Not a playing nation

The theme of the Department of Sport and Recreation's White Paper, ‘Getting the nation to play', is spot on. Getting bums off the seats and onto the sport field is the challenge South Africans face, according to the SASAS survey, concludes Jaré Struwig.

The survey, conducted among 2 907 respondents 16 years and older indicates that only 8% participate on a daily basis in physical activities. This includes low-key physical activities, such as going for a walk, or going to a gymnasium. The vast majority (58%) indicated that they never take part in any form of physical activity, as table 1 illustrates.

When participation in sport is compared other forms of leisure, it is evident that South Africa is a nation of laggards. The favourite leisure time activity of the majority is listening to music, watching TV, DVDs or videos and socialising with friends. And they do this several times a week.

Reading books, getting together with relatives, or shopping for pleasure, are also popular free time activities, ‘practised' several times a month. Physical activities, playing cards, attending sporting events, attending cultural events, handicrafts, spending time on the internet, or going to the movies are less popular and only carried out several times a year, or less.

Table 1: Participation in leisure time activities (%) 

What determines sport participation? Age, gender, race, income and place of residence all play a role. Younger people are more likely to participate in sport than older people, but participation ratios are alarmingly low: the age group of 18 - 34 are three times more likely to participate in sport than the age group 35 - 54, and six times more likely than the age group 55 and older. While mobility is obviously a barrier for many older citizens, this nonetheless does not prevent them from engaging in less intensive but equally benefi cial activities, such as walking. This fi nding supports the notion that sport is for the young and not a philosophy of lifelong healthy living.

Males are three time more likely to participate in sport than women, which fi ts international trends. In this study, only 30% of all women participants indicated that they take part in a sport, compared to 55% of male participants.

Racial segregation still plays a dominant role in sport participation. White South Africans are three times more likely to participate in sport than coloured people, and twice as likely as African and Indian respondents. Of particular concern is that almost three quarters (72%) of coloured respondents indicated that they never participate in any kind of physical activity, however infrequent.

The more affluent also tend to participate in sport more often than those with lower incomes. Surprisingly, it is not the lowest income earners (R0 - R500) that are less likely to participate in physical activity but rather the category of people that earn between R 501 - R3 000 per month. Participation in physical activities seems to increase dramatically once personal income levels exceed R3 001, but drop again for those that earn more than R10 000 per month.

People in urban formal areas are also more likely to participate in sport than people in urban informal areas, tribal, and especially rural areas.

Table 2: People that never participate in sport as compared to those that do participate in sport (%) 

Favoured types of sport

Asked what sport people participate in, seven sport types recorded participation figures of more than 1%.  Soccer is by far the most popular sport that people partake in and undeniably a favourite among South Africa's black majority. Only three percent of the population walked for exercise and this was the only sporting/physical activity that was maintained beyond 55 years. Table 3 shows the type of sport people watch on TV.

 Table 3: Type of sport watched on TV

The value of sport and its role in society was acknowledged by the respondents. About nine out of ten agreed that sport develops children's character; and just over 85% indicated that they thought that sport brings different groups and races in South Africa together, and has a role to play in creating a more racially integrated society.

Despite these positive sentiments, participation levels are low. Why is this the case? Figure 1 gives some indication, namely lack of facilities and a lack of money, particularly in urban informal, rural and tribal areas.

 Figure 1: Barriers to sport participation

So it seems that although most sporting types do require some infrastructure and money, by shifting the emphasis from organised sport that requires fi nancial support, to types of sport that require minimum fi nancial outlay and infrastructure, participation may grow. By focussing on the activity, rather than the facilities or lack thereof, possibilities for participation can be fostered at school level, which is a strong motivator for continued and integrated sport participation.

Jaré Struwig is a chief researcher in Socio-Economic Surveys in the Knowledge Systems unit.