Football participation legacy and the World Cup

Dr Stephen Frawley

Posted: July 15, 2014

Over the past few decades there has been a great deal of speculation on the impact that major sport events have on generating sport participation either for host cities or host nations and/or for competing nations. While social benefits, such as increased physical activity and the playing of sport, are often central planks in the bidding platforms of cities and nations who seek to host either the Olympic Games or the Football World Cup, it is surprising that very little empirical data has been collected and examined to determine how sport participation changes as a result of the staging of these large scale events.

Some research has been conducted over the past 15 years however, namely by the Australian Centre for Olympic Studies at the UTS Business School in Sydney. Studies have been conducted looking at the sport participation legacy to emerge from the hosting of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and Australia’s qualification for the 2006 Football World Cup. It is important to note that these studies do not set out show a causal relationship between the hosting (or participation) in an event and changes in sport participation, as there are a multitude of variables that never can be fully accounted for, rather the research has sought to examine and explain the changes in participation trends over time. Using registration data collected from national and state sport federations and sport survey data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Sport Commission and in-depth interviews with more than 50 senior sport officials the results of the research have been published in international journals and books. A brief summary of the key findings to emerge include:

– Sport participation overall did not change in Australia as a result of hosting the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games or the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. However, for some sports there was a decline in participation while for others participation did increase (Veal, Toohey & Frawley, 2012). The bright spots in sport participation were often found at the junior level in sports such as Gymnastics and Fencing. However a range of factors such as innovative strategy, volunteer and coach recruitment, and sport development programs were noted as factors in association with the media exposure generated by the Olympic Games, in particular (Frawley, Toohey & Veal, 2013).

– Rugby participation did increase after the hosting of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The biggest change was also found at the junior level. For the first year after the event junior rugby registrations increased 20%, while over the period 2000 to 2008 registrations increased 68%, for the same category (Frawley & Cush, 2011). Importantly though, in additon to the media exposure generated by this event the extensive junior development program that was established by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in late 1990s was regarded by senior ARU officials as having a significant impact on rugby registrations.

– Football registrations did increase after Australia’s qualification for the 2006 Football World Cup. Between 2003 and 2009, football participation for males and females aged 15 and above increased by 31%. For the first football season post 2006 World Cup qualification, for this category, participation increased 10%. Between 2003 and 2009, for males aged 15 and above, football participation increased 34% (Frawley & Van den Hoven, 2014). For junior footballers aged between 5 and 14 years, however, the growth in participation was much more modest. Between 2003 and 2009, football participation for boys and girls (5-14 years) increased by just 1.3%.

– When considering the changes in football participation in Australia over the past decade it is important to recognize the major reforms that have taken place including the significant governance reform, the establishment of two elite competitions, the A-League for men and the W-League for women, major changes to grassroots development programs and junior pathways.

In summary, the hosting of international sport events in Australia over the past 15 years have had a mixed impact on sport participation. What is clear is that the Australian Rugby Union were the most effective in leveraging the 2003 Rugby World Cup when promoting the playing of the sport, especially for juniors. Football has also benefitted from Australia’s participation in the World Cup since 2006. Importantly, the 2006 event ended a 32 year absence from the event for the Socceroos. Participation in the World Cup whilst an important factor has been one of many changes that have had resulted in a major resurgence for Australian football.

About Dr Stephen Frawley

Stephen Frawley is Director, Australian Centre for the Olympic Studies, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney. From 1998 to 2001, Stephen worked in the Sport Division for the organising committee for the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Since then Stephen has published more than 30 publications including journal articles and book chapters. He is the editor, along with Associate Professor Daryl Adair, of Managing the Olympics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and the soon to be released, Managing the Football World Cup (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).