Sport for Community Development

Sport for Community DevelopmentAustralian Sports Commission, 09113-03

Prepared by: Dr Ralph Richards, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport, Australian Sports Commission
Evaluated by: Steve Pallas, Managing Director, Sports Community (June 2016)
Reviewed by network: Australasian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last Updated by: Ralph Richards (1 February 2017)

Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for more information concerning this content.


Sport contributes to community identity, serving as a focal point for engagement, pride, and achievement. The diversity of sports and sporting activities (including social sport and physical recreation) makes it an ideal medium to reach men and women from every age-group, culture, and socio-economic background.

The broader benefits of sport go beyond the personal benefits derived from participation. Sport is a popular focal point for strategies that underpin government policy for community development and social inclusion.

Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand. Nelson Mandela, 25 May, 2000

Sport also serves as a signature achievement for international policy development, understanding, and peace.

More information on the role of sport for international development can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Sport for International Development.

Key Messages

  1. Sport can contribute to community identity, as a focal point for personal interaction and community engagement.
  2. Sport can be used to address social inequities and disadvantage.
  3. Sports have the potential to reach a wide cross-section of community members.

Sport as Social Capital

Because sports can offer such a diverse set of experiences, there is bound to be something that will appeal to almost everyone. Therefore, sports programs have the potential to attract a cross-section of the community, making the sport environment an effective way of building social networks, particularly at the neighbourhood level. As a result, community cohesion and resilience are strengthened. The community outcomes of sports participation are generally referred to in the literature as ‘social capital’.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics captures information that provides background to our understanding of how sport contributes to work-life balance, social interaction, feelings of trust, and the ethnic and socio-economic demographics of sports participants.

  • Sports and physical recreation: a statistical overview, Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4156.0 (2011). The associational nature of sport and sporting clubs is sometimes seen as a forum for the creation of social capital by providing opportunities and settings for social interaction, sharing common interests and enhancing a sense of community. Data from the General Social Survey (2010) is summarised, highlighting indicators of social capital and their association with sports participation.
  • Sport and social capital, Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4917.0 (2010). This report examines the relationships between participation in sport and physical recreation and social wellbeing. Research has identified a wide range of sport induced health benefits, but much less is known about the social impacts of sport participation. It is argued that sport and recreation provide opportunities and settings for social interaction which enhances a sense of community.

The notion of ‘social capital’ is further explored in various settings, such as rural or urban environments; and within the context of age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background.

‘Sporting capital: Changes and challenges for rural communities in Victoria’ (National Library of Australia, reference), Driscoll K and Wood L, Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT (1999). This report represents a collaboration of six municipalities in South-West Victoria to identify how sport and recreation clubs are managing social and economic change. Generally, the service infrastructure that supports rural communities has been privatised, rationalised, downsized, regionalised, or removed altogether. These changes have resulted in a loss of social networks. Sports programs are perceived as a means of creating social capital that is critical for a rural town or community’s survival. Social capital is defined as people’s involvement in community activities (particularly in leadership roles) and their willingness to support local enterprise, values and identity. This report highlights the complex challenges faced by rural communities and recommends:

  1. That community and club experience and resources can be best developed through ‘Community Activity Hubs’, which help to coordinate planning, fundraising, facility maintenance and management.
  2. That sport can be used to support young people’s leadership opportunities, through sport in a number of non-playing roles — referees, administrators, coaches, trainers, etc.
  3. That local and state governments need to improve equity in rural communities through grants for facilities; by addressing geographic considerations; and reducing the expenses of clubs.
  4. There is a need to connect local, regional and state sports development programs.

More than winning: The real value of sport and recreation in Western Australia (PDF  – 3.2 MB), Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation (2008). Sport and recreation is part of the fabric of Australian life. Sport plays an important role in society and contributes to our lives in many ways we often don’t realise. This document outlines the not-so-obvious benefits that sport and recreation provides. Among the key messages, this report supports the case that:

  • Sport and recreation serve as a catalyst for community gatherings, bringing people together for play, talk and shared experiences. Importantly, sport has a positive effect that reaches many levels of our society, providing an important thread that ties our social fabric.
  • In most regional and remote communities, sports clubs sustain community interaction; bringing people together to boost confidence through times of prosperity and galvanising communities in times of need.
  • Recreational and sporting activities rely upon a significant voluntary workforce that enriches people’s lives and improve their connections within the wider community.
  • Sport and recreation is a key medium for creating new relationships among disparate social groups.
  • Youth’s participation in sport may contribute to academic performance; but more importantly, participation contributes to social development and can teach valuable life skills. Sport and recreation may also help to divert young people from anti-social behaviour by targeting those most at risk.

The Power of Sport: Building social bridges and breaking down cultural barriers (PDF  – 3.0 MB), Oliver P, PhD Thesis, Curtin University (2014). Is sport an effective means of breaking down cultural barriers for Indigenous people and those from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) backgrounds? This research finds that sport is not the magic bullet to ‘cure all’ social ills that some people assume. In fact, in many cases sport reaffirms existing power structures which cause discrimination and inequality. However, participation in and through sport can help processes of belonging, trust and inclusion; and if managed correctly, sport can be an excellent medium for encouraging awareness and valuable public debate on wider social issues. This thesis aims to contribute to existing sport and sociological studies concerning the social capital developed through sport, as well as the exclusion and discrimination found in elite and community sporting contexts. It aims to investigate the nature, effects, and consequences of policies, programs and systems that have been put in place to encourage inclusive, non-discriminatory environments across a number of different sports in Australia. This research also highlights the contribution that sportspeople, events and campaigns have made to enhancing social networks and furthering awareness and debate on wider social, physical, and health issues. One enduring point made clear in this research is that sport alone cannot achieve social goals or solve complex issues. It is the participants (e.g. players, coaches and administrators) who are the heart and soul of sporting organisations, at both grassroots and elite levels, who hold the key to what sport is capable of delivering.

Development through Sport: Building social capital in disadvantaged communities, Skinner J, Zakus D and Cowell J, Griffith University (2008). This paper discusses the role of sport as a development tool within disadvantaged communities. It reviews models where sport was employed to develop better communities and deal with social issues previously assigned to social welfare processes. The discussion focuses on best practice success factors such as policy and strategy, partnerships, places and spaces, community social development, evaluation, monitoring and sustainability. It also discusses the role of traditional sports clubs and local government in delivering social inclusion programs and the emerging provision of community based sport activities. The examples provided in this paper indicate that sport is a useful tool, in various ways, to build social capital, foster community development, and build sustainability. It appears that many positive outcomes have been achieved by using sport in this manner, although most of this is reported anecdotally. Sport provides an excellent ‘hook’ for engaging people who may be suffering from disadvantage and providing a supportive environment to encourage and assist those individuals in their social development, learning, and connecting them with other social services.

Empowering people, facilitating community development and contributing to sustainable development: the social work of sport, exercise, and physical education programs, Lawson H, Sport, Education and Society, Volume 10, Issue 1 (2005). Do sport and exercise professionals empower people and communities to affect positive change? The author supports the premise that empowering persons and communities to develop and deliver relevant sports programs can contribute to sustainable development in five related areas: (1) health outcomes and wellbeing of participants across the lifespan; (2) addressing the disadvantage caused by poverty; (3) encouraging social inclusion to reduce conflict; (4) building self-esteem, particularly among vulnerable youth, and; (5) developing a collective identity within a community. The author draws upon international literature to provide examples in support of this strategy.

Sport and Building Communities

The evidence suggests that sports programs offer great potential for building cohesive communities. However, in most cases sport is only one of several ways in which programs and social policies are delivered. Sport alone is not enough, but the contribution of the sport sector is recognised in numerous reports and research has generally identified sport as a key influence on community development.

Sport and community cohesion in the 21st century: Understanding linkages between sport, social capital and community, Atherley K, Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation (2006). The overall aim of this research was to gain insight into how sport and recreation can help provide more cohesive communities, particularly within a social context. A review of literature from Australia and overseas was used to better understand the role of sport in building social cohesion. The evidence suggests that sport can be a driving force for building cohesive, open and tolerant communities. However, when the bonding elements of social capital outweigh the bridging elements, there is a danger that social networks can exclude, rather than include. Indeed, sport in some communities reflects a division according to class, status and ethnicity. It is problematic to expect that sport is always a platform for social good. The ability of sport to bring people together and craft positive developmental experiences is far from automatic.

Social Glue: The contribution of sport and active recreation to community wellbeing (PDF  – 2.5 MB), Hoye R, Nicholson M, and Brown K, Centre for Sport and Social Impact, La Trobe University (2013). This paper summarises the results of research conducted by La Trobe University on behalf of VicHealth as part of an Australian Research Council project. Three questions were addressed in this research. First, what is the nature of the relationship between individuals’ involvement in sport and active recreation and perceptions of social inclusion and connectedness? Second, how does involvement in sport and active recreation impact on the social connectedness experienced by individuals and their subsequent wellbeing? Third, what is the role of the formalised sport and recreation organisations in facilitating or supporting social inclusion and connectedness of individuals? The results from this study indicate that:

  1. Involvement in sport and recreation leads to feeling more socially connected. Social networks developed through involvement in sport organisations are of more value for perceived social support than those developed through non-sport community organisations. Sport involvement provides a resource upon which people can draw, often at times of need. Sport involvement is positively linked to both physical and mental health; and has the added benefit of contributing to physical fitness, while other forms of community involvement may not.
  2. Membership of sport and active recreation clubs leads to the development of social networks which are used in four primary ways: (i) the development of friendships, which reduce people’s isolation and provide them with joy or happiness; (ii) enabling members to access a network of resources, which can reduce transaction costs and provide people with access to opportunities and experiences to which they would not otherwise have; (iii) providing people with support and assistance at times of stress, hardship and crisis, and; (iv) allowing members to engage with the broader community.
  3. Sport and recreation organisations help build community. Many club members view their club as a ‘family’ or a ‘community’ within the broader community in which the club is located. Organisational leaders (usually volunteers) help create connections on behalf of their organisation. These connections not only provide organisations with access to knowledge, funding, expertise, resources and facilities; but provide significant benefits to the social connections within a community.

Value of a Community Football Club (PDF  – 4.5 MB), Centre for Sport and Social Impact, La Trobe University (2014). The social return on investment for an average Australian Rules Football community club is estimated to be $4.40 return for every $1 spent to run a club. The value of community football clubs in Victoria is measured in terms of increased social connectedness, community wellbeing, and personal mental and physical wellbeing of participants. In addition, there are employment outcomes, personal development, and civic pride in the community.

Involvement in sport and social connectedness (abstract), Hoye R, Nicholson M and Brown K, International Review of the Sociology of Sport, Volume 50, Number 1 (2015). This paper explores the relationship between involvement in sport and non-sport community organisations and social connectedness. A random sample (N=1833) of persons living in Victoria, Australia completed a survey. Data were collected on types of community involvement, selected demographic variables and social connectedness. The findings support the contention that involvement in sport organisations is associated with increased levels of social connectedness. Sport involvement was a better predictor of social connectedness than involvement in non-sport community organisations. This study also found that the tenure and intensity of involvement in organisations was not significantly associated with social connectedness scores.

The role of sport in regenerating deprived urban areas (PDF  – 349 KB), Coalter F, Allison M and Taylor J, University of Edinburgh (2000). This study explores the role which sport has played in the regeneration of urban areas in Scotland. It also looks at the wider evidence for the assumption that sport can contribute positively to aspects of urban regeneration and social inclusion. Conclusions are drawn on four social markers (employment, volunteering, crime deterrent, and community environment).

  • Sport and employment. There is little evidence of the long-term benefits to local communities of sports-led employment strategies. Although it was noted that training opportunities in sports leadership did contribute to self-esteem and self-confidence. The real value of sports-orientated employment programs may lie less in their direct vocational effectiveness, and more in their recruitment of long-term unemployed and as a means of reducing social exclusion, particularly among women and cultural minorities.
  • Sport and Volunteering. Developing volunteers is a priority of many initiatives and many programs have been shown to have high social value. Sport offers possibilities for developing a better sense of self-esteem and social purpose.  ‘Bottom up’ program structures foster a greater sense of involvement and ownership and are likely to be sustainable, but evidence also suggests the need for ongoing program support from skilled professional workers.
  • Sport as a crime deterrent. Sport is most effective when combined with other programs addressing wider personal and social development issues.
  • Sport and the community environment. Sports facilities can make an important contribution to the physical infrastructure of communities and provide a social focus that affects the perception of a neighbourhood. This can impact upon the quality of life in those communities.

Developing proactive strategies for managing the impacts of natural disasters: The resilience of community sport clubs in Queensland, Cuskelly, Filo K and Wicker P, Griffith University (2013). Community sports clubs are important providers of opportunities for organised sport and physical activity, and they also produce positive externalities such as social cohesion, sense of community, identity, inclusion of diverse population groups, and applied democracy. Many of the estimated 6,000 clubs in Queensland have been seriously affected by natural disasters in recent years. This project looked at the resilience of sports clubs in recovering from the impacts of natural disasters (floods and cyclones) in Queensland. Natural disaster events have caused significant stress on communities. Because sports clubs are such a valued part of the community, they have been used to support overall recovery, making the community more resilient.

Sport has been identified as having a strong social influence among Indigenous communities in Australia. The common themes emerging from research on sports participation within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are: community connection; cultural values and identity; as well as the personal benefits of health and wellbeing associated with physical activity.

  • The community network: an Aboriginal community football club bringing people together, Thorpe A, Anders W and Rowley K, Australian Journal of Primary Health, published online (2014). This study combined a review of literature on the impact of sport on health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people with semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions. The interviews provided further detail around the significance of cultural values and community connection among Aboriginal people. The complex nature of social connections and the strength of Aboriginal community networks in sports settings were also evident. Social reasons were just as important as individual health reasons for sports participation. Social and community connection is an important mechanism among Aboriginal people for maintaining and strengthening their cultural values and identity. This research supported the observation that Aboriginal sports teams have the potential to make a profound impact on the health of Aboriginal people, especially its players, by fostering a safe and culturally strengthening environment and encompassing a significant positive social hub for the Aboriginal community.
  • Supporting healthy communities through sports and recreation programs (PDF  – 707 KB), Ware V and Meredith V, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Institute of Family Studies (2013). There is evidence, in the form of program descriptions and systematic reviews, on the benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from participation in sport and recreational programs. These benefits include some improvements in school attendance and retention; attitudes towards learning; social and cognitive skills; physical and mental health and wellbeing; increased social inclusion and cohesion; increased validation of one’s culture, and; crime reduction. Also, linking sports and recreation programs with other services and opportunities (for example, health services or educational programs) improves the uptake of these allied services. Involving the community in the planning and implementation of sport and recreation programs serves to promote cultural appropriateness, engagement and sustainability.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Indigenous Australians and Sport.

Sport and Wellbeing

Sports participation is linked to improved health status, both physical and mental, as well as long-term preventive health benefits. The notion of ‘wellbeing’ also extends to improved self-concept, satisfaction, quality of life, and increased opportunities for social interaction.

Research in the United Kingdom has attempted to quantify, in monetary terms, the value of wellbeing.

Quantifying and valuing the wellbeing impacts of culture and sport (PDF  – 933 KB), Fujiwara D, Kudrna L and Dolan P, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, United Kingdom (2014). The Department commissioned researchers from the London School of Economics to undertake analysis and develop the evidence base on the wellbeing impacts of both cultural engagement and sport participation.  The research also attempts to estimate the monetary value to the government of those wellbeing impacts, particularly in terms of current investment and long-term benefit. Sport participation was found to be associated with higher wellbeing and this was valued at £1,127 per person per year. Sport participation interacts with a number of social indicators of wellbeing, including education, health, and social cohesion.

Sport is the largest sector for engaging volunteers, and this has enormous social and financial impact upon the community, as well as contributing to the personal satisfaction and wellbeing of individuals. Volunteering has many social and personal benefits, these benefits are recurring in the literature:

  • Volunteer participants can acquire transferable life skills, which potentially increases their self-concept and may contribute to employability.
  • The economic contribution of the volunteer workforce helps sports clubs to provide services at reduced costs, facilitating wider participation within the community.
  • Volunteering can contribute to increased self-esteem, self-confidence and social skills on a personal level; and improve social cohesion and identity with the community.
  • Volunteers make a big contribution to the delivery of school sport programs that contribute to education objectives.
  • Volunteer roles provide an opportunity for inclusion; they cut across socio-economic, ethnic, gender, and disability considerations.

More information on the role of sport volunteers and their contribution can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Volunteers in Sport.

The health benefits of sports participation to individuals are well documented. The broader implication of using sport and physical activity for their preventive health benefits also brings economic and social benefit to the community. The sport sector is also well positioned to deliver health promotion messages to the community.

  • Healthy Sporting Environments Demonstration Project (PDF  – 2.6 MB), Nicholson M, Hoye R, Sherry E, Dyson S and Brown K, Centre for Sport and Social Impact, La Trobe University (2013). This project worked with over 100 community sports clubs across five local government jurisdictions in Victoria. A key objective of the project was to determine the extent to which sports clubs could achieve a number of health related objectives, including (1) responsible use of alcohol, (2) healthy eating, (3) reduced tobacco use, (4) protection from harmful effects of sun exposure, (5) injury prevention, and (6) creating an inclusive environment for women and reducing race-based discrimination. Although sporting clubs demonstrated varying degrees of short-term success in producing positive health and social outcomes, this report indicates that it is very likely that the clubs involved in the project will experience longer-term positive health and social impacts on their members, as some of the environmental, policy and cultural changes become more accepted and institutionalised.

More information on the role of sport as a preventive health measure can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolios, Preventive Health, Sport and Physical Activity and Sport and Mental Health.

In addition to the Healthy Sporting Environments project, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) works closely with the sports sector to promote wellbeing and social inclusion objectives through sports participation. Sporting organisations, community-based sports clubs in particular, hold a natural position of leadership within the community. Many of the behaviours that shape our culture can be observed in sports settings, so VicHealth campaigns take advantage of the strong relationship between sport and community to deliver intervention programs. VicHealth has partnered with sports, particularly the Australian Football League, to deliver campaigns having social impacts as well as health messages. Note that some of these campaigns are not currently operating, as they have either run their course or been superseded.

Sport and Social Impacts

Reducing social inequities in Australian society is an aspirational goal of governments. Sport has the potential to address gender, cultural, and disability barriers to a greater extent than many other sectors. Sport also provides an opportunity for persons to ‘connect’ with others within their community – social connectedness may be defined as the level of an individual’s integration into his or her social milieu and the fullness of the resulting associative networks.

Empowering people, facilitating community development, and contributing to sustainable development: The social work of sport, exercise, and physical education programs (PDF  – 286 KB), Lawson H, Sport, Education and Society, Volume 10, Number 1 (2005). Can sport, exercise, and physical education (SEPE) policies, programs, and practices contribute to sustainable social development? The author explores a theoretical framework in this paper. SEPE policies can contribute in five main areas to sustainable and integrated social and economic development. (1) They produce and reinforce social networks involving participants, their family systems, and other residents of the community. Vibrant social networks produce rich stocks of social trust, norms of reciprocity, and conditions conductive to cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. (2) They contribute to the development of collective identities. Local community identity is especially important because it helps to bridge inter-group differences and conflicts, facilitate social integration, and create solidarity. (3) They can improve personal health by creating health enhancing environments. (4) They can improve personal wellbeing by supporting opportunities for human development across the life course. (5) They contribute to human social capital – that characteristics deemed essential to sustainable, integrated social development. Clearly, SEPE policies and programs will not yield all of these outcomes; but the potential contributions of SEPE are especially salient as a means to engage vulnerable, disadvantaged, neglected or alienated segments of the community.

Involvement in sport and social connectedness, Hoye R, Nicholson M and Brown K, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Volume 50, Number 1 (2015). This paper explores the relationship between involvement in sport and social connectedness. It compares the involvement in sport with similar involvement in non-sport community organisations, with respect to the strength of social connectedness. Data were collected on 5,655 individuals living in Victoria (Australia) to determine the types of community involvement, selected demographic variables and social connectedness. The findings support the contention that involvement in sport organisations is associated with increased levels of social connectedness. Thus, sport involvement was found to be a good predictor of social connectedness, while involvement in non-sport community organisations was not. Social connectedness is an important factor in fostering positive human development, increased sense of wellbeing, self-worth, and general mental health.

Research in the United Kingdom has attempted to quantify, in monetary terms, some of the social impacts of sports participation.

Quantifying the social impacts of culture and sport (PDF  – 793 KB), Fujiwara D, Kudrna L and Dolan P, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, United Kingdom (2014). The Department commissioned researchers from the London School of Economics to undertake analysis and develop the evidence base on the social impacts of cultural engagement and sport participation, and to estimate the monetary values for those impacts. Social impacts were considered in four areas: health, education, employment and economic productivity, and civic participation. The social benefits of culture and sport participation are wide ranging and this research found several statistically significantly associations:

  • Sports participants were 14% more likely to report good health than non-participants, this produced a cost saving to the government of £97 per person.
  • Generally, sports participants were not more likely to go on to further education than non-sports participants. However, among the sports variables, there was a statistically significant relationship for persons associated with swimming, they were 7% more likely to seek further education.
  • Unemployed persons who participate in sport were 11% more likely to have looked for a job during the past four weeks. The difficulty in attaching a value to this outcome is that we cannot assess the number of likely jobs created. If assumptions can be made between, say, job search intensity and the prospect of finding a job, then sports participation probably contributes to employment.
  • Sports participants are 3% more likely to be frequent volunteers and (on average) donate £25 more per person to charities than non-participants. However, these impacts depend upon gender and age.

An example of using a sport, and its’ extended club network, to promote positive social values is Cricket Australia’s program, Cricket Cares.

  • Cricket Cares. Cricket Australia’s community action program to encourage its members to contribute to community programs. One of Cricket Australia’s officially recognised charity partners is the McGrath Foundation (breast cancer awareness, support and research). Cricket Cares also provides a means for cricket clubs and members to become involved in a variety of local community projects, such as disaster relief.

Further examples of the impact that sport can have on both community and personal wellbeing are illustrated by Rugby League’s diverse suite of community outreach programs.

NRL Social Impact Report 2015 (PDF  – 9.2 MB), Australian Rugby League Commission (2015). Three pillars define the work of the National Rugby League (NRL) in the community – respect, health, and learning. This report provides the results of an evaluation of NRL programs in the community; their social, economic and environmental value. Social impact reporting (SIR) is commonly used amongst not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises to better understand the delivery of social benefit to communities. SIR expresses the impact of a program in terms of its’ cost-benefit ratio. For example, a benefit ratio of 1:3 means that an investment of $1 delivers $3 of social value.

  • The NRL’s In League In Harmony program was aimed at promoting social cohesion by tackling issues such as social disengagement, racism, gender inequality and bullying. The cost-benefit ratio of this program was 1:5 and the program was recognised at the Australian Multicultural Marketing Awards for its service to youth.
  • The NRL’s School 2 Work program supports and mentors young Indigenous students to stay at school, aspire to achieve their goals, and assist in transitioning into further education and employment. The cost-benefit ratio of this program was 1:5 and the program supported more than 500 participants.
  • The NRL’s State of Mind program was aimed at breaking down the stigma around mental illness by creating positive discussion, connecting members of the community, and encouraging help-seeking behaviours. The State of Mind program was featured in conjunction with the NRL’s State of Origin competition and promoted in partnership with Lifeline, Headspace, Kids Helpline and The Black Dog Institute. The cost-benefit ratio of this program was 1:3; program partners acknowledged the tremendous potential of rugby league to connect with the target audience.

Sport and active recreation programs have also targeted women and girls, and often women from CaLD or disadvantaged backgrounds, demonstrating personal and social benefits.

  • Start Playing, Stay Playing, Queensland Government (2013). Programs to encourage women and girls to more fully participate were the outgrowth of recommendations made by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Women and Girls in Sport. Participation in sport and active recreation has many physical, psychological, and social benefits for women and girls. A greater contribution by women and girls in the sport sector contributes to their sense of inclusion within the community, building on existing community assets and strengths. Positive participation experiences can also foster greater identity with the community, as well as great personal satisfaction.
  • Participation in sport and recreation by culturally and linguistically diverse women (PDF  – 1.12 MB), Cortis N, Sawrikar P and Muir K, Australian Government Office for Women, Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (2007). This research confirmed that participating in sport and physical recreation by women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) backgrounds enhances social inclusion as well as health and wellbeing. The increased social interaction from sports participation helps to build community strength, decrease anti-social behaviour, and promote ethnic and cultural harmony and community involvement. These benefits extend into the economic sphere by including cost-effective health prevention programs.

More information about the social issues that impact upon women and girls’ participation in sport can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Women’s Sport.

Programs that promote social equity are underpinned by the assumption that inclusion produces greater social engagement and productivity throughout the community. Participation statistics show that persons with disability are under-represented in the sport sector, as well as other aspects of community engagement. Sport and active recreation policies and programs targeting persons with disability are intended to increase engagement, with the associated personal and social benefits of participation.

  • Promoting the participation of people with disabilities in physical activity and sport in Ireland, Hannon F, National Disability Authority, Ireland (2005). This report provides a clear rationale for the personal, as well as social, benefits of inclusive sport. Participation in sport by people with disability may help them improve self-esteem and social integration, and this can lead to greater independence and improved productivity. The economic and social benefits of improved personal wellbeing have a significant social and economic impact.

More information on the role of sport in the lives of persons with disability can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Persons with Disability and Sport.

Sport and Youth

Sports participation is also seen as a means of exposing adolescents to a pro-social environment that fosters basic values; such as fair play, sportsmanship, competitiveness, and achievement. Sports participation may also influence attitudes and behaviours, reducing the impact of negative influences that can lead to anti-social behaviour, and/or experimentation with tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. Because sports programs are offered during after-school and weekend time periods, which are often associated with ‘at risk’ opportunities to engage in negative behaviour, sport offers an attractive way of occupying the time of adolescents to produce a number of positive personal and social outcomes.

  • What Sport Can Do, the true sport report, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (2008). This report provides a wide and compelling array of evidence that ethical principles and values have a place, as part of ‘good sport’. Community sport is one of our most valuable public assets. Sport can also contribute positively to adolescent identity formation, a critical step in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Young people who participate in sport score significantly higher on self-concept than those who do not, with girls benefiting even more than boys. Sport also facilitates friendships and positive social relations, which can play an important role in youth identity formation.

Sport and Social Intervention

The platform of sport provides a means of identifying social issues which limit social progress, inclusion, equity, and have an impact upon the lives of individuals and the community. Programs initiated by sports or involving sports as a force for social change, have addressed a number of major social issues.


Cultural diversity is part of Australia’s national identity. However, the reality is that too many Australians experience racism, prejudice and discrimination. Racism locks people out of social and economic opportunities and costs our economy. Racism also inhibits social inclusion and our ability to build fair, inclusive communities. Sport can be used to deliver social messages promoting inclusion, as well as being a model for other sectors.

  • Racism. It Stops with Me. This is a national campaign supported by the Human Rights Commission which uses sports and sports personalities to deliver the message that racism cannot be tolerated.

Crime Reduction

The research literature on the effects of sport as a tool for crime reduction shows great potential, although the results of various intervention programs may be specific to the social and cultural environment.

  • Improving life satisfaction, self-concept, and happiness of former gang members using games and psychological skills training, Hanrahan S and de Lourdes Francke-Ramm M, Journal of Sport for Development, Volume 3, Issue 4 (2015). The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of games and mental skills training on a small sample (mean age 20 years) of Mexican former gang members with a history of drug use. In terms of interventions that may promote self-regulatory behaviours, physically active games help develop the skills of problem-solving and decision making under pressure and have been shown to be superior to social recreation programs in terms of enhancing attitudes and actions regarding cooperation and trust. The use of active games; the majority of which were designed to develop communication, trust, teamwork, and problem-solving skills; was combined with mental skills training that used imagery, self-talk, and goal setting (key elements in sport psychology programs) to build self-confidence. Through the course of the program, games were introduced in a sequence that moved from icebreakers to energizers. Results indicated significant improvements in happiness, life satisfaction and self-concept, behavioural conduct, athletic competence, social acceptance, and global awareness. Mental skills training and games appear to be an effective combination for improving the quality of life of former gang members.
  • Sports Scores: The costs and benefits of sport for crime reduction (PDF  – 4.3 MB), Laureus Sport for Good Foundation (2012). This report helps frame the bigger picture of how sport can be used for social change. It contributes to the growing body of evidence of the social and economic returns of sport worldwide. This report analysed the impact of four programs and attempted to answer the question, ‘How much crime and anti-social behaviour can sports interventions help to reduce’. This research also looked at the extent to which sport can prevent young people from becoming NEET (i.e. not in education, employment or training). The analysis shows that, on average, sports programs return five times the value of their investment, through savings related to reductions in crime, truancy, and ill health.
  • Teenage Kicks: The value of sport in tackling youth crime (PDF  – 1.9 MB), Laureus Sport for Good Foundation (2011). A strong rationale behind the effectiveness of sport programs as an intervention for social problems is the fact that sport can provide an alternative structure and context for young people who might otherwise be attracted to potentially negative social pursuits. Youth crime is a enormous problem in the United Kingdom, but it is not without solutions. One of the most successful and innovative ways to tackle crime is to use sport to engage young people and create opportunities for them. ‘Kickz’ is a national programme, funded by the English Premier League and Metropolitan Police; it uses football to engage hard-to-reach young people from disadvantaged communities. An analysis of the program reported that for every £1 invested in the project, £7 of value or projected savings of public expenditure was created. A large proportion of the cost benefit comes from a reduction in gang violence that is common in disadvantaged communities

More informaiton on sport as a means of crime reduction can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Crime Reduction and the Role of Sport.

Anti-Drugs and Responsible Alcohol Use

Sports and the anti-drugs movement are linked for two purposes: (1) there is international agreement within the sporting community that performance enhancing drugs must not be allowed, and; (2) the leadership position that sports, and high profile sportspeople, have in the community can be leveraged in campaigns against illicit drug use.

  • Anti-Doping effort in Australia. The use of prohibited substances and methods among sportspeople has not only potentially harmful health effects on individuals, but also has the potential to undermine the values that sport promotes within the community, such as fair play, teamwork and dedication. This is why the Australian Government is committed to the elimination of doping from sport.
  • Achieve in Sport, don’t let drugs destroy your future. This campaign supported by the Australian Government, Department of Health, leverages the profile of National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) and high profile athletes to deliver messages about the use of illicit drugs in sport.  NSOs have developed various educational materials that use the positive image of their sport to deliver an anti illicit drugs message.
  • The image of ‘sport’ as a healthy activity has also been used in anti-drug campaigns to deliver a message to the community. The National Drugs Campaign has used the image of a swimmer in its advertising campaign run in 2010, Smoking Marijuana Wastes Potential (PDF  – 830 KB).

Sports personalities, particularly professional athletes, often serve as spokespersons for campaigns aimed at community education and behavioural change. Several examples include the responsible use of alcohol:

  • AFL Community Education Program (PDF  – 321 KB). An interactive and face-to-face education program that covers three topic areas: (1) alcohol and binge drinking, (2) illicit drugs in sport, and (3) respect and responsibility.
  • Be the Influence: Sports Tackling Binge Drinking. This campaign aims to encourage a cultural shift in the attitudes and practices of young people (targeting 16-24 year olds) regarding alcohol consumption. Participating National Sporting Organisations have pledged to reduce the exposure of young people to alcohol imagery and branding, and high-profile sportspeople are used to deliver messages about responsible alcohol consumption.
  • Good Sports. This program provides free support to sporting clubs to change their culture and reduce high risk drinking. Under the program, clubs focus their policies and practices on young people, families and sport participation and less on drinking alcohol. Sporting club committees are encouraged to progressively change the way alcohol is managed in all activities within the club’s grounds and associated functions.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Alcohol Sponsorship and Advertising in Sport.


Sport can be seen as a microcosm of society, including the prejudice and stereotypes that inhibit social cohesion and inclusion. The sport sector has, over time, made progress toward recognising the existence of these limiting factors and working toward a cultural change to overcome prejudice; particularly attitudes toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender participation in sport.

Inclusive Sport Survey: The Sport Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People in the Australian Capital Territory (PDF  – 2.1 MB), Australian Capital Territory Government, Sport and Recreation Services (April 2014). This survey looked at attitudes and behaviours among the ACT’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community groups and territory sporting associations. The main themes to emerge from participants’ best sporting experiences include a feeling of achievement, being part of a team or community, being accepted and welcomed, experiencing health benefits, having the opportunity to travel and broaden life experiences, having fun and friendship, gaining confidence and providing a positive contribution.

  • Fair Go Sport. In 2010 Hockey Victoria participated as the major partner in a project designed to increase awareness of sexual and gender diversity in sport, and to promote safe and inclusive sporting environments for everyone. The goal of the project was to develop a flexible model of engaging clubs on these issues that will not only be useful for hockey, but can be adapted to other sporting codes and their governing bodies. This project does not imply that there are problems in hockey, but it does provide an opportunity to explore significant issues in a positive way and to showcase what can be done by a sporting organisation.
  • You can play. This campaign originated in the US and Canada and delivers an anti-homophobia in sport message. In Australia, the You Can Play initiative is bought to you by Play by the Rules. Play by the Rules is a national program that promotes safe fair and inclusive sport. It is supported by multiple government and non-government partners including the Australian Sports Commission, the Australian Human Rights Commission, all state and territory departments of sport and recreation and equal opportunity commissions, the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association and the Office of Childrens Guardian (NSW).
  • Anti-Homophobia & Inclusion Framework for Australian Sports (PDF  – 2.9 MB). This Framework provides a foundation for the development of a more inclusive and diverse sporting culture in Australia. The Chief Executive Officers of peak representative bodies: Australian Rugby; National Rugby League; Australian Football League; Football Federation Australia; and Cricket Australia; have committed their organisations to the development and implementation of policies and international best practices to eradicate homophobia from these sports.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Sexuality and Gender Perspectives on Sports Ethics.


Empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities, in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way. Persons or groups of persons, as well as communities, can face disadvantage because of many factors; including lifestyle choice, gender, or socio-economic status. Involvement in sport offers the potential to empower individuals or communities.

  • Empowerment revisited: How social work integrated into a sports programme can make a difference, Simard S, Laberge S and Dusseault M, Journal of Sport for Development, Volume 2, Issue 3 (2014). This retrospective study looked at how participation in a team sport can be used as an intervention tool to foster empowerment in young women at risk of delinquency and school dropout. The authors examined the empowerment process at work through sports involvement and looked at the impact on at-risk youth. This study aims to add to the body of knowledge regarding the role sports can play in empowering girls from underserved communities. This study was able to identify two life skills that appear to play a key role in the empowerment process: (1) the ability to develop the means of achieving stated goals through sport, and the perseverance to actually do so, and (2) experiencing success in sports, which carried forward into greater resilience in an academic context. These skills helped the participants acquire a better sense of personal competence. This study also highlighted the critical role that the experiences in a team environment play in the participants’ capacity to resist negative external influences. The acquisition of a sense of personal competence and the capacity to resist negative external influences are in some way interconnected; the experience of success in sports and greater persistence in the academic arena have enabled participants to consider the possibility of a future other than the one fraught with risks that otherwise lay before them.

The Australian Government’s second action plan to reduce violence against women, Moving Ahead – of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 (PDF  – 2.1 MB) identifies sporting organisations in its ‘whole of community’ strategy to reduce and prevent violence against women. Empowerment of women is a key social outcome of sports participation. Male dominated sports, such as rugby, have also support programs and educational campaigns that encourage the empowerment of women through sport.

  • UN Women. The Australian Rugby Union supports this international program operated by the United Nations, which is dedicated to the empowerment of women. United Nations Women’s projects operate in 78 countries.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Women’s Sport.

International Practice

United Kingdom

In 2015 the British government launched a new strategy for sport and physical activity. The new policy objectives go beyond merely looking at how many people participate in organised and non-organised physical activity, but how community sport and physical activity can be shaped to achieve personal and social good.

  • Sporting Future: A new strategy for an active nation (PDF  – 1.19 MB), UK Government, Cabinet Office (2015). For more than a decade, the UK Government’s policy on sport has been to get more people participating, as well as achieving success in Olympic and Paralympic competition. Both of these objectives are valuable, and will remain part of this new strategy. However, what really matters is how sport benefits the public and the community. At the heart of this new strategy is a simple framework which sets out how success will be judged by impact on a set of outcomes that define why governments invest in sport: (1) to promote physical wellbeing (e.g. health); (2) to promote mental wellbeing; (3) to encourage individual development (e.g. cognitive and social); (4) to contribute to social and community development (e.g. inclusion and equity), and; (5) to encourage/stimulate economic development. All future government funding for sport and physical activity will be invested in organisations which can best demonstrate that they will deliver some or all of the five key outcomes. It is likely that organisations which show that they can work collaboratively and tailor their work at the local level will be best placed to access government funding.

It is clear that the shift in funding emphasis reflects how sport and physical activity can contribute to community and national wellbeing, the economy, as well as personal outcomes. There will also be greater focus on those groups of people who have not traditionally taken full advantage of sport and physical activity, including: women and girls; persons with disability; those in lower socio-economic circumstances; ethnic or cultural groups, and; older people. The Government concedes that the transition to a new funding model will require a cultural change within the sport sector.

Meeting the needs of the ‘customer’ (i.e. participant) is now seen as important. For many ‘traditional’ sports, this may require a significant shift in the way they engage with the community. Sports must now collaborate with a wide range of non-sport partners from health, education, community regeneration, social services, and a host of different government service providers.

Several English sports governing bodies have already recruited professional expertise from outside the sport sector. The Amateur Swimming Association, England and Wales Cricket Board, The Lawn Tennis Association and the Rugby Football Union all employ staff to address growth and participation objectives; they come from marketing/communications backgrounds or the business sector. Additional sport development expertise will probably come from the leisure, health, education, and community sectors; bringing with them new skill sets and the understanding required to deliver sport for social good.

New providers have also emerged within the sector – StreetGames, Greenhouse, Saracens Community Trust etc.; and new partnerships developed to compete for resources (e.g. volunteers, facility use, etc.) within the community. Community engagement has become just as important as sporting performance. Sports that have their roots in the community are better placed to design and deliver programs to suit real needs, as well as achieve sporting excellence. An example is the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Ireland’s largest sporting organisation dedicated to promoting Gaelic games such as Hurling, Football and Rounders. Their clubs have always been embedded within their communities; now the ethos includes more than just sport, as reflected in their mission statement – ‘The GAA is a community-based volunteer organisation promoting Gaelic Games, culture and lifelong participation. Community is at the heart of our Association. Everything we do helps to enrich the communities we serve. We foster a clear sense of identity and place.’

Sport for social good may involve new forms of collaboration. While many opportunities are still possible for a sport club to act on, new insights, skills, and resources that cut across sport, community, business and public sector boundaries will emerge. This applies especially to projects that may involve asset transfer, where a consortium of organisations take control of a public facility for the wider benefit of the community.

A number of non-government organisations share the same values and also work to achieve broad personal and social outcomes through sport. The best known non-government organisation is the Youth Sport Trust (YST). The Youth Sport Trust is an independent charity devoted to changing young people’s lives through sport. Established in 1995 the YST is dedicated to helping all young people achieve their full potential in life by delivering high quality physical education and sport opportunities. The mission of the YST is to: (1) give every child a sporting start in life through high quality physical education and sport in primary schools; (2) ensure all young people have a sporting chance by developing opportunities for those with special needs or disabilities, and; (3) support all young people to achieve their sporting best in school and their personal best in life. These values are achieved by working in partnership with schools, corporate partners, government, sporting organisations and young people.

  • Youth Sport Trust. The YST website provides information about the organisation and its programs.

Further Resources and Reading


  • Active Healthy Communities, Queensland Government and the Heart Foundation of Australia. This is a resource guide for Local Government, providing ideas to assist councils in creating an environment that supports active, healthy communities and lifestyles.
  • Blueprint for a physically active sporting city, Sport England and London Sport (2014). Getting people to do more physical activity has countless benefits for London; from improving health and well-being, saving money to help grow the economy, creating happier communities and so much more. An overall target has been established, to get one million people more physical active by: (1) making it easier for Londoners to find the right activity, stay in it, and achieve their potential; (2) getting more resources by making the best use of current investment and securing additional investments; (3) supporting grassroots organisations by making structures simpler and better; (4) creating a bigger and better workforce to support activity, and; (5) harnessing the power of elite sport to create sustained grassroots activity and inspire the next generation of talent.
  • Building Health through Sport, VicHealth action plan 2010-13 (PDF  – 2.2 MB), Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (2010).
  • Evidence-based policies for youth sport programs, Cote J and Hancock D, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, published online 26 June 2014.
  • Fair Game: recycling sport equipment, inspiring healthy communities. Sport builds networks, friendship and identity and is a key driver of community life. Fair Game is an organisation that works with Australia’s most disadvantaged communities, including those with indigenous Australians, migrants and refugees, low socio-economic status, mental health and chronic disease sufferers. Fair Game recycles donated sports equipment to enable communities to take advantage of the health benefits of physical activity and sport. Working with like-minded organisations, Fair Game helps to build the capacity of communities.
  • From Stadiums to Public Parks, the impacts of space for sports in cities, The CityFix, Sustainable Cities Collective (25 April 2015). Many sport are well suited to be played in cities around the world. Professional sports typically take place in large stadiums and amateur sports happen at a much more local level. Sports often play an important role in cities, producing various economic and social impacts on the community. In China, for example, there are over 300 million people playing basketball, so the government plans to build 800,000 new courts, mostly in urban centres. This article provides three case studies: making space for soccer in India and baseball in the Dominican Republic; as well as basketball in China.
  • He Oranga Poutama: What we have learned (PDF  – 3.2 MB), McKegg K, Wehipeihana N, Pipi K and Thompson V, Sport New Zealand (2013). He Oranga Poutama (HOP) is a Sport NZ initiative that supports Maori wellbeing through sport and recreation. This program evaluation identifies achievements and also provides recommendations for future directions.
  • Physical activity promotion in socially disadvantaged groups: principles for action (PDF  – 2.0 MB), World Health Organisation (2013). The promotion of sport and physical activity has increasingly been recognized in Europe as a priority, principally for public health outcomes, but also for community benefit. This report offers suggestions for national and local action on interventions and policy formulation and identifies gaps in evidence to be addressed by future research. Within this project, a total of 127 government policy documents were reviewed. Only 24% of these policies acknowledged the need to consider social disadvantage, indicating that both awareness of the issue and integration into mainstream policies are still to be developed.
  • Promoting physical activity and active communities, Tasmanian Government, Department of Health and Human Services (2010). Tasmania’s population is older and ageing faster, with a lower socio-economic status than other states. Physical activity levels are associated with socio-economic status. Tasmanians with the lowest socio-economic status are more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles (41.9%) than those with the highest (17.8%). The Tasmanian Government has an action plan for improved health outcomes that included promoting physical activity.
  • Promoting physical activity through policy (PDF  – 600 KB), Eyler A, President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, series 12, Number 3 (2011).
  • Recommendations for Communities, helping community leaders establish a strong and positive youth sports culture (PDF  – 1.6 MB), National Alliance for Youth Sports (2014). A youth sports program should not be something that a community simply hopes will turn out well. There simply is too much at stake when the emotional and physical well-being of children are involved. Several recommendations are made to raise community standards.
  • A review of the Social Impacts of Culture and Sport (PDF  – 1.7 MB), Taylor P, Davies L, Wells, Gilbertson J and Tayleur W, Sport Industry Research Centre and Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom (March 2015). The Culture and Sport Evidence (CASE) program is a joint research initiative that reviews the current evidence base on the social impacts of sport and culture. The principal aim of this research was to better understand the social impacts arising from engagement in sport (e.g. a liberal definition of ‘sport’ was adopted from the Taking Part Survey, 2013). The specific objectives of this literature review were to identify the range of social impacts resulting from increased sport participation; investigate whether differences exist between social groups in terms of the perceived value to them resulting from engagement in sport, and; to explore the relationship between peek sporting bodies and government policies on increased participation, engagement with sport, and social impacts. The literature review was further broken down into topic areas: (1) sport and health outcomes; (2) sport and wellbeing; (3) sport and crime; (4) sport and social capital; (4) sport and education; (5) the multiple impacts of sport, and (6) differences in the social impacts of sport for different population sub-groups (age, gender, ethnicity, disability).
  • Sport and Recreation Community Building: Literature Review (PDF  – 89 KB), Larkin A, New South Wales Department of Arts, Sport and Recreation (2008). This literature review examines government strategy documents (international and within Australia), research, and examples of practice related to the impact that sport has on community building and social cohesion. The review examined published literature related to the role of sport and: (1) community building; (2) developing social capital; (3) promoting pro-social and anti-social behaviour, and; (4) strategies for encouraging groups with low levels of participation to become more involved and the perceived social benefits.
  • A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport, Eime R, Young J, Harvey J, Charity M and Payne W, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 10 (2013). This paper presents the results of a systematic review of literature regarding the psychological and social health benefits of participation in sport by children and adolescents. Information arising from this review has been used to develop a conceptual model. The evidence suggests that community sport participation is beneficial for children and adolescents.
  • Tailor Made: How community groups improve peoples lives (PDF  – 2.6 MB), Community Development Foundation, United Kingdom (2014). The latest research shows that small community groups make a vital contribution to both society and the economy. Yet sometimes this contribution can be overlooked, with these groups often viewed as ‘nice-to-have’ but not essential when public debate focuses on the delivery of core public services. This report provides evidence of the value of small (i.e. less than £2,000 a year) community groups. Community groups move in to fill the gaps which others would struggle to reach, they trade on trust, rely upon volunteers, build their activities from first-hand experiences, and maximise the local knowledge and connections available to them.


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