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Future sports or future challenges to sport?

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Predicting the future, especially of the multiplicity of sports, is a notoriously task. For example, in 1979 Veal (1979), predicted that by 1991 participation in badminton and squash would increase by 59 per cent. In fact badminton remained static at 3 per cent and squash declined from 3 per cent to 1 per cent. In 1970 Wilmott and Young ((1973) predicted that, by 2001, participation in table tennis would be 13 per cent (in fact it was 3%) and that swimming would increase to 37 per cent (15%). More significantly, Wilmott and Young, in predicting the growth of mass sports, made no reference to aerobics/keep-fit (which has a participation rate of 12%).

Of course, at the time these authors were writing, there was an absence of robust longitudinal participation data to assist in estimating the direction and pace of future change. However, for a number of reasons, the simple extrapolation of broad survey trends provides limited predictive power. For example, even within current General Household Survey data (not available since 1966), the sub-sample sizes for most individual sports are too small for a precise understanding of trends in individual sports (Cabinet Office, 2002). Further, and more fundamentally, trends in sports participation are affected in complex ways by wider economic, socio-demographic and cultural factors.

More generally, we lack precise understanding of the role of sport in lifestyles, the nature of the efforts/benefits ratio that underpins decisions to continue/discontinue sports participation and the extent to which participants view participation in terms of a social consumption or health investment good. In addition, although there is some indicative evidence that some types of sports participation are supply-led (Roberts et al, 1989; Gratton and Tice, 1994), in general we have a limited understanding of the impact of supply on demand (especially among non-participants). Consequently, in addition to the generic difficulties in predicting the future, predictions in the area of sport are restricted by limited data and a limited understanding of the interaction of factors underpinning the nature and direction of demand.

However, within such limits, it is possible to outline certain broad factors that will impact on the volume and nature of sports participation
Broad socio-cultural changes and associated definitions of sport or the processes of sport.

  • The distribution of time.
  • An increasingly ageing population
  • The impact of education
  • Early intervention and so-called lifetime activities.



 editors comments   

Editor's comments - [  This is an academic review paper commissioned by Sport England as contextual analysis to inform the preparation of the Framework for sport in England and part of a series of desk studies called Driving up Participation: The Challenge for Sport.  ]  Reference this?Cryer, J. (Year). This page title in italics. Retrieved date, from <this page's full URL>

In the text: Cryer (year)


APA reference for this document


Reference : Coalter, F. (2004). Future sports or future challenges to sport? Stirling: Stirling Institute for sports research. University of Stirling.

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Download this file (dupfuture2004.pdf)dupfuture2004.pdfCoalter, F. (2004). Future sports or future challenges to sport? Stirling: Stirling Institute for sports research. University of Stirling.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2009 13:47  

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