22/1-2024Street Sports Can Alleviate Social Inequality in Sports

Street sports have intrinsic value in fostering physically active communities with a strong youth culture centered around self-organization and autonomy. A recent study now suggests that street sports can also contribute to mitigating social disparities in sports by attracting groups underrepresented in traditional club sports, namely individuals with minority ethnic backgrounds, those with lower education levels, and women. The study further highlights significant variations in the demographics of participants across different types of street sports.

This is the first time that a Danish or international study has encompassed such a wide range of street sports disciplines and such a large sample size,” says Signe Højbjerre Larsen, one of the researchers involved in the study, along with her colleagues Zakarias Engell and Karsten Elmose-Østerlund from University of Southern Denmark (SDU).

With the study, we can, for example, investigate how many and who engage in individual activities in a specific municipality,” says Signe Højbjerre Larsen.

For GAME, research and new knowledge about street sports is important.

We already know from previous studies quite a bit about how street sports concretely lower the threshold for participation in active communities. With this study, we gain a better understanding of who actually populates street sports. It is crucial to ensure the right conditions to support more self-organized communities and involve more people in positive communities,” says Rasmus Hansen, the leader of the GAME program MEREGADE. Together with local youths, they aim to develop seven innovative facilities for street sports and street culture.

The findings of the study reveal patterns in street sports concerning participants’ education, ethnic background, age, gender, and previous physical activity.

The study indicates a direct correlation between shorter educations and higher likelihood of participating in street sports. This contrasts with the conventional pattern in sports participation, where higher education correlates with increased involvement. The absence of membership fees, low barriers to entry, and the non-traditional, non-competitive nature of street sports could explain why individuals with shorter educational backgrounds are more inclined to engage in street sports.
This pattern aligns with GAME’s experiences, emphasizing street sports’ potential to reach groups at risk of exclusion from mainstream sports communities.

Minority Ethnic Background
The probability of participating in street sports significantly rises for individuals with a non-Danish ethnic background. This stands in contrast to club sports, where non-Danish ethnic groups participate less frequently than their Danish ethnic counterparts. Certain activities, such as callisthenics/street fitness, street dance, BMX/scooter riding, and street basketball/soccer/panna, demonstrate up to a fourfold higher likelihood of participation for individuals with minority ethnic backgrounds compared to ethnic Danes. Western immigrants also exhibit higher participation rates in skateboarding, parkour, and rollerblading.

The authors suggest that the origins of some street sports as subcultures among ethnic minorities may explain the heightened attraction for these groups.

The likelihood of engaging in street sports decreases with age, nearly halving from ages 15-17 to 18-20. Most street sports attract participants aged 15-24, with exceptions like scooter/BMX and rollerblading, where a substantial number of practitioners are over 35. The age distribution indicates street sports’ potential to appeal to the youth, serving as a counterbalance to contemporary well-being issues among young people.

Overall, there are slightly more female participants in street sports than males (51.5% versus 48.5%). However, female participation is concentrated in specific disciplines, notably street dance and rollerblading. Conversely, many other street sports exhibit a male overrepresentation. The researchers speculate that traditional perceptions of femininity, associated with grace and non-aggressiveness, might influence gender distribution in these sports.
The study does not suggest that street sports, in general, find it easier to include girls and women beyond these two disciplines. The emergence of girls-only or queer groups within sports like skateboarding and parkour reflects the need for inclusive spaces for these individuals.

Street sports are not limited to urban areas. While street dance, skateboarding, and street basketball/soccer/panna show increased likelihoods of participation with higher population density, this trend does not hold for other activity types. The researchers emphasize that street sports can be a relevant and accessible tool for policymakers and administrations outside major cities.

Webinar on Street Sports
On March 7, the researchers, along with GAME and Nordea-fonden, will host a webinar on street sports. The focus will be on leveraging this newfound knowledge to better understand street sports and their participants, as well as to increase involvement in active communities. Keep an eye out for invitations on GAME’s LinkedIn profile.