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The contribution of sport to democracy and public participation

In 2015 the Swedish Research Council for Sport Science was commissioned by the government to examine the ways organized sport foster democratic values and inclusion among Swedish inhabitants. To what extent do members participate in sports clubs’ democratic processes, and to what extent does membership in sports clubs affect knowledge of, and support for, democratic values in society?

The analysis of the Swedish Research Council for Sport Science showed both opportunities and limitations in the sports movement’s contribution to democracy and inclusion in Swedish sport. On the one hand, a questionnaire issued to local sports clubs indicates that participation in a club’s democratic processes can result in valuable knowledge of how democracy works in practice, within non-profit organizations.

On the other hand, only a small proportion of members are involved. Thus, the sports movement’s potential to foster democratic values is limited, being strongly linked to the relatively few members that choose to get involved. The study also showed that the cores of the boards of local clubs are made up of middle-aged men with earlier experience of voluntary work.

The conclusion is that the composition of club boards reflects neither the clubs’ own membership nor the characteristics of the wider community with regard to, for example, age, gender and levels of education.