The impact of major sporting events on grassroots participation
23 September 2019 • By - Harry Thompson
What a summer of sport we’ve been treated to. The women’s football World Cup, Wimbledon, the netball and cricket World Cup’s, plus The Ashes – to name just a few. But how does anyone gain an interest in playing grassroots sport? Some of the more common themes revolve around participation at school, or being influenced by a parent’s interest in a particular sport. Playing sport at school is certainly a credible influence, yet has its limitations. Clearly, not all schools will be equipped with the facilities or kit to allow for some of the more niche sports, whilst there are natural pressures associated with childhood regarding what sports ‘am I allowed to play’ or what sports ‘should I play’.
Football is the natural example associated with these pressures, which is, worryingly, not simply refined to childhood. Playfinder – the UK’s leading search and booking portal for recreational sport – conducted a study in 2019 that discovered 40% of women aged 16-34 were keen to play football, yet more than half were wary of entering a ‘male dominated’ sport. How can these mindsets be changed? One of the biggest entries to sport for many is witnessing sporting stars on the television, heralded as heroes for their efforts and being credited with ‘inspiring a generation’ to follow suit.
Women’s World Cup
The Women’s World Cup in France this summer was a real breakthrough moment for football in the UK. The frenzy surrounding England’s semi-final run combated any sense of the game being ‘male dominated’ – with England’s crunch World Cup semi-final against the USA being the most watched televised event this year (topping the men’s Wimbledon and Cricket World Cup finals). Ellen White, the tournament’s joint top-scorer, was a national hero – lauded on the back pages of newspapers.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) July 3, 2019
The natural impact emitted on grassroots participation – combined with the tournament being hosted on terrestrial television – is monumental. Playfinder recorded a 9.02% increase in football users in the week following the tournament, with the majority of them being female. The widespread participation from girl’s playing in the back garden, to more girls playing in school is also sure to have risen as a result – with the true impact of the tournament hopefully seen in the years to come.
Cricket World Cup
During an incredible summer of sport that is sure to live long in the memory, we were also lucky enough to witness the most intense and nerve-wracking Cricket World Cup final to date. On reflection, for pure drama alone, the final at Lord’s may have been the crowning moment of the summer. The hosts and tournament favourites looked to be heading out in the group stages, when they were left with the unenviable task of beating New Zealand and India to reach the semi-finals. Needless to say, both were swept aside with the minimal of fuss as England progressed to the semi-finals.
🏏 Summer Reflections…
— Sporting Life (@SportingLife) September 16, 2019
Demolishing old-foes Australia secured their place in the final, where England came up against the Kiwi’s once more. After winning in the group-stage by 115 runs, the final was expected to be as routine. However, the first ever tied final, leading into the first ever ‘super-over’ was the perfect foil for a hero to emerge and inspire a generation of young cricketers. Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer managed just that. A 28.67% increase in cricket users was reported by Playfinder in the week following the World Cup final compared to the week just to the beginning of the tournament. With an encapsulating Ashes series also coming to a close so recently, participation numbers in grassroots cricket will only be heading in the right direction.
Wimbledon is a tournament beloved in the UK, with its natural charm and history making it a special place for players and patrons alike. Even without British star Andy Murray in the men’s singles draw, people turned out in their thousands to witness some of the most decorated players the game has ever seen. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were all involved, and all three secured a semi-final place – with Federer and Djokovic meeting in the final. What followed has to be regarded as one of the greatest ever, but will go down in history regardless.
What a lovely photo from the Wimbledon final, always respect and fair-play between Simo and Serena ❤️ pic.twitter.com/P5vfxNb0px
— SimoReactions (@Simoreactions) September 15, 2019
After five gruelling sets the duo were tied at 12-12, which saw the first ever fifth set tie-break, with the new rule implemented just prior to the tournament. The Serbian eventually ran out winner, securing his 16th Grand Slam in the process. In the women’s draw, Serena Williams powered her way to final but came unstuck against an inspired Simona Halep. Sometimes, in sport, being gracious in defeat and acting as a true role model is enough to inspire someone to take up the game – Williams did just that during her runners up speech. Playfinder reported a huge 60.32% increase in tennis users post SW19, which demonstrates the powerful impact sporting stars have on grassroots participation.
Netball World Cup
To round off the incredible summer of sport, the Netball World Cup held in Liverpool was another booming success. Tracey Neville led the Roses to the semi-final where they eventually succumbed to a narrow 47-45 defeat to eventual winners of the tournament, New Zealand. After going on to capture bronze by defeating South Africa, the nation were both collectively proud of their efforts, whilst also clearly keen to start playing the sport themselves.
“Tracey Neville and the Roses have done the nation proud and they have set a lasting legacy for the sport in the UK.” @PlayfinderUK data shows a 39.47% week-on-week increase in new netball users during the @Vitality_UK Netball World Cup. pic.twitter.com/sVmcVscHov
— Women’s Sport Trust (@WomenSportTrust) July 23, 2019
Playfinder reported a 39.47% week-on-week increase in netball users during July (42.5% overall) following the tournament as players attempted to replicate some of the stars of the roses team, such as Helen Housby and Serena Guthrie. Following the Commonwealth games where England captured gold in dramatic fashion against Australia, the game has gone from strength to strength and continues to do so.
With the Rugby World Cup just getting underway, there is a further opportunity for heroes to emerge, the stars of the game to showcase their craft and inspire an increasing amount of people to take up grassroots sport. It is vital that momentum from these tournaments is grabbed on to, with the initial buzz not left to dwindle away – that’s what Playfinder aim to do.
Looking to take up one of these sports? Perhaps there’s something else you’re keen to play? Browse the 19 sports available through Playfinder here.