4917.0 - Sport and social capital, Australia, 2010  
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Contents >> Introduction >> Social capital and sport


The positive impact of participation in sport and active recreation on physical health is now well accepted (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2010). Research has identified a wide range of sport induced health benefits that include improving cardiovascular health, assisting in the development of strength and balance and maintaining a healthy weight (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2010, ABS 2008a). In light of this, governments at all levels have become increasingly active in encouraging people to adopt physical activities as a regular part of their lifestyle.

In contrast, much less is known about the social impacts of sport and physical recreation. It is argued that sport and recreation provides opportunities and settings for social interaction, sharing common interests and enhancing a sense of community (Department for Victorian Communities, 2006). However, the particular impacts of participation as well as the processes by which participation contributes to community wellbeing are not well understood. This has resulted in an increasing focus on and interest in identifying such impacts in recent years.

Social capital is often defined as being a resource available to individuals and communities founded on networks of mutual support, reciprocity and trust. This is an area of considerable interest because of its links to individual and community wellbeing. Many researchers have suggested the benefits of social capital for individual outcomes in areas such as health, education, employment and family wellbeing, and also in fostering community strength and resilience (ABS 2006, Department for Victorian Communities 2006, Baum 1999, Nicholson and Hoye 2008). The associational nature of sport and sporting clubs is sometimes seen as a forum for the creation of social capital (Tonts 2005). The current debate about social capital suggests that the structures within, or the fabric of, a society or community are an important determinant of the health of a community, and that participation in community based and social activities helps to strengthen the fabric (Baum 1999).

It is not possible to quantify how participation in sport and physical recreation contributes to, develops or maintains social capital. Nor is it possible to observe the extent to which the existence of social capital promotes participation in sport. This is the result of social processes that cannot be measured in quantitative surveys. All that can be shown are the associations between participation and a range of social indicators - indicators that may be used to assess social capital and wellbeing.

This report aims to examine the associations between participation in sport and physical recreation and social wellbeing using a range of indicators from the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) 2010 General Social Survey.

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