Department of Sociology and Political Science
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
In 2003, Mike Collins, Senior Lecturer in Recreation Management and Professor of Sports Development, published the book Sport and Social Exclusion with Tess Kay, who is Professor of Sport and Social Sciences at Brunel University. Since the book was first published in 2003 a substantial body of new literature and updated knowledge on the topics discussed in Sports and Social Exclusion has emerged. Seeing the need for an updated version of the book, Collins published a second edition in June 2014.
As an introduction to the book, the author discusses some of the constraints people experience when playing sports, as well as some of the benefits claimed for playing sport. In the opening chapters Collins discusses the term social exclusion, which can briefly be described as “a label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown” (Social Exclusion Unit, 1998). In this part of the book Collins also shows how poverty is at the core of social exclusion. With this book Collins provides a systematic review of how different groups in society experience social exclusion in relation to sports and leisure, and how sport can be a site of empowerment and inclusion. A wide range of topics such as children and youth, gender (written by Tess Kay), race and ethnicity, disability, older people and urban and rural perspectives on exclusion from sport is examined. In the concluding chapter (12), Collins briefly discusses 3 topics which he considers to be new and emerging areas within sport and social exclusion: (1) sport and sexuality, (2) sport for asylum seekers and (3) sport and religion. One could argue that sport and sexuality is a developed field of its own, but linking it to social exclusion is, in my opinion, an important topic for future research.
Social exclusion and sport is a complex and multifaceted area of research. It would be difficult to cover all of the themes regarding social exclusion discussed by Collins in one short review. Therefore, I have selected two key topics from the book as the main focus of this review.
A gendered perspective on social exclusion and sport
In her chapter (5), Tess Kay argues that studies using a gender perspective on sport tend to focus on the under-representation of women in sport, rather than the situation of the women who are most disadvantaged. The groups of women that can be characterized as ‘most disadvantaged’ are more likely to experience the most constraints on sports participation. Kay gives voice to a female experience of sport and social exclusion, arguing that poverty is especially relevant for women’s life experiences: “Women’s issues are intrinsically linked with poverty and poverty carries a woman’s face…In many countries, women own nothing, inherit nothing and earn nothing” (pp. 91).
Using data from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF, 2010), Kay’s analysis shows how girls’ and women’s participation in sport is low compared to boys and men. The results indicate that only women in relatively favourable positions in the social structure of society are close to closing the sports participation gap between men and women. The last part of Kay’s chapter is uplifting and discusses how girls and women can be empowered through sports participation and how sports can contribute to the inclusion of women in a patriarchal society. To exemplify this Kay utilizes the voices of young girls through quotes from qualitative interviews.
This chapter by Kay is an important contribution to the topic of sport and social exclusion. It illustrates and brings awareness to some of the challenges and constraints girls and women experience with participation in PE and sports. Kay highlights the importance of further research on disadvantaged groups of women regarding sport and social exclusion. Taking into consideration some of the other themes of Collins’ book – intersectionality between different forms of domination and discrimination such as gender, ethnicity, race and disability – there’s an interesting angle for new research using a gender perspective on sport and social exclusion. Who are the ‘most disadvantaged’ women and how can sport participation benefit them? How can we create better opportunities for these women to enjoy and participate in sports and PE?
Older people, sport and social exclusion
Sport and older people is a sparse field of research, with a limited body of literature. This topic is becoming increasingly important in Europe, given the ageing population. In recent years, the effects of physical activity for older people have been getting more empirical attention in the sport sciences. The focus here has mainly been on the medical branch of sport sciences, investigating factors such as cardiovascular benefits of physical activity for pensioners. Collins’ perspective on social exclusion is in my opinion a meaningful addition to research on older people, sports participation and physical activity seen from a health perspective.
In chapter 6, Collins presents a short review of previous research on older people, social exclusion, sport and leisure. Although this is the shortest chapter in the book, it investigates some valuable perspectives on leisure and sports participation among older people. Several of the studies that Collins refers to argue that pensioners living alone, especially female pensioners, experience the most severe levels of social exclusion (Patsios, 2003; Higgs et al., 2010; Becker & Boreham, 2009). This could be linked to Kay’s contribution to the book – marking single female pensioners as one of the groups of women in society that I would interpret as the ‘most disadvantaged’ women. What factors contribute to older people living alone being at greater risk for social exclusion and low level physical activity? How, and in what way, is this connected to gender? Investigating diversity among older people as a group could be crucial for understanding their leisure and sports participation.
Other studies referred to in this chapter impart that older people might be characterized as ‘sports illiterate’ (Harahousou, 1999; Rodgers, 1977), suggesting that the culture of physical activity, leisure and sports has changed immensely during the last 50 years, causing to older people to feel estranged from modern sporting activities. A relevant question here is how sport activities can be adapted and modified to meet the needs of older people and contribute to stimulating an increased level of physical activity within this group.
A British view on sport and social exclusion
Although Sport and Social Exclusion has assembled and summarized an array of global sources to demonstrate how the effects of social exclusion are visible in sports, many of the chapters in the book rely heavily on British sources and examples. This is evident from the use of case studies throughout the book. Taking a Scandinavian context into consideration, social exclusion and sport may appear in different forms in some ways (and similar in others). In the case of sport participation and older people, Collins states that Scandinavian countries report the highest participation rates for people over 60 years of age. How does this affect social exclusion, older people, leisure and sport in Scandinavian countries?
A good read primarily for academic audiences?
The book contains a large quantity of descriptive figures, graphs and tables. The combination of statistical tables and summaries of previous research contributes to making this book, as I see it, primarily for academic audiences with a basic understanding of quantitative research methods. It is fairly complex, and the book is not an easy or quick read. However, as Collins states, “[t]his book intended for both academic and professional audiences” (p. 1), so perhaps not for students or other groups that might find the topic of sport and social exclusion interesting. The book provides a solid base of knowledge on social exclusion in different groups of society and its relation to sport. Further, it contains a large number of references to previous research on the different topics discussed, which arguably makes it a good starting point for academics wanting to ‘get into’ the field of sport and social exclusion.
Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2015
- Becker, E. & Boreham, R. (2009). Understanding the risks of social exclusion across the life course: Older Age, London: Cabinet Office.
- Harahousou, Y. (1999). Elderly people, leisure and physical recreation. Greece World Leisure and Recreation 41, 3: 20-4.
- Higgs, J. et al. (2010). An anatomy of economic inequality in the UK – Summary, London: Government Equalities Office.
- Patsios, D. (2006). Pensioners, poverty and social exclusion in C.Pantazis, D.Gordon and R.Levitas (eds.). Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain: The Millennium Survey, Bristol: Policy press.
- Rodgers, H.B. (1977). Rationalising sports policy. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
- Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) (1998). Bringing Britain Together, London: Cabinet Office.
- Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (2010). Young women and girls sport and physical activity, London: WSFF.