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Youth Action Sports and Political Agency in the Middle East: Lessons from a Grassroots Parkour Group in Gaza

In this paper we build upon recent scholarship on the globalization of youth culture and sport to examine the growing popularity of action sports in the Middle East. We focus on the development of the urban physical practice of parkour (also known as free running)—the act of running, jumping, leaping through an urban environment as fluidly, efficiently and creatively as possible—among Middle Eastern youth. Drawing upon interviews and media analysis of various print, digital and social media, we reveal how youth (particularly young men) in Gaza developed their own unique parkour group, despite various social, cultural, economic, physical and psychological obstacles. We explain the proactive approaches adopted by these young men to find appropriate training spaces, to develop the skills of local children and youth, and to support their peer groups. In particular, we describe how these young men are creatively engaging social media (e.g., YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) to gain inspiration from the transnational parkour community, and also for opening new dialogue and establishing informal cultural exchanges with parkour enthusiasts around the world. We conclude by offering some broader comments for the Sport for Development and Peace Building (SDP) movement, encouraging youth-focused SDP initiatives to move beyond the ‘deficit model’ and toward more collaborative projects that provide space for local voices and acknowledge youth agency.