Living in Bath, with access to the Bath University Sports Training Village, it is easy to take for granted that as a private citizen you actually belong to a kind of sporting aristocracy.

There are really no better sports facilities in the country. It’s new, it cost £23 million, and all sports are concentrated in one facility, creating a unique collegial atmosphere among different types of athletes. It’s unusual too for elite and amateurs to rub shoulders in such close proximity.

The Edge, magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council, reports today on a three-year research project that demonstrates the roles social class, age, gender and education play in determining the way people get involved in sport and other cultural activities.

The report partly responds to claims by pressure group Street Games (see our blogroll) that success in sport is socially determined, rather than a result of personal preferences or ability.

Although the new study paints a more complex picture, it generally supports the notion that success in sport increases with education and economic success.

Sport has often been seen as a route to social mobility. Street Games, citing a 1997 survey of UK households, points to findings that only 10% of athletes come from lower socio-economic groups, while the proportion is even smaller for top rugby players and swimmers at just two per cent – the latter bearing out Barry’s experience too of the difficulties of getting a swim in inner-city London.

The ESRC research indicates a phenomenon that could lead to growing inequality:-

“A map of the cultural landscape of Britain produced by a team of researchers at the Open University and the University of Manchester shows that a large section of the population not only dislikes sport, but almost every other form of cultural activity.”

Among some respondents, the only positive preferences expressed were for soap operas and horror movies. This group typically included young, poorly-educated males.

Given the rise in gang culture highlighted by recent shootings, the disaffection of the young urban Muslims responsible for recent terror attacks, organizations like Street Games may have a role to play in re-engaging these young people through sporting involvement. It begs for more facilities, like those in Bath, in more disadvantaged areas, to capitalise on the growing interest that London’s 2012 Olympics will deliver.

One area the report did not address is that, while sport may be more a middle-class activity, it is also subject to much intellectual disdain in the UK. This is ironic since neurlogical studies show it delivers improved cognitive function.

ESRC Society Today – Looking for a touch of sporting class – part 1 of 2

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