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Ensuring access to sport for different groups

This is an excerpt from Contemporary Sport Management 7th Edition With HKPropel Access by Paul M. Pedersen & Lucie Thibault.

By Marlene A. Dixon, Jennifer E. McGarry, Justin Evanovich

Sport for All is an overarching concept that recognizes and promotes the value of sport participation across the life span. In North America, national-level initiatives exist through organizations such as Sport Canada, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, USA Sport, Project Play, and the National Commission of Physical Culture and Sports in Mexico. They provide guidance, resources, and support for both national and local organizations to enhance and promote sport participation across contexts, ages, genders, ability levels, backgrounds, and geographic locations. While Sport for All is discussed and supported at the national level in each country, most participant sport in North America is delivered at the local level through private and public community-level sport organizations. Some of these organizations deliver sport across the life span (i.e., community sport), and some are specifically focused on youth. Thus, local-level organizations face unique organizational and structural challenges surrounding the management of various forms of community and youth sport. These challenges have to do with achieving the mission of a focus on Sport for All while contending with their own local needs and resources. This chapter introduces the history of participant sport across the life span—termed community and youth sport—in North America as well as its current forms. It also presents an overview of some of the operational, strategic, and sociocultural challenges and opportunities inherent in the design, delivery, and future direction of managing sport participation across the life span.

Origins of Sport for All and Community-Level Sport

The history of Sport for All in North America is difficult to condense because it varies widely by place of residence, ability, religion, gender identity, social class, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, and family background. In other words, not everyone’s experience in sport was the same. However, some general trends in this participant-based sport history can help you understand the place of community-level sport in society and the way that community sport is organized and delivered today.

In North America, sport and games were part of communities and cultures long before the arrival of Europeans. Emerging histories of native communities in North America showed rich and varied traditions of sport and physical contests, including the races, wrestling, and rite-of-passage contests of the North American Dene and Inuit peoples; moose-skin ball of the Athapaskan women; and lacrosse—perhaps the most influential game—among the Iroquoian, Algonquian, Sioux, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee nations (Morrow & Wamsley, 2005). In Mexico, the Aztecs, Mayans, Mixtecs, and Zapotecs enjoyed a ball game called ulama, which resembled volleyball (Villanueva & Luevano, 2016). In native communities, sport and contests often served the purpose of training youth for adult experiences; displaying the strength, skill, and prowess of community members; or celebrating the culture and religion of the community. In some cases, much of the original meaning and symbolism of community sport from these native peoples has been lost or redefined. However, some, such as Mexican bullfighting (called charreria), have remained popular despite European and American influences. Indigenous peoples’ sport activities have had an influence on the structure, form, and meaning of community sport in North America.

Before the 1800s, North Americans of European origin rarely engaged in physical contests that could be labeled as sports as they are known today. Much time was spent simply surviving and establishing new towns, cities, and industries. The folk games played at this time were usually simple and had no written rules; they were legitimated by custom and often changed to fit the circumstances of play (e.g., space or time available). In rural North America during the early 1800s, these games often sparked contests between citizens or towns that formed the basis of early sport experiences. For example, fishing, hunting, snowshoeing, rowing, archery, throwing, running, and rail splitting were activities that could be contested between men, often serving as a source of pride and identity for the family or village (Morrow & Wamsley, 2005). In Mexico, women participated as well—and even exclusively—in games such as the arihueta race, which involved running and throwing a hoop (Villanueva & Luevano, 2016).

At the same time, a sport fraternity of sorts emerged in urban centers such as New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and Toronto, where men would gather to play sports and wager on billiards, horse racing, prize fighting, or footraces. For example, the Great Race of 1835 offered a prize of US$1,000 to anyone who could run 10 miles (16 km) in less than an hour. More than 20,000 spectators watched as one man, a farmer from Connecticut named Henry Stannard, finished in 59 minutes and 48 seconds. In Canada, curling contests, races, and hunting contests between fur traders and frontiersmen thrived in local taverns and military garrisons (Morrow & Wamsley, 2005). The races and spectacles continued across the continent, but sport remained largely unorganized and unregulated.

In the early 1800s, however, voluntary sport clubs emerged for sports such as curling, rowing, cycling, snowshoeing, quoits, cricket, track and field, and baseball. These clubs were mostly the domain of upper- and middle-class men who could afford the time and membership dues required for belonging to the sport clubs. Access was limited. Contests were arranged first within clubs for the benefit of the club members and then later between clubs. The sponsoring club provided the rules, facilities, prize money, and social events surrounding the contests. For example, the Montreal Curling Club, established by the Scots in 1807, organized the first curling contests in North America exclusively for the benefit of its 20 elite citizens (Morrow & Wamsley, 2005).

The Montreal Snowshoe Club, the Montreal Bicycle Club, and the Montreal Lacrosse Club also served as important clubs for the early foundation of regulated amateur sport in Canada. In the United States, the New York Athletic Club (established in 1850) built the first cinder track and sponsored the first national amateur track and field championship in 1876. This club also sponsored the first national amateur championships for swimming (1877), boxing (1878), and wrestling (1878). The various sport clubs in the United States and Canada represented the beginning of a larger sport movement in the countries that spread both in types of sports offered and its delivery and governance. As sport clubs expanded, battles ensued over who would provide and regulate community sport and who would define its guiding principles.

In the early 1900s, participation in sport and physical activity continued to grow. In the United States under president Theodore Roosevelt, local, state, and national funding was committed to the growth of parks and recreation facilities and spaces, and the Playground Association of America (which eventually became the National Recreation and Park Association—NRPA) was born. At that time, parks and recreation activities were more focused on play and leisure rather than on organized sport. Sport was in the domain of nonprofit and commercial clubs, schools, and the AAU, which represented the United States in international competition. After World War II and during ensuing decades, much debate occurred about America’s lack of prominence in international sport, which led to the passage of the Amateur Sports Act in 1978 and the creation of national sport governing bodies (e.g., USA Swimming, USA Track and Field). These governing bodies were tasked with sport development in the United States, and they govern U.S. representation in international sport, but they do not necessarily have enforcement powers to become the sole sport providers or governors of amateur sport within the country.

In Mexico, during the second half of the 19th century, urban community sport evolved and became characterized by the government’s involvement in the organization and promotion of both physical education and sport (Coelho-e Silva, Figueiredo, Elferink-Gemser, & Malina, 2016). In post-revolution Mexico (1900-1917), leaders viewed the introduction of community-based sports as a means to bring citizens together “to create a sense of ethnic, social, and national unity that had not previously existed” (Brewster, 2004, p. 230). From there the Physical Education School and the General Directorate of Physical Education were created under the Secretariat of Public Education, and sport governance continued to become more formalized. In 1923, the Mexican Olympic Committee (COM) was created; the country participated in the Olympic Games for the first time in Paris in 1924. In 1933, the Mexican Sports Confederation (CODEME) was established to create policies for federated sports (Coelho-e Silva et al., 2016).

In Canada, the governance of community sport took a slightly different route. The formation of the CAAU in 1898 gave Canada a unified structure for the regulation of 17 amateur sports. The CAAU began by investigating violations of the Canadian Amateur Code, taking action against the sport organizations that violated the code, and encouraging participants to abide by the expectations of amateur athletes (Howell, 2001). This body also “vowed to advance and improve all sports among amateurs and stated an even loftier goal, that is, to encourage systematic physical exercise and education in Canada” (Morrow & Wamsley, 2005, p. 76). In 1909, the CAAU became known as the AAU.

Two additional significant developments in Canada’s participant sport history are the passage of the Fitness and Amateur Sport Act of 1961 and the development of a more recent movement called Sport for Life (, 2020). Both developments enhanced the promotion of participant sport across the life span. In addition, they enhanced physical literacy and expanded sport participation opportunities across age, gender, ability level, background, and geographic location. The Sport for Life movement in particular has been instrumental in providing guidance and resources for local organizations to actually implement the broader mission of Sport for All in Canada. Similarly, in Mexico, the National Commission of Physical Culture and Sports (Comisión Nacional de Cultura Física y Deporte, México—CONADE) has worked with local organizations to promote physical activity and sport participation across the life span. In the United States, community (or participant) sport across the life span has advanced much more independently. In fact, only recently has the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made significant efforts toward the true Sport for All agenda.

The national-level organizations and initiatives kept Canada’s sport and recreation systems more coordinated and unified than those in the United States. Thus, in Canada (and to somewhat of a lesser degree in Mexico), sport is delivered on a local level but typically is coordinated under the auspices of the national governing body (i.e., a national regulatory association).

This history of North American sport in the 19th and 20th centuries has highlighted the emergence of different community sport systems in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. In Mexico, physical education in schools has taken on primary importance in the involvement of youth in sport. It is especially essential in poorer areas given fewer opportunities for elite youth sport participation (Simon, Rodriguez de Leon, Hernandez, Larrinaga, & Guadarrama, 2002). In the United States, public schools have seen shifting priorities and resulting budget cuts that limit sport opportunities. Many parks and recreation centers have adopted sport programming. However, debate continues about whether sport is complementary or contradictory to the mission and goals of parks and recreation, which often creates ongoing tension over the meaning and purpose of public recreation centers. Furthermore, because no single body governs U.S. amateur sport, sport structures and systems vary widely across states, cities, and local communities. In Canada and Mexico, although sport is seemingly more uniform and coordinated, some sport organizations struggle for more control and voice in their local sport governance (Doherty & Cuskelly, 2020).

The value and benefits of participation in sport across the life span are increasingly receiving recognition, and so are the disparities in access to those benefits. Sport for All movements in North America have increased attention to the wide variety of sport experiences across contexts, ages, genders, ability levels, and program foci. They offer both challenges and opportunities to sport managers engaged in this sector.

Sport for All—Any Human, Anywhere, Any Time

Sport managers have implemented a Sport for All concept within North America and particularly beyond its borders through the sport sector of Sport for Development and Peace (SDP). SDP describes “a global sector of organizations and stakeholders that now champion, organize, and implement sport-for-development programs,” and it describes programs that use “processes, theories, and/or ideologies” of sport and play to attain positive social outcomes (Darnell, Field, & Kidd, 2019, p.8). In the internationally diverse world of SDP, many grassroots organizations work tirelessly to create safe spaces—both in general and for sport participation—for various populations within their local communities. Because of the nature of nonprofit funding and programming, these groups often have to maintain a relatively narrow focus on specific target populations for offering sport programs. These grassroots organizations are vast in the range of demographics they serve, the sports they utilize, and the locations where they operate worldwide.

One group, Coaches Across Continents (CAC), has been challenging the traditional bounds of the SDP field since 2008. CAC assists hundreds of different grassroots programs around the world in designing their own curricula and finding creative ways to adapt sport to reach their organizational goals. Using a truly emergent method, a creative approach, and limitless belief in the power and flexibility of sport, CAC has supported more than 600 partners across six continents, affecting over 16 million SDP participants worldwide. CAC does not use prepackaged curricula in partnerships with organizations; instead it begins each partnership by asking these four key questions:

  1. What is the target population you want this program to serve? (e.g., refugees, women and girls, those with physical or mental disabilities, the elderly)
  2. What sports or activities do you want to use to engage this population? (e.g., soccer, basketball, rock climbing, school yard/recreational games, netball)
  3. What kind of equipment, space, and resources do you have to work with? (e.g., a small classroom space with one soccer ball, three full-sized basketball courts with 30 cones and 10 basketballs, or a dance studio with a speaker system)
  4. How do you want to help this population? (e.g., to feel empowered and confident in their bodies, to build a sense of community, to address harmful traditional practices, to provide education on HIV/AIDS prevention, to create a safe space for participants to be themselves and discuss the hardships they face in their daily lives)

Partners and collaborators can freely respond to these questions; no answers disqualify them. By asking what equipment and resources are already available, CAC can ensure that the curriculum games they create will fit the program’s resource capacity, eliminating the problem of program failure due to lack of resources. CAC practices an established and demonstrative bottom–up approach to partner consultancy and curriculum design. It thoroughly embraces the opportunity to leverage the power and flexibility of sport with its own creative consultancy to ensure that every organization—no matter their combination of answers to the four key questions—is able to provide sport programming for the populations they seek to serve and support. In 2018, CAC was awarded the Beyond Sport Global Impact of the Year Award because its methodology and overall bottom–up consultancy design proves to work as a way to provide sport as an accessible safe haven for all people of the world.

Examples of CAC collaborations include the following:

  • United Kidz Soccer Development, USA
    - Target population: Male and female youth (under 18 years old) athletes
    - Sport or activity: Soccer
    - Purpose for programming: To use soccer as a tool to develop community-minded youth, to foster participant leadership capacity, and to teach about diversity appreciation as well as self-identity awareness
  • Niñas Sin Miedo, Colombia
    - Target population: Youth and teenage girls
    - Sport or activity: Cycling and bike polo
    - Purpose for programming: To seek gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through bicycling and education
  • Kutupalong Refugee Camp (largest refugee camp in the world), Bangladesh
    - Target population: Rohingya refugees
    - Sport or activity: Soccer
    - Purpose for programming: Through a partnership with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (known today by its original acronym, UNICEF), this program uses soccer and play to offer young adult leaders within the camp a healthy outlet. It also offers a safe space to develop leadership and teaching skills; participants learn to deliver educational training sessions for refugee youth.
More Excerpts From Contemporary Sport Management 7th Edition With HKPropel Access