sport participation

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

A measure, or at least indication, of the proportion of a population or a group engaging in a particular activity, usually on the basis of a stated frequency of participation in that activity. In contemporary affluent societies, late 20th-century trends in sport participation have exhibited a decline in participation in traditional team sports, and a rise in the popularity of individual and lifestyle sports (from skateboarding and snowboarding, t'ai chi and aerobics, to surfing and windsurfing). These latter activities constitute conspicuous forms of display, in heightened forms of individualism combining display and dexterity: very different from traditional forms of physicality and bodily expression rooted in sports such as classic team games. Lifestyle sports are, for participants, ‘very much an expression of their identities and lifestyles rather than existing as institutional forms in their own rights’ (Tomlinson et al., 2005: 4). ‘New social practices’, as Ravenscroft puts it, underlie contemporary forms of participation: ‘It seems to be increasingly accepted that people are becoming more reluctant to join clubs and societies’ (2004, p. 129).

In the UK, statistics from the 2002/3 General Household Survey (GHS) for the UK population aged 16 and over (Fox and Rickards, 2004, Figure B, p. 7) identified the top ten activities for men and women, based on participation in the four weeks before interview, with seasonality considered:Note the absentees from the respective lists: soccer and golf do not feature in the women's list; horse riding and tennis are not in the men's list. Some figures of the most general kind are reported, suggesting that a majority of the population is physically active—75% of adults have participated in a ‘sport, game or physical activity’ in the last 12 months, 59% in the previous four weeks (though these are reduced to 66% and 43% respectively when walking is excluded).

National participation figures are notoriously difficult to unravel in completely reliable ways, but Sport England's Head of Strategy Research and Planning Nick Rowe acknowledged in April 2004 that ‘participation rates have remained stubbornly static and inequities in participation between different social groups have continued largely unchanged over the last 30 years or so with perhaps the exception of more women taking part in fitness related activities’ (Rowe, 2004: 2–3). This observation was borne out by data in Sport England's Active People Survey (Sport England, 2006), described by the organization as ‘the largest sport and recreation survey ever undertaken’. A total of 363,724 people was interviewed by telephone between mid October 2005 and mid October 2006, representative of the adult population of England. Excluding recreational walking and swimming, which 20% and 13.8% of the population took part in at least once a month, the top sports and recreational activities of the population were as follows: gym (including exercise bikes and rowing machines), 7.8%; all forms of football, 7.1%; running/jogging, 4.6%; golf/pitch and putt/putting, 3.6%; badminton, 2.2% (and at 900,332 people—the participation figure projected on the basis of the sample interviewed—the first in the top ten to be under one million); tennis, 2.1%; and, in tenth position, aerobics, 1.5%. Yoga, squash, and keep-fit/sit-ups filled the next three places. Fishing, widely but falsely hailed as a top-participation sport, was eighteenth, one place behind cricket. A new entry to the top 20 confirmed the challenge of individualized forms of self-enhancing physical activity to traditional team games: 270,071 adults in England regularly participated in pilates. Activities such as the individual and lifestyle activities mentioned above were confirmed as niche markets in the expanding landscape of physical and sporting activities: skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, and windsurfing each attracted 0.1% of the adult population; t'ai chi 0.3%.


Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.