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Influences on sporting participation (from about 2008)
Social exclusion is a widely recognised term, which refers to the prevention of participation within general society. It is often used in conjunction with specific social groups or neighbourhoods who find themselves somewhat rejected from everyday societal life, thus experiencing high levels of deprivation (Alcock, 2002, p.232).  Young people, who are already at a disadvantage due to vulnerability, are often close to the heart of social exclusion. Increasingly linked to discourses of “danger” and “intimidation”, young people can find the transition to adulthood a harrowing experience due to irrefutable social divisions (MacDonald, 1997, p.2). Furthermore, some commentators have argued, policies aimed at narrowing the inequalities faced by young people actually deepen the long-seated negative perceptions and heighten the levels of exclusion (Williamson, 1993 in MacDonald, 1997, p.21).

Sport has been identified, by successive UK governments, as vital instruments in the construction of society (Collins et al, 1999, p.9).  In the 1970s, Labour’s rhetoric suggested a ‘policy shift from Recreation as Welfare to Recreation for Welfare’ with a focus on the life-enhancing benefits of sports participation (ibid).  Now, with Labour’s return to power, access to sport can be attached to notions of “inclusive citizenship” (ibid).  However, Collins and Buller (2003) spoke of major underlying disparities whereby individual social backgrounds can place constraints upon sporting participation. Thus, observers have argued, social deprivation can be a determining factor in chances of success, even with the existence of skill, propensity and talent (Collins and Buller, 2003, p.421).

This paper will endeavour to explore the existence of exclusion within sport. Firstly, while utilising a wide variety of resources, an investigation into the reasoning behind such exclusion will take place, moving on to discuss the benefits of sport, for both individuals and society. There will also be some reference to the study of sport psychology, before concluding with a brief investigation into the Labour government’s recommendations and policies for sport and recreation, whilst alluding to the anticipation towards London 2012.

Socialisation and social influence are important factors in the ways in which individuals adapt themselves into society.  As Durkin (1995) suggests, socialisation explains:

The process whereby people acquire the rules of behaviour and the systems of beliefs and attitudes that equips a person to function effectively as a member of society (in Jarvis, 1999, p.85)

Primary social influences, or socialisation agents, when growing up are thought to be family, friends and some school staff.  These agents can somewhat determine the processes of individual socialisation. Thus, perhaps, impacting on the social exclusion of some young people (Jarvis, 1999, p.86). Moreover, MacDonald et al propose that local neighbourhoods and social networks play a vital role in the production of poverty and class inequalities (2005, p.873).  As such, the social capital within these areas and networks often has a negative effect on the opportunities open to their inhabitants.  Consequently, this limits the ‘possibilities of escaping the conditions of social exclusion’ and provides a mold for young people’s transitions into adulthood (ibid).

It is often claimed that the class stratification issues have slowly been dissolving throughout Britain, evening out the discrepancies within contemporary society (Collins and Buller, 2003, p.422). Yet, as Adonis and Pollard (1997) have forcibly argued, the British class stratification system remains no different to that of some fifty years ago. They argue further that, in actuality, the differences in class stratification have:

Intensified as the distance between top and bottom widens and the classes at both extremes grow in size and identity (Adonis and Pollard, 1997 in Collins and Buller, 2003, p.422).

Interestingly, it is thought, different classes look for differing rewards from the time and energy spent on sporting activities. Boudreaux (1986) proposed that working-class individuals often either aim to break out of their low-income situations by entering high-profile sports such as football or boxing, or show little interest in any sport.  Whereas middle-class individuals often use more energy and show more interest in their general health and fitness (in Collins and Buller, 2003, p.424).

Sports psychologist, Jarvis, recommends that instead of sport being purely a result of socialisation, it is in fact a socialisation agent itself (1999, p.87). In other words, sport can influence the ‘development of social attitudes, values and behaviour’ (ibid). Furthermore, Danish (1996) suggests that important life skills such as communication and decision-making abilities can transpire from participation in sports (in Jarvis, 1999, p.86). However, Jarvis does acknowledge that sport does not benefit all young people.  With primary agents affecting individual lives, the appearance of sexism, extreme competitiveness and high-levels of obvious prejudices, not all young people are welcomed into the world of sport (1999, p.88).

In terms of high-performance, and world-class, sport there is thought to be a clear indication that young people growing up in areas of social deprivation are disproportionately represented on the world stage, such as within the Olympic family (in Collins and Buller, 2003, p.438). Despite the UK following the sporting ideals of Australia whereby focus is placed upon a few select sports within a “National Institute Network”, social and class stratification continues to ‘provide a filter of who gets in at the beginning of the selection processes’ (ibid).  Moreover, it can be argued that, with high deprivation areas lacking in adequate leisure facilities, yet the Government advocating more attention on sports participation, Britain can be seen to be ‘facing the conflicting objectives of elitism and universality’ (ibid).  From a study by UK Sport and Sport England (1999), is can be seen that higher participation can be developed through utilising current athletes as encouraging role models. Sweden and Finland, who both use this method, encounter the ‘highest participation and slowest decline in sports participation with age’ (in Collins and Buller, 2003, p.438).  This is echoed through the statistics within the Game Plan strategy which indicated: only 46% of people take part in sporting activities over 12 times per year. This figure is considerably lower than those taken from Sweden and Finland with comparable percentages of 70 and 80 respectively (Strategy Unit, 2002, p.13).

In their study of sports role models and their impact on sports participation, Payne et al (2002) concluded that whilst there is a significant lack of research being conducted to establish the impact of role modelling, there is sufficient theoretical evidence to support such methods (p.46). It is proposed that role-modelling programs ought to be conceived using a multi-faceted approach, combining organisations from the sport and recreation arenas with relevant welfare industries (Payne et al, 2002, p.47).  From this, Payne et al suggest, these organisations should develop a ‘long term mentoring approach’, focusing particularly on socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods and “at risk” social groups (2002, p.46).  However, in order to expound successful programs, it will be important to avoid coercion and regulation. Thus, organisers will need to utilise all the pieces within the motivation jigsaw to encourage greater participation (Busby, 1997, p.205). Participating motives to be considered include: ‘success, atmosphere, friendship, fitness, energy release, skill-development and enjoyment (ibid, p.179).

Endeavouring to reduce exclusion in sport can have multiple benefits for individuals, communities and society as a whole.  The Policy Action Team 10 (PAT 10), developed as part of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, has signified its commitment to expanding community sports programmes. In doing so, they believe four key factors in poor neighbourhoods can be combated: Health, Crime, employment and education (PAT 10, 1999, p.22).  This is echoed further by the Scottish Social Inclusion strategy, which stated that sport:

Can help to increase the self-esteem of individuals; build community spirit; increase social interaction; improve health and fitness; create employment and give young people a purposeful activity, reducing the temptation to anti-social behaviour (Scottish office, 1999 in Coalter, 2003, p.43)

Many other commentators have also endeavoured to outline the main benefits sporting activities can have, often identifying sport as a key ingredient in the reduction of a number of core social problems that reverberate throughout society. As the current political climate shows intent in breaking down the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour and, with sport having the potential to lower the concentration of youth “boredom” and increase self-discipline, much emphasis has been placed upon sport’s aptitude to curbing criminal behaviour (CCPR, 2002).  Therefore, many Local Authorities have established schemes that encompass sport facilitation in partnership with Police Authorities with a mind to divert young people from any form of criminal culture (CCPR, 2002 and; Long and Sanderson, 2002).  With this use of “differential association", it is anticipated that young people will begin to socialise with more constructive role models and discover alternative means of ‘adventure, excitement and autonomy’ (Coalter, 2005, p.25). However, according to Coalter, many projects tend to be unstable in their delivery and overall outcomes, due to over-zealous targets and a lack of general understanding regarding the complexities of their endeavours (2005, p.31).  Furthermore, he advocates the need for multi-dimensional projects that work to not only reduce criminal behaviour, but to combine this with the attempt to address ‘personal and social development’ (ibid).

Both Sport England (1999) and CCPR (2002) discuss further the various ways in which sport participation can make an intrinsic contribution to the development of many young people throughout Britain.  Firstly, with concerns over the rapidly increasing levels of obesity, large amounts of funding and research is drawing attention to the direct benefits sport can have on individual health and fitness.  Secondly, educational attainment has a monumental impact on individual socialisation; it is proposed that sport can be instrumental people’s attitude to learning and concentration.  Moreover, increased focus on sports is said to significantly reduce truancy resulting in improved future employment opportunities (Sport England, 1999 and CCPR, 2002). Finally, by investing time and capital into communities and neighbourhoods to develop sports and leisure facilities and services, the combination of social cohesion, pride and physical restoration, often helps to regenerate areas of deprivation (ibid).

On the other hand, Coalter (2003) criticises, the benefits outlined above can only really be considered in “possible” terms.  Positive outcomes from sport cannot be generally assumed, as negative results are equally as probable.  Again, the bigger picture must be considered in order to encounter real changes in society, rather than adopting sport participation as a single focus for all (p.44):

Research suggests than even among those predisposed to sport, the frequency of activity required to achieve and sustain [the] benefits is unlikely to be possible for many (Robert and Brodie, 1992 in Coalter, 2003, p.44)

It is also notable that the ideals of developing communities through the use of sport implies the ability to facilitate greater social cohesion, improved social networking and increase community involvement via the use of sporting participation (PAT 10, 1999, p.5).  Such strategies provide fundamental examples of the “third-way” principles of the current Labour Government.  With aspirations of strengthening the ‘institutions of civil society’ and reinforcing social capital using community participation, the promotion of “active citizenship” evidently moves to the foundations of social policy (Coalter, 2003, p.41). Consequently, the Government, whilst still meeting the needs of those with severe social deficiencies, endeavours to expand accountability and place the responsibility of individual welfare into the hands of society (Dwyer, 2000, p.69).

The National Lottery has invested a substantial amount of capital into sport throughout Britain, from grass roots level to personal funding for World Class Performance athletes.  However, in 2001 the CCPR recognised the altitude of poor funding within the voluntary sports club arena.  At the time, they proposed the promotion of sport development programmes at a local level, with the acceleration of lottery fund distribution to the appropriate governing bodies of sport (CCPR, 2001, p.10).  Therefore, after decades of government rhetoric regarding the benefits of sport, many of the barriers to participation remained in tact.
Later, in 2002, the Game Plan Strategy was developed by the Strategy Unit with a view to outlining the various responsibilities the Government needed to take hold of in order to achieve goals of an “active nation”.  In recognising the differences in participation throughout the class stratification system, the paper advocates a holistic approach to conquer the many exclusionary barriers, whilst targeting poor provision of services and facilities (Strategy Unit, 2002).  To increase participation, the strategy unit suggests, one generic policy will be insufficient to meet the needs of all target groups.  Furthermore, the needs of young people were ranked as the highest priority, as the country’s future, clarifying the necessity for major investment in school sport with an added aim to develop “sport literacy” (ibid, p.16).  In addition, the Game Plan identified the deliverance of sporting infrastructure as an area for serious consideration. 

The Strategy Unit proposed organisational reforms whereby investments directly reach the frontlines of sport, apposed to landing with the bureaucrats (ibid, p.18).  This came with a recommended move towards partnership working the public, private and voluntary sport provision sectors. 

Ogle (1997) suggests that previous failure to achieve “sports for all” policies has led to several attempts at major organisational reforms. With the strong association between sporting participation and social disparities, the sports development arena has ‘been forced to refocus their policies and programmes on a more limited form of the same ideals’ (Ogle, 1997, p.215).  For example, smaller, more concentrated policies for specific social groups.

In 2004, Sport England reiterated some of the objectives laid out in the Game Plan Strategy by developing a National Framework for sport in England.  Within this framework, Sport England outlined many changes that had occurred as a result of the long-term plans from 2001.  Altering the organisational systems of sport and reducing bureaucratic financing simplified the funding streams, with greater investment available for the frontlines. This, it was thought, would increase sporting participation and help to develop a ‘dynamic network of clubs, coaches and volunteers; to create a sustainable infrastructure for retaining people in sport’ (Sport England, 2004).

However, both the Game Plan strategy and the National Framework placed much emphasis on the financial support of international competition and high performance athletes.  In doing so, there was very little reference to how young people could develop their talent to that standard and what support is available to do so – despite the endeavour to become the ‘best sporting nation in the world’ (ibid). 
Moreover, Sport England (2004) recognised the potential in bidding to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games in London.  It was thought that doing so would:

Enhance the national sporting infrastructure, create a sustainable legacy for sport and deliver on impact on economic and social issues within London (Sport England, 2004)

Yet, from this, it is unclear to see how the Olympic bid would be beneficial for combating the exclusionary issues within the sporting world, and throughout Britain.  However, with the London 2012 bid acceptance came a renewal of the Sport England National Framework – this time with a three-year plan – 2008-2011.  This paper, acknowledged the necessity, with London 2012 stepping ever closer, to detect the wide range of sporting potential in order to ‘maintain the pipeline of talent up to elite levels’ (Sport England, 2008, p.5).  in appreciating the need to identify talented young people from all social backgrounds, Sport England have proposed a renewed partnership network with Youth Sport Trust and UK Sport.  it is hoped this partnership will tackle the “post-16 drop out phenomenon” by endeavouring to replicate the in-school sporting experience within community programmes, providing parallel participation opportunities (ibid, p.12).  Furthermore, this improved framework declares Sport England’s devotion to: investing further capital into community sports; high quality research that will aim to influence future policies and; accepting joint accountability, with their partners, for the deliverance of results (ibid).

Whilst it is easy to under estimate the disparities with the minimal detail this paper is able to provide, it is clear that the successive “sport for all” paradigms are yet to be attained (Ogle, 1997, p.214).  However, the benefits of sport, which the Government are keen to publicise, are often similar to the reasons people may experience social exclusion, such as health, education and employment issues. Therefore, individuals suffering from the effects of exclusion may not be able to reap the full benefits of sport participation, forming a cycle of rejection (ibid).

The available literature and research for such a specific subject area is somewhat inadequate. Therefore, as Collins et al suggest, more significant research is required in order to bring more attention to the issues of social exclusion and its influence on sporting participation. This may involve linking current sports policies with other normative social policies, to explore the structural reasoning behind general deprivation (Collins et al, 2003, p.440).

This paper has shown how consecutive strategies have put forward many recommendations for increased sports participation. Interestingly, the 2008-2011 strategy offers the most promising signs of improving the participation of individuals from all social backgrounds.  However, with London 2012 just around the corner, it is concerning that these recommendations have arrived so long after London winning the bid in 2005.  Thus, leaving the ability to question whether young people will be able to develop their talent before the Olympic athlete selection process commences.


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