LONDON (Reuters) - A year on from riots that shook British society to its core, the UK’s Olympic athletes have a responsibility to show London’s young population a different way forward, basketball player Pops Mensah-Bonsu said on Wednesday.
“I was born and raised right behind Tottenham police station, where everything kicked off last year. It really hurt my heart watching all of that happening,” Mensah-Bonsu, a former NBA player with the Toronto Raptors, told a news conference ahead of the official opening of the Games on Friday.
”The whole event for those few days after that showed me what responsibility we have to show those kids something different here. I hope that, both for me personally and the whole team, all the British athletes who are here, we can focus on that and live up to that.
“If someone hadn’t taken me under their wing, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Basketball is still firmly a minority sport in the UK but the majority of its players come from London’s Afro-Caribbean communities, where friction with the police was the spark for the worst riots in a generation last August.
The riots began in the poor north London suburb of Tottenham after police shot and killed Mark Duggan, 29, in a case that was subsequently investigated by a police complaints commission.
The riots swept through the area, just to the north-west of London’s Olympics Park, before spreading to other parts of the capital and the country, destroying shops, flats and businesses that are still trying to recover a year later.
“I used to get my bus pass, my sweets from the shops on Tottenham High Street and a lot of them are just closed now,” added Mensah-Bonsu, whose parents still live in the area.
“When I go back at the moment, it’s just eerie. My parents have a church on Tottenham High Road, so we are right there.”
Sitting beside UK team mate and fellow Londoner Andrew Lawrence, Mensah-Bonsu slipped out of the familiar sports rhetoric to talk to reporters at length about the riots both before and after the news conference.
“You can’t blame what those kids were doing last year solely on them,” he said. “They didn’t have the opportunity or the resources that I, or maybe some of the other players, had.”
”If they see people like Andrew and myself, who maybe were in that position 15 years ago, then that’s the way you try to get them to take the chances, get out there and make something of themselves.
“That’s when I really felt that the Olympics are bigger than me. That we have a responsibility to the youth in our hands.”
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