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Newsletters - National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics (NCCRS) - April Quarter 2001


At NCCRS, we are often asked the question: "How does Australia compare with other countries in terms of culture and recreation?" Providing an answer to that question is no simple task since so many different factors and issues need to be kept in mind when making international comparisons. Yet, we agree that it is important to see what we can learn about Australia from such comparisons and, over the longer term, work towards improving the standardisation of questions and methodologies across the borders.

As a result, NCCRS recently undertook a comparison of sport participation data from five countries. The results of this comparison are presented in this newsletter. The importance of thoroughly understanding the scope, methodology and questions of different surveys is highlighted in that article since, if one were to take the recorded participation rates at face value, erroneous conclusions would result. Note that NCCRS is also currently undertaking an international comparison of attendance at cultural venues and activities; a report on the outcomes of that comparison will be included in a forthcoming edition of the newsletter.

In this newsletter, we also provide an update on work undertaken to date on the development of an information model. An information model will provide the basis for determining how culture and recreation information could and should be structured, as well as assist in identifying where further data collection and analysis are required.

Information on a project that NCCRS is conducting in relation to the social impacts of sport and physical recreation is also presented. The remainder of the newsletter provides details about two recent ABS surveys on Internet use.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Adriana Vanden Heuvel


How 'sporty' are Australians compared with those in other countries? In attempting to answer this question, NCCRS recently completed a project (which was funded by the Recreation and Sport Industry Statistics Group) that included an examination of data collected in sport participation surveys in five countries. The table on the next page summarises the key results from these surveys by showing participation rates in sport and physical activities as published by the statistical agencies or sports authorities of the five countries.

If we took these results at face value, we would conclude that Canadians are the least active, with only 34% undertaking any sporting activity in the 12 months prior to interview, while New Zealanders are the most active, with 98% being involved. Australia ranks second to last, with a participation rate of 55%. In terms of differences by sex, three of the surveys (namely Australia, Canada and Great Britain) suggest that men are more active when it comes to participating in sports and physical activities, one survey (Finland) indicates that women are somewhat more active, and the final survey (New Zealand) suggests no difference by sex.


Reference year

Great Britain
New Zealand

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.


NCCRS has begun work on developing an information model for culture and leisure statistics. The aims of this article are to briefly explain what an information model is and the benefits we hope to gain from developing a culture and leisure information model.

An information model will provide a broad 'map' of the key entities and relationships within the culture and leisure sector. There are several potential benefits that can be derived from the development of a culture and leisure information model.

An information model:
  • can indicate what information should be gathered on culture and leisure and how this information should be organised;
  • can be used to assess current statistical data collections and practices to reveal gaps and identify possible improvements;
  • can serve as a reference point to encourage the standardisation of data drawn from diverse sources; and
  • more generally, by establishing a formal representation of the sector, can support decision-making and improve coordination.

As a result, such a model will not only assist the ABS in its work in the area, but hopefully will prove to be a valuable resource to others in the sector as well.

Information modelling is a common business tool. It is used by businesses to manage their increasingly large and sophisticated information assets. Modelling, which is usually undertaken by IT developers, is seen by businesses as a way of adding value and facilitating decision-making. The technique is increasingly being applied to areas of public policy to achieve similar goals. In Australia, for example, health sector information models have been developed by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and New South Wales Health. Models are also being developed by the ABS for crime and justice statistics and education and training statistics.

The basis of nearly all information models is an 'entity-relationship' diagram, which sets out 'entities' in boxes and links these boxes with lines that represent the relationships between the entities. The culture and leisure information model will chart the key entities within the culture and leisure sector (such as individuals, organisations, resources, inputs, transfers, products and events) and the relationships between these entities (such as participation, work, supply, consumption and investment).

Information modelling is usually applied to business, administrative and institutional processes, where entities and their relationships can be easily identified and modelled. Applying similar modelling techniques to an industrial-institutional complex such as the culture and leisure sector is a more daunting task. It is unlikely, therefore, that a culture and leisure information model will go to the level of detail of information models developed in other areas of policy, such as the health models. Modelling is, nevertheless, relevant even at very broad levels. By making explicit conceptions of culture and leisure that are too often left implicit, modelling exposes assumptions and preconceptions to debate and the rigours of testing.

The creation of a culture and leisure information model is a long-term project. Information models tend to be released as versions and are subjected to ongoing reassessment and updating. The objective of this project is to construct a first version of a culture and leisure information model. The NCCRS is currently at the early stages of the development process. Model requirements have been specified. A review of existing culture and leisure models has been undertaken, and these are being synthesised and adapted to meet requirements. Further, we are developing a plan for the dissemination of a draft model for comment to stakeholders and interested parties.


The positive impact of participation in sport and active recreation on physical health is now well accepted. Research has identified a wide range of sport-induced health benefits including improving cardiovascular health and assisting in the development of strength and balance. 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 impact of sport and physical recreation and, in recent years, there has been an increasing focus on, and interest in, identifying such impacts.

In order to identify research on the social benefits and to evaluate the evidence which supports them, NCCRS is producing an annotated bibliography on this topic on behalf of the Standing Committee on Recreation and Sport (SCORS). This bibliography will provide sports administrators, policy developers and researchers with a summary of available data and research on the social impacts of sport, including comments on the methodology used and the general value of the research in terms of advancing understanding of the issue.

The bibliography will consist of a comprehensive list of Australian and New Zealand articles, reports and other publications which describe research on the social impacts of sport and physical recreation. Information on selected international studies and research will also be included in order to glean insights from key research conducted overseas.

In this project, a relatively broad definition of 'social impact' is used which includes outcomes impacting on either the individual or on society in general. Thus research on topics such as the impact of sports participation on mental health, life-skill development, crime prevention and social cohesion are all included. Research that has identified either positive and negative social impacts are included. The focus of the bibliography is primarily on empirical research; however, information on relevant literature reviews is also provided.

To date, about 100 references have been included in the bibliography. A significant proportion of these focus on the impact of exercise participation on aspects of mental health. There is an increasing body of evidence which supports the notion that exercise participation is associated with statistically significant improvements in mood and reductions in stress and anxiety. However, while many of the references reviewed identify such a link, there were also a number of cases where no significant association between physical activity participation and improvements in mental health was found.

In addition, a number of references have highlighted the potential of sport to divert youth-at-risk from harmful activities such as violence, drug abuse and crime. However, according to the literature reviewed, these benefits are generally observed over the short term. Little research has been conducted which examines the long term impacts of participation on youth-at-risk. Furthermore, a number of articles also discuss the negative impacts of physical activity participation, particularly amongst the younger population, including evidence of associations between participation and increased levels of aggression, negative body image and higher propensity for risk-taking behaviour.

Evidence is also presented in the bibliography regarding the role of exercise participation in maintaining life skills in the older population, and in promoting cultural and community pride in Indigenous populations.

Overall, it is noteworthy that despite the sometimes strong associations between sports participation and the social impacts discussed in the studies reviewed, few demonstrated a clear case of causality. The findings of a significant number of studies are also constrained by methodological limitations, including the lack of control conditions, small sample sizes and non-random sample selection.

The completed bibliography is expected to be released later this year and details on how to access it will be provided in forthcoming editions of this newsletter.


Results from a new quarterly survey of Internet service providers (ISPs) show that at the end of September 2000 there were 718 providers supplying Internet access services across Australia.

At the end of the September quarter 2000 there were 3.8 million Internet subscribers registered in Australia, who had downloaded more than one billion megabytes of data over the previous three months. While 11% (432,000) of these subscribers were registered as business or government subscribers they accounted for 43% of the total data downloaded.

ISPs hosted 101,235 business and government web sites for which 3,710 (3.7%) provided an environment for secure transactions.

More details, including information for States and Territories and smaller regions, can be found in Internet Activity, Australia, September Quarter 2000 (cat. no. 8153.0; $19.50) which was released on 21 March 2001.


In the 12 months prior to November 2000, more than 1.3 million Australian adults purchased or ordered goods and services for their own private use over the Internet. This was a substantial increase (66%) compared with the previous 12-month period when 803,000 adults used the Internet for this purpose.

In February 1998, the first quarter of the survey on the use of the Internet by householders, roughly one in every eight households (12.6%) had home Internet access. By the November 2000 quarter, home Internet access had increased to one in every three households (37%) and is expected to be one in two by the end of the 2001 year.

Details are in the final edition of Use of the Internet by Householders, Australia, November 2000 (cat. no. 8147.0, $17.50). The November 2000 survey was the final survey to be run on a quarterly basis. The ABS is currently developing an annual survey to collect similar data.



Culture Topics: Chris Giddings on (08) 8237 7326

Sport Topics: Benjamin Smith on (08) 8237 7404

Director: Adriana Vanden Heuvel on (08) 8237 7399

Fax: (08) 8237 7366

National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics
GPO Box 2272

ABS Internet site:

Commonwealth of Australia 2008

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