Configurations of values in sport and society

Por: Gunnar Breivik.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Sport has its own values and is at the same time carrier of social values. Sport is supposed to foster loyalty, honesty and fair play among athletes and is supposed to strengthen social values like solidarity, equality and altruism. Some researchers think that sport has been a good model for society, other think sport miorrors society in various ways, whereas still others think sport is always lagging behind, copying older social structures. In this paper I will present an empirical study that tries to find out more precisely how and why sport promotes certain social values and neglects other.


The paper will present data from Norwegian Monitor which is a study of behavior, attitudes and values in the general Norwegian population above 15 years. The study has been conducted every second year since 1985. The last data collection was done in 2001. A representative sample of the population consisting of 4000 persons were interviewed and filled out a questionnaire. The response rate was 75%. Around 60 values and various attitudes and behaviors related to sport are included in the study.


The results of the study show that the two main value axes consist of idealism versus materialism and modern values versus traditional values. In the general population women are more idealistic than men and young people more modern than old people. The typical mass sports, like walking, hiking, cross country skiing, swimming, bicycling, are carriers of modern idealistic values similar to the values of young women. Certain lifestyle sports, some of them upper class, are carriers of modern materialistic values. Here we find sailing, alpine skiing, weight lifting, body building. Team sports like soccer, volleyball, handball and basketball are also carriers of modern materialistic values but there are interesting sex differences. Top level sport is more modern and materialistic than sports participation at lower levels.

Discussion/ Conclusions

The study shows that there a important differences between sports in relation to values. Sports as such does not have a specific set of social values. We see important differences between sports, different types of sport, different performance levels. We find differences between men and women, young and old. Education and income make important contributions to value profiles. The study is a step to a more differentiated picture of the relation between sport and society, based on encompassing empirical data.




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