Sport is not often thought of as an important function of society. Yet, over the course of Ireland’s history, sport has been a political institution and a venue for nationalism. Within its political structure, the practice of both individual and team sport reveals disparities in society. As an integral institution, sport should benefit the whole of the community not only specific groups, but the gaps between gender and income that exist in Ireland are replicated in sport. The nationalistic fervour during team play exposes an increasing problem of racism and xenophobia. Sport in Ireland only furthers inequalities in minority groups, memorializes its tragic history and questions identity in the North. Disparity in Participation
Sociologist Katie Liston claims that, “...sport is unequivocally ‘good for society’ because it fulfils various positive functions, including the development of moral character at the individual and national levels, providing a safe release of aggression and social conflict, and promoting local, regional and international harmony.” By taking a sociological approach to the question of sport, one can see that not everyone has the opportunity to participate. Contrary to what Liston may believe, sport might actually have a negative impact on society because of the inequalities that exist.
While the vast majority of Irish people participate in sport and physical activity, the nature of exercise varies depending on a range of factors: gender and income. From a purely statistical standpoint, one can see that a specific ‘group’ is pre-concieved to participate in a certain sport just because of who they are. By identifying where these gaps lie we can then figure out how to address the problem and find solutions to remedy. One ‘at risk’ group is females: based on 1996 research conducted by the Department of Education and the Health Promotion Unit which found that, “77 per cent of men and 71 per cent of women participated in sports and physical activities.” Although the survey only shows a 6 point difference between men and women, it does not highlight the differences for motivation and the types of sport. Further research has shown that males are more inclicned to participate in sports such as soccer and golf while females prefer walking and aerobics. Based on the statistic alone, “The findings defy the simple explanation that females are simply less interested in sport, since their behaviour as adults is not consistent with this. Instead, the data suggest that the different treatment of young girls opens up a sporting gender gap that never closes.” The gap seems to being in primary school and is exacerbated in secondary school because young girls say that they are not interested in the sports being offered to them. Adolescents tend to be enrolled in ‘high-intensity’ team sports such as soccer, GAA and basketball. But, women cite that they prefer ‘keep-fit’ exercises rather than team sports. This is why a gender disparity exists; there is little to no availability of individual sports that young girls can participate in the early stages of life.
A more compelling ‘at risk’ group are those who are disadvantaged socio-economically. These determinants are such as educational attainment and income. It has been shown that those with higher degrees of education are more likely to play a sport. “Indeed, combining the effects of educational attainment and income, an individual with third-level qualifications who is in the top income quartile (i.e. the richest 25 per cent of the population in terms of household income) is over five times more likely to play sport than an individual of the same age and gender who has only lower secondary qualifications and an income in the bottom quartile (i.e. the poorest 25 per cent).” While children are still in school, they have more opportunities to participate in team sports provided by physical education and extra-curricular activities. Once they enter the workforce other...
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