A study conducted by Virginia Lam at UEL has recently been conducted examining the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and their impacts on notions of national identity, sports participation and knowledge about countries among primary school children in East London.
There is surprisingly little systematic academic research into the link between group identity (including national identity such as Britishness) and sport participation although it has been discussed by numerous scholars. With the London Olympics looming, the sense of national belonging among the British public has likely become heightened. This study investigated Newham children’s and adolescents’ British and ethnic self-identity, knowledge about in-(British) and out-group (foreign) countries, and attitudes towards their people, competitive attitude and sport participation in the year running up to the Games.
Over 400 pupils aged 5-15 years were tested using standardised measures. Results show that strength of British identity declined towards later childhood (from 8-9 years) whereas that of ethnic identity remained relatively stable with age. Knowledge about countries increased with age, while British-born pupils were more knowledgeable about Britain. Pupils’ liking for, and stereotypes of, different nationalities did not differ at age 5-6 years, but diverged from 8-9 years, even though liking for different nationalities converged again at age 14-15, when pupils stereotypes of the groups were most different. Pupils showed increasingly negative stereotypes of the British, but nevertheless preferred them as one of the most liked groups with age.
Both competitiveness and sport participation decreased with age, but the type of activities they played varied as a function of age, gender (e.g., football became vastly more popular than any other sport with age, particularly among boys) and ethnicity (cricket was particularly popular among Asian pupils). Pupils with lower family affluence reported the greatest discrepancies between generic and recent participation, indicating they are afforded fewer opportunities to play sport. Those with a stronger sense of British identity tended to like the British more, but not necessarily also stereotype them more positively nor like foreign groups less. These findings are discussed in the light of follow-up research with the same pupils being planned for the post-Olympic period (autumn 2012).
The preliminary findings (from primary school schools) had been presented as a poster at the UEL Undergraduate Research Internship awards evening in October 2011 (see blog in November 2011). The full study’s initial findings were presented in an invited talk by Virginia at the Centre of Psychiatry, Queen Mary, in April 2012 and have been accepted for oral presentation at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference of Developmental Psychology (Glasgow) in September. The full paper is being submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal, and a non-technical report for participating schools is available here.