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Sofa Soccer: Does Watching Sport increase Participation?

Posted: Fri Nov 29, 2019 2:35 pm
by YorkshireSquare

While the hardcore bracket of sports fans represents quite a small portion of society, it's a fair shout that nearly everybody has watched and enjoyed a sporting fixture or two in their lifetime, whether that's Forest Green Rovers vs. Leyton Orient on a Saturday afternoon or a day out watching the local cricket team at the miners' welfare.

But one of the big questions facing grass-roots football (and just about every other sport) is whether watching a game translates to increased participation. Are spectators more likely to kick a ball in their spare time?

Olympic Games

The evidence is a little bit disappointing. While the answer is often a resounding 'yes', the number of people that become inspired by watching their heroes on the TV is quite low in many sports - and dramatic increases are rare.

The 2012 London Olympics, for instance, only produced a 7% uptick in participation, according to YouGov, a result that put agency UK Sport in hot water, given that the creation of more sportsmen and women was the main objective of the agency's post-Olympics plan. Figures from Sport England were even worse, suggesting an increase of just 1.3%, a number that was already in decline by 2016.

The reasons why people chose not to pick up a sport though - specifically, a busy lifestyle (18%), cost (17%), lack of facilities (12%), and lack of confidence (12%) - weren't new though, and were unlikely to be overcome by watching professionals perform on the TV.

A sedentary lifestyle can be a hard one to escape, and there are perhaps many easier ways to make a positive change than taking the plunge into organised sports.

Healthy eating, for instance, is less daunting than joining a football club, while the impact of smoking is a more long-term process in regards to ditching the tabacco. This habbit can, however, be reduced with the help of products like White Fox nicotine pouches, which don't contain tobacco and help to alleviate cravings, meaning that a smoker's fitness levels and lung capacity can become more up-to-scratch sooner rather than later. Furthermore, activities such as yoga, Zumba and visiting the gym are also more suited to busy lives than sport is.

Women's World Cup

Participation is far from an exact science though. Paralympic sports saw a 2-4% boost in popularity after the 2012 Olympics, while rowing, one of Great Britain's strongest sports, experienced a 15% drop-off in the number of people taking part.

Although, one of the UK's greatest success stories with regard to getting people involved in sport has nothing to do with the Games at all. The 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup competition produced a 42% increase in the number of facilities supporting female players in the first six months after the World Cup ended.

Figures from the FA also note a 32% increase in the number of women's teams, resulting in 260 new ones entering competition for 2019/20. While those numbers will inevitably tail off a little as the post-World Cup excitement fades, the recent success of women's football at getting more people involved is unprecedented in sport.

In summary, exposure to sport doesn't seem to encourage participation over more than a few years. However, given the dramatic rise in the number of women playing football in recent months, the sport may yet prove a rare exception.