By Breanna Morrow – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student
2015 has been decreed as the “Year of Sport” in Canada, but for many Canadians this declaration is little more than a meaningless title. Access to sport is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue in our society. A recent finding from the United Kingdom shows that the proportion of people with the lowest levels of income participating in sport has now fallen to its lowest amount since records began over a decade ago.
In Canada, the story does not seem to be all that different. With the increasing costs associated with participation in organized sports, it should come as no surprise that levels of participation have been decreasing in recent years. That being said, the amount of that decline is somewhat staggering; from 1992 to 2005 participation in organized sport dropped from 45% to 28%.
Perhaps the argument could be made that this number is the result of an aging population, however that seems unlikely when a similar drop was also experienced in those aged 15-18, from 77% to 59%. Along with this general downward trend, the least well-off face a pronounced disadvantage; sports participation is least prevalent among children from lower income households.
The lack of participation in sports is particularly concerning given the many beneficial consequences associated with sports. These range from the obvious positive health benefits for participants at the individual level to a great number of benefits for the country as a whole including valuable international relations and economic stimulation. There is an abundance of reasons to encourage sport participation among youth, and the government should be doing more. The fact that many families simply cannot afford to access sports because of their financial situation is unacceptable.
In 2003 the Physical Activity and Sport Act came into force. One of its objectives is to “assist in reducing barriers faced by all Canadians that prevent them from being active”. While this sentiment is exactly what is needed in order to change access to sport, it seems as though it has been less than successful in actual implementation. There have been various government-assisted programs as well as private programs aimed at helping low-income families participate in sports.
For example, Jumpstart funds kids aged four to eighteen, whose families are in financial need, in order to assist with costs associated with registration, equipment, and transportation. Jumpstart is a registered charity that receives funding from a number of sponsors, including the Government of Canada and provincial governments. Some cities also partner with local, individual programs that help with access to recreation for low-income families. These models are excellent starting points that other cities or charities should look to for guidance and try to improve upon when they attempt to break down the barriers. The only issue is that the number of children from low-income families that are involved in sport is still far lower than their better-off counterparts.
Income is just one of many barriers to sport, but it is one that affects a great number of Canadians. Certainly there are many more barriers to be broken down. Gender is another evident area where access is not always as uniform as it should be. Research has shown that when income rises, the participation gap between boys and girls reduces. Gender and income interact such that girls from low-income families are at a distinct and unique disadvantage. If it is possible to make changes to even just one realm, it could have serious favourable consequences for not only young girls but also all Canadians.
The government of Canada and the provinces have taken steps toward increasing the access to sports and removing barriers and while these initial steps are highly commendable, they are not adequate. More needs to be done so that sport shifts from being an activity that solely belongs to a privileged group to an inclusive opportunity available for all Canadians. If the government redoubles their efforts, then 2015 could truly be the Year of Sport.