Street Workout Activism in Latvia

Author: Stefan Alievikj

Youth activism can take many shapes and take many faces. The trickiest part is for the activist to come out from the shade and present some new idea of how activism can be implemented. Māris Šlēziņš from Latvia has managed to do exactly that. Finding innovative ways to start practicing youth activism, Maris along with some of his friends has managed to unravel another face and unexplored capacity of simple street workout.

Maris’s ideas grew into a whole non-profit and world-widely recognized organization, under the name World Street Workout Federation (WSWF).

The WSWF started with its work in May, 2008 with its main office located in Riga, Latvia. This organization aims to gain recognition and add up popularity to Street Workout as presented as a social movement and a democratic sporting activity. The Street workout is being sport by its nature, WSWF is profoundly involved in social work. WSWF idea is to unite various nationalities, marginal groups in the society, outcasts, disabled and to integrate them back in the society, thus this organization brings a new and vivid spirit of social inclusion.

From Latvia, this organization has started expanding into other European countries (such are Sweden, Norway, Ukraine, Bulgaria etc) and in the USA.

In 2011, WSWF organized the first Worldwide Championship in Street Workout. It took place in Riga, Latvia and this only shows how strong are the will and the effort among the people standing behind this organization; how they want to strengthen their activities and promote their unique idea of social inclusion.

Here is a word from Maris Slezins.

How did you come up with the idea to introduce street workout into the street children’ lifestyle? How did it all start?

MARIS:  I started practicing street workout with my friends. Funny may it seems, but we were inspired by YouTube videos. We started training outside in a place where a lot of street children usually spent their time doing nothing. They started to show interest about what we are doing and a lot of them started joining us in our trainings. The number of these guys grew every day and that assured us that they are amused with what we are doing. Soon enough we grew into world-wide organization for street workout.

What are the objectives of your organization?

The objectives of the Federation as stated under its Articles of Association are:

  • Worldwide development of street workout as a social movement and as a professional sport;
  • Ensuring that street workout is officially recognized worldwide as type of sport;
  • Worldwide attraction of new members to the street workout;
  • Creation of new street workout training places worldwide;
  • Worldwide promotion of street workout, including, distribution of information about street workout on international level, organization of international educational and qualification raising events, cooperation with national and international governmental and non-governmental entities and organizations;
  • Aligning and coordinating the activity of national and regional street workout unions and organizations;
  • Organizing of international street workout contests, including, regional and world street workout championships, development and approval of rules of such contests;
  • Development and implementation of internationally recognized procedures for obtaining and maintaining of qualification of street workout instructors, including, procedures for training and certification of instructors;
  • By means of its activity  to facilitate the improvement of the society members’ overall health condition and quality of life, to facilitate the social integration among different society layers and hence to contribute to development of a better civic society in national and international level.

What are the most remarkable moment and the hardest ones as well, which you had the chance to experience with WSWF?

MARIS: The best experience which we had, was working on friendly status with other countries. It was a moment when we had to explain that we created WSWF with the purpose to join all street workout movements, thus creating and expanding one friendly network. It was a hard work of communication and great experience for all us.

The hardest moments found us during the creation of WSWF. There were a lot of countries that already had good success in promoting street workout and then came a small country like Latvia and we had to tell everyone that now we created World Federation and all other countries are welcome to the first World Championship. At the beginning it was hard, because others thought that we have taken something that belongs to them. To add up, WSWF gained huge recognition by organizing the first ever in history World Street Workout Championship, which took place in Riga in 2011.

Can you tell us something more about the groups you and your organization are working with?

MARIS: Our groups started to form after some motivation events we made in places where street youngsters usually hang out. The youngsters willing to join us, with our support, are starting to train and collect other guys. Usually everything begins when one or two friends from our organization start doing single push-ups and after some time, there is a huge crowd of young guys willing to train.

The youngsters we meet on the street districts and elsewhere, find their passion in the street workout. With our activities, they easily find new friends, and furthermore they become stronger and build their self-esteem. They can see how the joy of practicing certain sport is much more valuable than the “joy” gained through doing some impudent acts. They start to feel that they are able to go beyond and do big things. We try to bring positive emotions to them. Up until now, we have attracted around 17 000 people and we will not stop at this number. We shall keep breaking the limits.

Where else you have implemented your methods? 

MARIS: We have implemented our methods in schools, streets and in prisons in Latvia. We try hard to cover all districts and places where youngsters are as they are our main target group.

In prisons for example we come and show to the groups what can be done in free time and how great it can be for body and mind. Our team usually makes master classes in which everything is explained to the juvenile prisoners. To workout or not to workout is decision of each prisoner. In juvenile prisons, prisoners have a lot of free time and freedom to move around. It is up to them if they want to attend street workout field every day for few hours. Usually they use their free time to do some sport. They do not have a lot of options; they can choose between football, basketball or gym. However, street workout is one of the things which is something new and interesting to them, and there are 1000 different exercises and different moves to be learnt. So it is way how to do sport in different manner every day.

In adult prisons, there are two categories of prisoners. The first ones are prisoners who are allowed to do sports every day, because they are friendly with prison rules. They can go to street workout field every day and workout. It is also a new-learning daily experience. The second category of prisoners is a bit more complicated group who do not follow the rules of the prison administration, so they are allowed to do sports only once a month. However, this is our favorite category to work with. It is interesting to witness how two bad guys are put in parallel line to work out together

Where do you see yourself with your projects in 5 years time/10 years time etc?

MARIS: I am doing things now and I can feel that people need me, and in the following years I’m looking forward to make big achievements in the fields of global social and sport street workout projects. Probably I shall feel that I am finished with everything when everything will go on happening without me, or when I will get the impression that people don’t need me anymore.

The world is a huge place and I have a lot of other ideas and things that I would like to do as well. I would like to dedicate my life to other things.

And street workout will definitely grow big. Nothing will stop that.

Finally, what is street workout to you and your co-workers?

MARIS: I can tell that street workout for me as well as for my co-workers is pretty much the same. All our member board consists of persons that have something to say to youngsters. They have been thru a lot of things that have happened in their lives. So, we have come together, to learn from our mistakes and to save others keeping away from things that are not positive. We are all grew up as persons who were saved by sport, so street workout is our pay back for sport that was our saver.

Far-fetching is the idea that I want everyone in this world to practice street workout. This is only my way and my thing of how I found myself making this world a better place for living. I want to live in better world and I’m ready to work on it.

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