Turkey

Turkey invests in and develops its own version of Western leisure practices in relation to the government’s neoliberal and neoconservative agenda (Tinaz, Turco and Salisbury, 2014; Yabanci, 2019). Building and utilising youth centres have become instrumental in achieving various development objectives. The statistics show that the number of youth centres has expanded exponentially from just 16 in 2011 to 300 in 2019. The number of centre members has also skyrocketed from 8,610 in 2011 to 2 million in 2018 (MYS, 2019). Just in 2018 alone, the MYS had 146 youth centre projects that were in different phases of construction with a total project cost of 578 million Turkish lira (approx. 83 million Euro) (MYS, 2019).

While building youth centres involves the aim of contributing to the economic development of the country, the activities in these centres are designed to meet two different development objectives: sport development and youth development through sport and leisure activities. Sport development objectives are pursued through weekly talent searches and sport activities for different age groups where children can regularly attend one of the available sport activities or prepare for local, national and international competitions. Some of these sport activities are basketball, volleyball, judo, taekwondo and ‘talent search’ trainings, which are organised to select skilled candidates to develop them as competitive athletes. Leisure activities, such as language, music and handcraft courses, are included alongside sport activities.

As the second objective, youth development through sport and leisure focuses on youth development for social, economical and ideological purposes. In addition to the previous activities, the main activities in this area are Quran courses, spiritual education, theatre plays and social trips (MYS, 2020).

Sport and youth development, owing to the high percentage of youth in the population of the country (24-3% of the total population is within the 15-29 age group according to the Ministry of Development, 2018), have historically been interlinked within the policy frameworks of Turkey (Aykin and Bilir, 2013). In the last two decades, the AKP government reinvigorated the existing approach of nation-building through youth and sport development with an enormous increase in sports infrastructure, especially the opening of youth centres throughout the country.

Similar to Turkey, the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region also craft sport development policies in a way that strengthens national identity and contributes to their nation-building processes (Amara, 2012). Youth objectives comprise the main priority of MYS, and the activities are planned to construct the “ideal youth citizen”. As defined in their purpose, youth centres aim to generate “nationalist”, “moral” youth that “glorify its nation, family” with high skills in “social, cultural and sports fields” (MYS, 2019, p. 59). The MYS announced its responsibility of “inseminating consciousness in youth and encouraging them to transcend their private interests and personal liberties for the higher interests of the nation and the country” (MYS, 2019, p. 59). This responsibilisation of youth requires constant engagement with young people. As the numbers indicated above, the MYS invested significantly in youth centres to accomplish this task.

Youth centres are given a key role for sport and youth-related development objectives, as they provide free access, organise after-school programmes, are flexible to encourage participation and provide a range of activities that potentially attract young people to participate. Youth centres are potentially the most suitable space for young people to participate in and for sport authorities to implement sport and leisure activities. For these reasons, this chapter examines the case study of a middle-sized city in Turkey to explore how sport development and youth development through leisure and sport are realised in multiple youth centres.

Analysis of three youth centres in Edirne, Turkey

The remainder of this chapter focuses on an analysis of three youth centres located in different districts of Edirne. Edirne is a middle-sized city located in the north-west area of Turkey in a region called Trakya. It has a total population of 413,903 (TU1K, 2020b). Interviews, observations and a focus group were used to collect data from young people and centre personnel. In total, 12 participants were interviewed, and a focus group was held (comprised of five young people). The semi-structured interviews were conducted with local officials of the youth centres, who were directors, youth leaders, sport education experts, sports trainers and young participants. The focus group participants were selected from young people who regularly attend basketball courses in the youth centres. The 21 hours of observation at the youth centres and in the neighbourhoods around the centres also provided some insightful data.

The emerging research questions were mainly guided by the theoretical framework and topics that were deemed important by participants. Thematic analysis was used, where themes were identified inductively during data collection and analysis. Then, statements were sorted into identified themes, and certain regularities were highlighted. The following analysis reflects both similarities and contradictions that were revealed from the views of the participants (Sparkes and Smith, 2014)-

Sport for development outcomes and organisational challenges

Increasing socialisation and opportunities of youth

Youth centres that are built all around the country, particularly in rural areas, offer a promising option for meeting sport for development objectives since they assist young people to improve their sport and social skills. One of the officials stressed the importance of the centres in this regard:

One of the reasons youth centres are built in the country is this: Although I am an individual who wanted to have a hobby but could not get one and, in this matter, you cannot find the materials, cannot find a teacher, cannot draw very good. Ask many people they will say they were good in drawing, for example, but they never had any lecturer [who supported them] in their lives, they cannot find that opportunity. Here, there is an incredible chance to provide that opportunity. Once you step into this centre, everything is free, from your water to tea...

(PI, youth centre official)

Experiencing new opportunities and being able to get support for skill development can flourish new aspirations and opportunities for young people and contain the possibility to generate long-term impacts for young people (e.g., Massey and Whitley, 2016). Providing various activities free of charge is much needed for underserved communities. While youth centres provide different activities for young people who may not have similar opportunities, the local officials generally frontline the individual stories to emphasise the impact of the centres. Although individual stories are important and show the care given by service providers at the centre, they are not representative of the general outcomes obtained from young participants. Our findings, on the other hand, suggest that several factors (e.g., location of centres, organisational incapacity, not targeting certain excluded groups) limit the potential of achieving specific social outcomes.

Distant space: a barrier to participation

Young people considered the location of youth centres as the main barrier to participating in activities. The proximity of services to lower-income communities is an essential facilitator for the participation of individuals who face exclusion and poverty (Collins, 2014). While local officials acknowledge that youth centres are built far away from lower-income communities, they approach the problem as the perception of individuals rather than reality:

If it [the youth centre] would be in the [district] centre, of course, it would be better but [it is] too congested... Mostly, it is bad for our brothers in the disadvantaged area... sometimes they even need 1 lira, as an allowance. For the child to take a bus and come, and it is not possible to take such responsibility [for a child]. Also, they [local people] are a society who get bored for half an hour ride to here.

(P2, youth centre official)

What local officials overlook is the time-dependent life of young people. The principal attendants of youth centres are students. Mostly, high-school and university students race against time after school and strive to organise different responsibilities (Thompson, Russell and Simmons, 2014). Considering this factor, young people face difficulties to attend the activities in their limited time. Young participants also mention what drives their preferences to come to a youth centre:

KEREM: 1 mean, young people can come however they want to but there are some problems such as transportation.

INTERVIEWER: Is transportation a severe problem for participation?

YASIN: It is for some people coming from certain places. For example, it is a problem for me. I live on the other side of the town.

I: Would you still participate if the activities were not free of charge?

YASIN: If 1 had to pay a fee, I wouldn’t come here, [1 would go to] somewhere close, 1 would go to [course] that is next to my home.

MERT: 1 wouldn’t come here either [if it was not free].

The reasons for young people’s participation in the youth centre activities are mainly pragmatic, and it offers something young people give importance to, despite the distance of the centres. The view of young people also shows that the location of the centres was not prioritised for the benefit of the disadvantaged, lower-income communities during the planning process. In the next section, we present findings to understand whether this lack of consideration is related to the incapacity of organisations.

Organisational incapacity

Despite multi-purpose spaces and multifaceted objectives, youth centres seem to struggle to fulfil these expectations, as they have, quantitatively, very few personnel. All the interviewed personnel underlined that the lack of personnel affects the quality of services:

In the 3 year-period [since the youth centre was built], we have one bureau personnel, one sports education expert, one youth leader and one security personnel. We have only one in each of these. If you ask me if the duties finish on time, we do our best. Does it challenge us to organise new projects? It challenges us a lot...

(PI, youth centre official)

The statements of local officials also demonstrate that the facilities were opened with as few personnel as possible, and they usually lacked the experts who had a speciality in different disciplines to consult young people for their age-related concerns and problems. As a result of the incapacity, the existing personnel often directed their priorities to the one-off, short-termed projects rather than conducting long-term, sustainable programmes (e.g., Acikgoz, Haudenhuyse and Hactsoftaoglu, 2020).

Invisible underserved youth

Although youth centres exhibit a general interest towards the “socially excluded” (out-of-school young people who graduated from university and high school or dropped out of the education system), their efforts are most likely an ‘invitation’ rather than developing concrete and well-rounded strategies to enable these groups’ engagement in the centres. For instance, the Roma youth, who form a considerable number of youth in the city, are not present among the young attendants. The lack of support from parents is given as the reason of the Roma youth’s non-participation:

They don’t go to school either. We went to their school once; there was almost no students.

(P7, youth centre official)

It is hard to find a solution [to their participation] because they are not supported by their parents, and they struggle to support their children because families are uneducated.

(P5, youth centre official)

As a solution, the centre staff developed a project named “If you don’t come, we come to you” to pay regular visits to the schools close to Roma neighbourhoods. The discourse of the youth centre is problematic since the title of the project disconnects the lack of attendance of Roma youth from their status of social exclusion, disregards it as a structural problem and, instead, reduces it to Roma youths’ agency. In other words, the centre takes the nonattendance of Roma youth at face value and stigmatises them as “uncooperative”. However, the findings also showed that it was the multi-layered barriers (i.e., poverty, racism and school dropout) that Roma youth face in participating in urban life.

The incapacity of youth centres in terms of human resources adds another barrier for local staff to give priority to young people who cannot benefit from the activities of the centres. Although some local personnel make an effort to reach more young people from different backgrounds, their attempts appear as tokenistic, one-off events without offering tangible benefits:

We couldn’t make the continuity persistent. We need a lot more argument [resources] to provide that persistency. Like transportation, tangible possibilities, from time to time, we tried to do this. We spoke to young people who have bad habits, but it is very hard for us to direct to a psychologist or a rehabilitation centre, but we do it to the best of our abilities.

(PI, youth centre official)

The failure of staff to find resources that go beyond sport and leisure activities demonstrates that the goals of the sport for youth development programme have yet to be achieved. In relation to current literature, sport policies do seem inconsiderate in terms of sport for development in that social inclusion strategies are not secured for the participation of young people from different backgrounds in youth centres. Youth centres, as they are today, are examples of the spaces that belong to power, which maintain the inequalities and conceal its existence (van Ingen, 2003).

Youth centres as lived spaces: sport vs. expected ideological outcomes

The findings indicate that most young people come to the centres to take part in sport activities or to use sport gyms. Sport, specifically football in this case, seems to be used by local officials as an entry activity’ to attract youth to the centres:

Mostly they come for sports activities. One sport activity, and besides that we definitely try to direct them to fine arts, in whatever incomers have talent, likeness.

(P5, youth centre official)

This is reminiscent of Coalter’s (2007) emphasis on how sport is used as a ‘hook’ to invite and inform young people for other social and cultural activities. The aim of creating a spillover effect, however, seems to fall through since the interviewed higlvschool students, who take part in the basketball activities, state that they only use centres for sports and social activities. They come to “learn basketball”, “socialise with friends”, “spend free time wisely” and “relax after school”. Such discrepancy between the intended and experienced outcomes directs our focus onto youth centres as representative of the relation between the conceived and lived spaces. The interior design of the youth centres represents the investment of the AKP governments on constructed space with symbolic meaning. The symbols, pictures, quotes hanging on the wall exhibit priorities of the youth centres and make references to nationalistic and religious values. Sport activities and ideological expectations coexist in the space.

Other countries in the region (e.g., Qatar, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) also nest their nationalist, ideological priorities with sport development policies. They support decolonised sports, practice sport activities according to Sharia or use sport to strengthen the nation-building process (Amara, 2012). The aim in the analysed centres is to stimulate popular conceptions of history and nostalgic glorification of national culture. Although symbols and codes are used to organise meanings and interpretations into a single, unified sense, as Gottdiener (2001) highlights, conveying the intended meaning varies from one social group to another. Young attendants and their families are not interested in the cultural activities that the centres offer to the youth:

One of the centre staff showed me the centre. At the main area, there used to be a ‘HAS room’, a room that represents Ottoman-style of conversation environment and designed with ethno-political symbols and materials. However, later on, this room was replaced with a judo gym and the has room was moved to the back of the centre. The has room has not been used for its purpose yet and currently functions as storage where they keep gifts for another project.

(19 February 2020, Youth Centre II)

As briefed in the field note, the diversion from the initial purpose generates a new purpose for the space based on the preferences of its users (Lefebvre, 1991). The local officials also highlight the nonattendance of young people to the religion-based ‘value lectures’ and ideologically oriented activities. Despite attempts to use the conceived space based on nationalist, religious and spiritual values education, young people have different, mostly sport-related, expectations from youth centres. When asked about the activities they would like to see in the centres, different expectations unfold:

I’d like it if they would have ballet courses. I went there for three years and left it after the trainer left the town and there isn’t any ballet trainer in the town.

(P9, Funda, 15-years-old)

I wasn’t interested in other activities they mentioned; dart and wrestling. I’d wished they had golf, bowling.

(P10, Yasemin, 15-years-old)

As the excerpts suggest, young people expect different sport activities in youth centres. Whether this resides as a form of resistance towards the youth centre or not, young people passively experience the space and attend only the activities they selected beforehand. The local officials, on the other hand, continue to ‘fill the space’ with users and overcome this non-verbalised resistance. Having assemblies and attracting people are also addressed by the officials. The comments of a local authority refer to the importance of including everyone at the centre:

This is a state investment, and there is a government who administers the state as always but be sure that this is not a party building, we classify nobody here based on their political views, [however] the state has a stand, an attitude as well.... people who do not violate this stand, and what I mean by that is [conducting] terror activities, are welcome. The door is open for every kind of young person, for every kind of thought.

(PI, youth centre official)

In the above quotation, the official responds to local people’s views of the centre as a highly political space, the space of the ruling party and their unwillingness to participate in the activities of the youth centre. The resistance of the local people who were identified as ‘prejudiced’, forced local officials to reappropriate the space as ‘diverse’, ‘apolitical’ and ‘tolerant’, which is crucial for the maintenance of the centre.

The dominant discourse is that youth centres aim to be open for everyone because only then, the diversity of thoughts can be challenged, and people can be ‘ideally’ unified. Lefebvre (1991) explicates this as disconnecting the productive labour and the product (e.g., youth centres) which indicates that there is a need to obscure the elements that belong to the producer (the MYS) to secure the participation of young people in the youth centres. Local officials adapt their discourse to the reactions by foregrounding the centres’ public space identity welcoming every citizen. In this way, they attempt to take the attention away from the ideological components underpinning the design of the youth centre activities. Provision of musical and sport activities are utilised in maintaining the socially inclusive and ‘neutral’ appearance of the centres and prevent the possible resistance of local people.


This chapter has analysed the sport (for) development policies and programs in Turkey with a special focus on their social results. Lefebvre’s (1991) spatial tri- alectic concept was used to understand the social and ideological outcomes of sport (for) development investments with regard to utilisation of space. The strategies of the MYS involved continuous preparations and applications to host sport mega-events like the Olympic Games, increasing its athlete development capacity as well as increasing community sports participation. Investing in sport infrastructure is seen as the most important step to meet the summarised strategies. Increasing sport participation is an aim shared by both sport development (i.e., the legacy of mega-events, athlete development and promoting physical activity) and sport for development policies.

Youth centres are constructed by the MYS in Turkey to provide social, educational and sport activities for young people. An interrogation of the operations of youth centres and their impact on the development of young people was conducted. Youth centres were built at unprecedented speed to complete ‘infrastructural development’, and it is promising that young people in Turkey have a space to be themselves and develop their skills. However, in the analysed centres, this is rather a meagre development, as these urban spaces face the risk of unsustainability due to their distance from disadvantaged communities, lack of personnel and inconclusive vision to implement long-term community transformation programs for young people. Such inadequacies reduce youth centres to mere physical spaces (i.e., sport gym, football field and library) for young people who have the ability to attend, a common problem amongst the MENA and Arab countries that disproportionately invest in sport infrastructures.

The findings also suggested that although the nationalist, religion-induced activities, symbols, rituals are dominant and apparent throughout youth centres, the ideological objectives are not strictly practised, mainly due to the lack of personnel and the local characteristics of the region. Hence, the personnel use sport opportunities to attract young people to the centres due to the higher demand for sport activities in comparison to other leisure courses. Different priorities of local people disrupt the conceived outcomes and lead to significant changes in the space and discourses at the centres.

Suggestions for policymakers and practitioners

Considering the findings that exhibited the difficulty young people have to participate, particularly from underserved communities, we can see there is a need to develop alternative policies to increase community participation in sport and leisure activities. The current problems of transportation and lack of personnel highlight the lack of emphasis given to the socio-spatial aspects of the centres in the planning procedure, and these problems show how youth centres can be far from maximising their potential to provide services for diverse communities. To avoid ineffectiveness at sport fields and youth centres, the countries who invest in sports infrastructure should coordinate infrastructural and social development before the construction of sport and leisure fields are completed. By planning the possible programmes of sport and leisure fields, sport authorities can realise the possible needs of local people and the proximity of centres to low-income communities. This would help authorities to ensure that the centres are needed and built at the best possible location where diverse communities have easy access.

Despite organisational incapacity, youth centres are all-in-one spaces, conducting programmes on various subjects and aiming to simultaneously achieve different (social, sportive, ideological) outcomes. We suggest youth and sport institutions redefine the goals of their youth centres in cooperation with local authorities who are aware of the needs of young people. Local authorities should trust young people’s agency and consult them in terms of which activities and skills should be developed. Also, to use their organisational capacity more wisely and offer more than a physical space, youth and sport institutions need to be specialised and, thus, focus on certain objectives that the organisational staff are capable of contributing to in order to make an impact in their respective communities.

In the selected centres, it is observed that the polarised political climate of Turkey challenges local sport authorities to invite and engage more directly with local beneficiaries as some young people show resistance to the use of youth centres due to some of the activities (e.g., religion-themed activities). Local staff can engage better with local people to explain themselves regarding the purpose of the facilities and be more transparent about the activities that are not mandatory and, instead, subject to voluntary involvement. This would also require youth centres to claim and advocate diversity not only in their discourse but also in their practices to be more socially inclusive through rigorous policies. A youth- friendly space that emphasises concepts such as peace, cultural diversity and tolerance may also welcome more young people and help to overcome prejudices.


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