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Sport & Belonging

What is belonging?


Simply put, belonging is being part of a collective we. It’s about how much we believe we fit in a group or place – and how much that place or group welcomes or includes us.

Our 2015 Vital Signs report explores how a greater sense of belonging has an extraordinary capacity to transform our lives and our communities. Yet our research found that 38% of Canadians don’t feel like they have a stake in their local community. So we asked: How can we strengthen our sense of belonging to each other and to our communities?

One of those ways is through sport.

Why Sport?

85% of Canadians agree that participation in sport builds stronger communities.

More than half of all Canadians are involved in community-level sport as participants, spectators, volunteers, coaches or officials. And while we experience the benefits of sport most immediately as individuals, it can also play a major role in strengthening communities by bringing people together, building social capital and fostering greater inclusion of excluded groups.

Produced in partnership with the True Sport Foundation, this Vital Signs report takes a closer look at how sport – when grounded in fairness, excellence, inclusion and fun – can strengthen belonging to each other and to our communities.



Vital Signs & True Sport Foundation

State of Play

Participant vs. Spectator

Participation in decline

In 2010, almost 15 million people, representing 52% of the population ages 12 and older, were involved in leisure time physical activity – a slight increase from 2006. However, we’re seeing a seismic shift from people playing to watching amateur sport – with 40% of people choosing the sidelines in 2010.

While 75% children and youth are active in sport, participation peaks between the ages of 10-13 and then declines dramatically with age.

In 2010, 7.2 million Canadians aged 15+ participated regularly in sport – down 17% since 1992.

In other words: 7 in 10 Canadians DO NOT participate regularly in sport.

Sport has a unique power to attract, mobilize and inspire. By its very nature, sport is about participation. It is about inclusion and citizenship.

– UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace
Adults Regularly Participating in Sport

A growing gender gap

In 2010, approximately one in three men and one in six women regularly participated in sport.

When mothers participate in sport in any way, their children’s participation rate is much higher (71%) than that of children whose mothers do not (29%).

Women across all income, education levels and ethnicities are far less likely to participate in sport then men.

We Need a Game Plan

Ottawa Race Weekend

Make sport more inclusive

The True Sport Foundation reminds us that sport is never neutral – it has the potential to provide a positive effect just as much as a negative outcome. From administrators, coaches, parents, officials, volunteers, fans and funders, everyone must be intentional about promoting the ability of sport to foster belonging and not leave it to chance.

How can we engage participants in decision-making and tailor activities to their needs and goals?

How can we ensure that community sport programs are fully accessible and increase participation among youth, women, newcomers, people with disabilities and other marginalized groups?

Make sport more affordable

Cost is a significant barrier for many of us to reap the benefits of participating in sport. 90% of parents agree that organized sport is too expensive.

Canadian families spend an average of $953 annually for one child to play in organized sport with families in Alberta spending the most ($1,428 annually/child) and families in Quebec spending the least ($886 annually/child).

How can we make access to sport programs simple and dignified for low-income families?

How can we leverage the potential of major sport events like the Pan-Am and Olympic Games to build a lasting legacy in local communities? 

Sport Spending
Girls Team

Make sport more fun

To retain our players and to bring people back to sport, we all need to feel like we belong when we play. When the most important factors in sport drop-out rates include lack of fun, stress, too much competition and negative coach or parental behaviour, it’s time we all revisit the values of sport.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Canadians say that children’s sport has become too focused on winning at the expense of fun and fair play, yet 97% of us rank relaxation and fun as important benefits of sport participation.

How do we make sport fun again, across all ages?


It's game time

It is hard to imagine a thriving community without sport. Its benefits to increase our sense of belonging and opportunities to engage in our communities are numerous. For volunteers, athletes, coaches, families and fans, sport can be a place of strong connection and acceptance.

It is harder still to imagine that while sport has the power to do all of these things, many of us are still sitting on the sidelines. As our research shows, several factors influence the declining rates of participation and it's clear that there are many barriers in our way to maximizing all that sport has to offer.

So what will it take for us to harness the full and true potential of sport – to make it more accessible, more inclusive and more fun? How will we use sport to help build communities where we all feel like we belong?

Check out our companion ‘how to’ guide for community foundations and grant-makers featuring resources and ideas to help you activate the power of sport in your community.

Read the full report