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AN INTERNATIONAL COMPARISON OF SPORT PARTICIPATION DATA
Yet, in examining results from different surveys, one cannot simply compare the values given without determining how they were collected. While the data for each of the countries relate to participation in the 12 months before interview, the scope of the surveys, the methodology employed, the definitions used, the wording of the questions asked and the reference year all tend to vary. We briefly discuss some of these differences below.
The differences in the scope of the surveys will have impacted on recorded participation rates. Finland’s survey included people aged 10 years and over, Canada’s survey included those aged 15 years and over, Great Britain’s survey included those aged 16 years and over, while both Australia’s and New Zealand’s surveys included those aged 18 years and over. As younger people generally have higher rates of participation in sport and physical activities, this would have the effect of boosting the reported participation rates of Finland, Canada and Great Britain relative to the others.
The methodology employed can also influence the participation rates that are obtained. For example, the New Zealand survey was voluntary and a relatively low response rate of 65% was achieved. By comparison, the response rate for the Canadian survey was 80% while for the Australian survey, it was over 90%. As people with little or no interest in a survey topic are more likely to refuse to participate in a survey, a low response rate can have the effect of increasing the reported participation rates. Consequently, the relatively low response rate achieved in the New Zealand survey may have led to an overstatement of the participation rate for that country.
The definitions used in the surveys also affect the results. The activities covered by the Canadian survey were restricted just to sports. The Australian and Great Britain surveys included both sport and recreational physical activities such as aerobics, walking and cycling. The Finnish participation rate included only summer sports and physical activities. The New Zealand survey used the widest definition of sports and physical activities of all the surveys, and included activities such as gardening.
The survey results are also influenced by the actual wording of the questions. For example, the Canadian survey asks about regular participation in sport (i.e. at least once a week during the season) whereas the Australian and New Zealand surveys ask about any participation in the previous year. Whether the respondent is shown a prompt card listing the activities within the scope of the survey when being asked the questions will also influence the results that are produced (as the prompt card may help to jog the respondent’s memory about activities undertaken irregularly). Prompt cards were used in the Australian, Great Britain and New Zealand surveys, but not in the Canadian survey.
In summary, our comparison of the international data on participation in sport and physical activities tells us more about the difficulties in making such comparisons than it does about how Australia’s participation rates compare with other countries. Certainly, some of the variation in observed participation rates will be a result of real differences in the 'sportiness' of the residents of the various countries. However, what we cannot determine from the available information is the proportion of the observed differences that are due to these 'real' differences rather than due to differences in survey methodology, scope, wording of questions, reference year and so on.
On the European front, a project has been initiated that is aimed at improving comparability in European sports participation statistics. The project, named COMPASS (Coordinated Monitoring of Participation in Sports), is a joint initiative between the Italian Olympic Committee, UK Sport and Sport England. In the COMPASS report entitled Sports Participation in Europe: COMPASS 1999, a number of recommendations are made for harmonising sports participation statistics between countries. The adoption of those recommendations would make European sports participation statistics more comparable with those collected in Australia. Over the course of the next few years, NCCRS will be monitoring the up-take of these recommendations, as well as any other outcomes of the COMPASS projects, with the aim of providing more information, when possible, on how 'sporty' Australians are compared with those in other countries.
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