Fact, fallacy or simply wishful thinking?

Barry Gordon Victoria University Wellington

Barry Gordon

Lecturer in Health and Physical Education

Victoria University of Wellington


Sport has traditionally been presented as a positive force in society, a means to integrate diverse fractions, to generate peace and of developing “good character”.

How true then are the claims that sport acts as a catalyst for moral development and has the ability to turn around people’s lives? There is little doubt that sport has been successful in many occasions in guiding participants towards better futures. What is also clear, however, is that participation in sport does not automatically lead to positive outcomes or that when positive experiences do occur in sport they are necessarily transferred to other area of the participant’s lives

The veracity of the belief that sport is good for participants was examined by Clarke (2012) who interviewed young men incarcerated in New Zealand prisons. She suggested that their experiences of rugby and rugby league had led to the boys being dehumanised and more willing to be involved in physical acts against others out in society. That sport participation was an active ingredient in the mix that led these young men into incarceration is sobering to contemplate. Her thesis titled “Stepping off the court and into court” directly challenges the narrative that participation in sport is a good thing and warns of the potential for negative socialisation occurring through sporting involvement.

The degree to which sport actually achieves positive socialisation is impossible to identify. It largely depends on what occurs in the name of sport and how participants experience the process. What does appear clear is that sports status is such that it often remains unexamined and unchallenged in its goodness. As a consequence, the degree which sport can be a positive force for good in society is reduced and unintended harm can occur.

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