Poverty and Sport Participation

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John Rockefeller, America’s first billionaire, was once asked by a reporter how much money was enough. His response: “Just a little bit more.”

While few people, if any, will ever accumulate wealth to rival that of Rockefeller’s, there is an increasing number of people on the other end of the financial spectrum.

According to the US Census Bureau, 13.5 percent of Americans live in poverty. One in five children age 18 or younger live in poverty, and that rate decreases as one ages.

While poverty is frequently thought of in terms of money earned, there are other aspects of it, too. These include the social power one possesses, and the activities to which one has access. For many people living in poverty, sport is one of those activities.

Recognizing this, Hanne Vandermeerschen and Jereon Scheerder from the University of Leuven in Belgium, investigated how sport managers seek to include people living in poverty. They interviewed managers from a variety of organizations, including those in small and large cities.

They found that, for most of the managers, attracting people who lived in poverty to their sport clubs was not a consideration. Others recognized the importance of a Sport for All approach, and provided financial discounts.

It was just a small group of managers—1 in 5—that adopted a comprehensive approach to ensuring sport was accessible for all persons. This meant partnering with other social entities to better identify and understand the needs of people living in poverty; setting set up incentives to clubs that included a diverse clientele; and offering financial discounts to make sport more accessible. The authors suggested that, given the host of benefits associated with sport participation, more comprehensive approaches are needed.