Sociology of sports

Social Justice and Inequities in Sport and Physical Activity in Times of Uncertainty (session 1 of 2)

June 29, 2021 10:45
June 29, 2021 12:15

Siegfried Nagel, University of Bern; Monica Aceti, University of Basel and Fribourg; Markus Lamprecht, Lamprecht und Stamm Sozialforschung und Beratung


Steiger, Alexander¹, Mumenthaler, Fabian¹⁻², Siegfried, Nagel¹

¹University of Bern, Institute of Sport Science; ²Univeristy of Teacher Education Bern, Institute of Special Education

Matthias Buser¹, Sarah Piller¹ & Siegfried Nagel¹

¹Institute of Sport Science, University of Bern, Switzerland

Rod Carveth, Morgan State University

Regular sport as a meaningful leisure-time activity can play an important role in health promotion, social integration and education for modern societies. Sport sociology has long been concerned with social inequality and the opportunities for and accessibility to sport and physical activity. Although campaigns such as “sports for all” and the increasing interest in health sport have broadened participation rates for certain population groups, e.g. women and the elderly, there are still inequities when it comes to participation in regular sport activities. Some social groups are underrepresented, particularly within club sport, including people with low education and income, people with disabilities or migration background (for current figures see Lamprecht, Bürgi & Stamm, 2020). The current health pandemic and economic uncertainties may impact on the wider access and practice of sport and physical activity. To understand and analyse this impact and the broader concerns of social justice in sport and physical activity, we encourage the submission of papers on the following issues and topics:

  • Theoretical concepts and critical reflections on inequities in sport as well as approaches to reduce and hinder such phenomena (e.g. diversity management);
  • Empirical studies that examine participation and/or successful social integration in sport, in particular within organised sport (e.g. clubs, fitness centres), and those that have specific focus on certain target groups (e.g. women, people with low income / migration background / handicap), or consider relevant social, organisational and structural factors; 
  • Longitudinal as well as lifelong development of participation in sport and physical activity;
  • Case studies that analyse and evaluate programs and initiatives to promote the equal participation of certain target groups (see above) in sport and physical activity;
  • Analyses of the effects of the health crisis on sport and its adaptation in associations, schools, firms, etc.;
  • Case studies on adherence to sport or physical activity in semi-confinement situations: activity rate, barriers and resources to practice, adaptation to online sports, fitness or well-being offers, etc.;
  • Prospective reflections on the sustainability of sports organization and the emergence of new physical and sport practices or lifestyle (home office and “healthy-sporty” smart jobs) to better cope with the COVID context.

Friendships in Integrative Settings: A Network Comparison in School and Organised Sport 

Steiger Alexander¹, Mumenthaler Fabian¹ (Univeristy of Teacher Education Bern, Institute of Special Education), Siegfried Nagel¹
¹University of Bern, Institute of Sport Science

Organised sport is considered to have high potential for promoting social participation of people with disabilities. In organised sport, informal networks can be formed, which contribute to social participation in and beyond sport. However, social participation in integrative settings does not happen just like that. Research efforts in schools show that children with special needs struggle to participate socially. In particular, children with intellectual disabilities have difficulty building a social network in integrative school settings. Apart from single case studies, there is a lack of empirical studies examining social participation in integrative organised sport. Based on the findings from school research, it can be assumed that children with intellectual disabilities also find it difficult to establish friendships in organised sport. However, it is important to keep in mind that school and organised (leisure) sport have different prerequisites, e.g. (in-)voluntary participation. Therefore, it is necessary to shed light on features of the settings that can be relevant factors for friendships. Against this background, the following questions arise: How are friendship networks determined by actor attributes (e.g. sports performance, intellectual disability), under the control of network structures? Do differences exist in this regard between the settings school and organised sport? What role does the factor of intellectual disability play in particular?


This empirical study is part of a Swiss National Science Foundation project. Using friendship peer nominations, the social networks of children with an intellectual disability (n = 25) and their peers are surveyed in integrative schools (n of peers = 416) and in integrative organised sport (n of peers = 306). Data is analysed by means of social network analysis using exponential random graph models, a statistic modelling technique, that takes into account endogenous and exogenous dependencies of a network. The comparative analysis includes a total of 24 school classes and 24 sport groups.


Results show similarities as well as differences in friendship networks in integrative school classes and integrative sport groups. When controlling for all variables, intellectual disability remains a significant predictor in school for lower incoming friendship nominations, whereas in organised sport it is not the case. Having the same gender is an important factor for friendship networks in school classes as well as in mixed-gender sport groups in organised sport, but gender homophily is less pronounced in the latter setting. In contrast to school, language spoken at home is not a relevant factor for friendship nominations in organised sport. In both settings, children with a higher athletic performance receive more friendship nominations. However, performance level is not a significant predictor for forming friendship groups.

This innovative study enables an analysis of different factors of social participation in integrative settings in school and organised sport. Reasons for and implications of the differences and similarities in both settings will be discussed at the conference.

Keywords: social participation, intellectual disability, children, friendship networks, leisure sport 

The role of team structures for social integration of people with migration background in Swiss football clubs

Matthias Buser¹, Sarah Piller¹ & Siegfried Nagel¹
¹Institute of Sport Science, University of Bern, Switzerland

In sport policy debates, sport clubs are often considered an ideal setting for social integration of natives and people with migration background (PMB). In Switzerland, one out of four residents is active in a sport club. Especially football clubs have been successful in including people with different ethnic backgrounds. However, empirical studies also point to exclusionary practices and ethnic conflicts in sport clubs. Here, it can be assumed that besides individual characteristics of the members, social structures of the clubs are relevant to prevent social exclusion and promote social integration. 

Quantitative studies have built on this by examining individual characteristics of the members and social structures of the clubs together. However, most athletes in sport clubs are organized in teams, especially in team sports like football. Teams can be understood as close social groups with face-to-face contact that often goes beyond goals and functions. Teams and their social structures (e.g.  team goals, team culture) are therefore expected to have decisive influence on the social environment of club members. The question then arises to what extent teams are relevant and which social structures of the teams play a role for social integration of club members. According to Adler Zwahlen et al. (2018), social integration is conceptualised through the dimensions of interaction, identification, culturation and placement.

Our research is based on the multi-level approach to analyse relevant factors on the team level. The data include 1567 club members (Mage= 25.0 years; ♀: 14.0 %; PMB: 47.2%), nested in 145 teams and 42 Swiss football clubs. Natives and PMB in first or second migration generation, on average, experience a relatively high social integration. 

Analysis of intraclass correlation coefficients in multilevel models show a high relevance of the team level (ICCTeam = 12% - 13%) for the social integration in the dimension identification (emotional bonding with the club) and placement (central positioning in the club). First analyses show that characteristics of the teams, such as implementing regular team events, a lower competition level, or a relaxed social climate play an important role for the social integration of all members. Characteristics of the coach seem to be important as well, e.g. the coach’s satisfaction with the coaching job. For the migration background of the coach, interesting differences between natives and PMB occur: Natives experience higher placement with a native coach, while PMB do with a coach with a migration background. Similar differences in the dimension identification are also visible for a pluralistic integration culture in the teams. 

Keywords: social integration, migration background, sports clubs, football clubs, football teams

Reference: Adler Zwahlen, Jenny; Nagel, Siegfried; Schlesinger, Torsten (2018): Analyzing social integration of young immigrants in sports clubs. In: European Journal for Sport and Society 15 (1), S. 22–42.

Shut Up and Dribble? : China versus the NBA

Rod Carveth, Morgan State University

Prior to 2019, the National Basketball Association had been developing a significant fan base in China, including playing preseason exhibition games in China. In June 2019, citizens of Hong Kong started taking to the streets to protest a proposed fugitive extradition treaty and the jailing of political protestors. The protests have continued since June.

On October 4, 2019, Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, posted a tweet in support of the Hong Kong protestors. The Chinese Basketball Association suspended its support of the Rockets, and China Central Television cancelled its broadcast of NBA preseason games. NBA commissioner Adam Silver initially provided an ambiguous statement about the issue before coming back and issuing a statement of support for freedom of speech. Other usually outspoken NBA figures, such as Golden State Warrior coach Steve Kerr and Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James either refused to discuss the issue, or suggested the issue was too complex to talk about.

This issue raises an important issue about the role of multinational corporations in discussing the politics of nations in which they do business. This applies in even more visibly in U.S. professional sports, where, not only do the leagues tend to operate in only one national market, but where many critics suggest that players "shut up and dribble" when it comes to political issues. Many conservative politicians (including U.S. president Donald Trump) and media pundits, many of whom are national populists, had previously been relatively quiet about Hong Kong and also critical of professional athletes who speak out about domestic political issues, attacked NBA figures such as Kerr and James for their positions on the controversy. In other words, these critics seem to suggest that coaches and players should comment on issues in other countries, but "shut up and dribble" in domestic ones. The controversy has threatened the relationship between the NBA and China, as China sponsors have canceled their relationship with the NBA. As the NBA may be turning to Africa and India for international growth, understanding what to say about other countries' internal politics.

This paper examines the communication strategy of the NBA in attempting to manage the crisis. The paper argues that slow and muddled responses from the NBA, as well as sociocultural influences within the U.S. – such as the rise of the social justice movement – seriously harmed the relationship between the NBA and China, one that will likely take years to repair.