Despite the Australian Sports Council (ASC) identifying objectives to develop both elite level sport and mass participation, it would appear that Australia have created an environment which prioritises the development of elite athletes (Green and Collins, 2008). Magdalinski (2000) forwards the notion that developments in the structure of elite sport signalled a shift in governmental interest. Green and Collins (2008) have labelled Australia’s increased emergence of systematic planning and funding into elite level sport as the “scientific approach” to success. Despite calls to reconsider such emphasis on elite development over the past three decades, Australia have remained focused on attaining a high national standing in elite sports performance (Commonwealth of Australia, 1999; Stewart et al., 2004).
Comparatively, Green and Collins (2008) have labelled Finland’s approach to elite level sport as the “hand-off approach”. Whilst Finland have provided some levels of focus to “traditionally competitive sports”, they have typically prioritised programmes which encourage mass participation (Compass, 1999). The countries decision to incorporate sport into social policy, perhaps best highlights the countries intention to use sport as method of developing welfare opposed to national success (Green and Collins, 2008). In the emergence of the welfare state, an environment has been developed in which it is favourable to instil values of a “sport for all” mentality (Green and Collins, 2008). With exception to the focus which is given to some of the “traditionally competitive sports”, it would appear much of Finland are supportive of the current regime (Green and Collins, 2008).
When considering the agenda for elite sport and mass participation in the UK, it has demonstrated less continuity and clarity than that of Finland and Australia (Green, 2006). Most notably, sport policy in the UK shifted from a “sport for all” focus, to a twin target regime highlighting “active citizenship” and a “no compromise” approach to national success (Green, 2006). “Active citizenship” was seen as a new approach to social welfare, providing focus on children and young adults (Green, 2006). The “no compromise” approach in elite sport, was another new method which aimed to increase provision over sporting objectives (Green and Houlihan, 2004).
Continuing with the “stages model”, the legitimatisation of the immediate agendas were further explored. Legitimisation can be further understood as the practice of justifying a course of action (Green, 2006).
The cross-party support for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), has been said to have developed so parties could gather political capital, after consecutively poor performances in the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games (Green and Houlihan, 2005). The public outcry for improved sports performance on the elite level appears to have provided a platform, from which parties appeared to build parts of their campaigns around (Green and Houlihan, 2005). However, a continued prioritisation of elite sport appears to have had reduced levels of support; for example, stakeholders have suggested continued prioritisation of elite sport has resulted in a starvation of resources at the non-elite level (Commonwealth of Australia, 1999). Stewart et al. (2004) suggests, despite changing opinion on elite prioritisation, Australia have become so caught up in being a successful sporting nation that developing a new agenda is proving difficult. Furthermore, Evans (2005) explains when a policy has been in place for an extended period of time a county can inhibit path dependency, regardless of superior policy options.
In light of raising levels of obesity and declining levels of physical activity amongst large portions of the world, Finnish sports policies have continued to promote the potential health benefits of regular sports participation (Vuori et al., 2004). In supporting mass participation, an argument can be posed which suggests such policies help support public health. Beyond the physical benefits associated of regular physical activity, sports participation has been associated with the ability to have positive effects on other areas such as; social inclusion, community development, education and more (Houlihan, 1997). Incorporating participation into Finnish culture has been highlighted as part of a modernisation process which is being implemented to develop welfare (Heikkala et al., 2003). Regardless of generalised concerns about rising obesity and physical inactivity, the political cost of retrenchment from support for elite development is simply too great for elite focused countries (such as Australia) to consider (Stewart et al., 2004).
The doping scandal of 2001, appeared to further reinforce the path of providing extensive sporting opportunities opposed to elite sports performance in Finland (Collins and Green, 2008). The Finnish Sports Federation released the following statement;
“No one dares talk about more investment in elite sport, it`s not really a good thing today to talk about elite sport because there are too many problems with doping and cheating…” (Interview: 9th March, 2006).
Pierson (2000) suggests that this statement highlights governmental use of conforming information to support a particular pathway, which is important as it can be considered a crucial part of the legitimisation process. As policy-makers strengthen arguments to support their predisposed pathways, the process of inventing, developing and fine-tuning a course of action to achieve more relevant body of policy becomes less likely (Dryzek, 1983).
Whilst the multi-dimensional focus adopted in the UK provides relative focus to “active citizenship”, when investigated, NGBs identified that elite focused policy initiatives take priority (Green and Houlihan, 2004). Furthermore, it is suggested elite prioritisation will continue to take priority, as a result of shared values and beliefs within the system (Green, 2003). Growing levels of overweight and obese young people are considered as one of the most serious ‘public health challenges of the new century’ (DoH, 2002: 3). Considering the associated health risks of the “obesity crisis”, it seems unjustified to continue to prioritise elite sport whilst such risks are apparent. However, Esping-Anderson (1990) suggests that the socio-economic and cultural foundations of a country will shape a country regardless of alternative challenges. Due to elite focused mentalities which reside in Australia and the UK, it could prove difficult to promote health focused initiatives (Hoye & Nicholson, 2009). Green and Collins (2008) propose elite prioritisation would seem more rationale if done through a strong commitment to mass participation, however as the return on this method is uncertain it is unlikely to be considered.
Continuing with the “stages model”, the different methods of policy implementation were further considered. Policy implementation can be further understood as the process whereby predisposed policy planning is put into action (Van Meter and Van Horn, 1975).
In terms of implementation in Australia, and more recently in the UK, there is a clear demonstration of structure and provision across elite sport (Green and Collins, 2008; Green, 2006). In the development of such structure, a strict emphasis has been placed on success, replicating earlier systems seen in China and East Germany (Green, 2007). Hoberman (1992) proposes, implementing these structures helps create a cross-bodied understanding with regards to the importance of sporting success.
A country`s values to some extent can be demonstrated by the way in which they invest their money (Moore and Starr, 2006). Green and Collins (2008) observe approximately 95% of Australia’s total NSO grant is distributed into elite sport, which that indicates despite increasing efforts to encourage a regime which better accounts for mass participation, this is yet to occur (ASC, 2007). It is also apparent that both Conservative and Labour governments in the UK have promoted, legitimised, and implemented systems which financially prioritise elite sport (Green, 2006). Comparatively, in recent years Finland have only delegated between 6%-8% of available funding directly into elite sport, demonstrating their “sport for all” mentality (Green and Collin, 2008).
Previous research proposes regardless of developments in policy planning, developing actual policy implementation can be difficult because of certain self-reinforced values which are in the system (Howlett and Cashore, 2009). This is demonstrated perhaps most prominently by Australia; despite multiple streams calling for a redistribution of prioritisation, values which are embedded within the system have only resulted in continued prioritisation of elite sport.
Continuing with the “stages model” an evaluation of the various countries took place. An evaluation can be further understood as a process whereby something is deemed to be effective or not (Lucas, 1976). In order to determine the effectiveness of the following policies, this essay draws on, sporting statistics, participation rates and obesity levels; this is because these factors are often considered powerful political drivers (Green and Collins, 2008).
In the 2012 Olympic Games, Great Britain exceeded their target of 5th and finished 3rd place in the overall medal count, their best finishing place to date (BBC, 2012a). Australia, who also spent a significant amount on elite sport finished in 10th, achieving 12 gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze medals (Australia Olympic Committee, no date). In far contrast, Finland, finished in 60th place collecting a total of 3 medals, 1 silver and 2 bronze (BBC, 2012b).
In undertaking a comparison of the countries participation rates, Finland are shown to be the most active of the three, 34% of adults aged 16-65 and 20% of 65+ meet recommended levels established by the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2013). In addition, 24% of the population attain the ‘sufficient’ category of physical activity, bringing the total to 78% overall. Whilst the UK spent the least amount of the three, 67% of males, and 55% of females are meeting the standard requirements (British Heart Foundation, 2015). This is in stark contrast to Australia, where 60% of the adult population admit to less than 30 minutes of exercise or less per day (Australian Government, 2013). Furthermore, “disadvantaged populations” within Australia demonstrated particularly low activity levels (Australian Government, 2013).
When considering international obesity levels (as based on BMI) Australia demonstrate the highest levels at 63% (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2016). In contrast, obesity levels in the UK are shown to measure 24.9% and Finland 15.9% (NHS, 2016; OECD, 2014).
Green and Collin (2008) conducted research, which compared the sports policies in place in Australia and Finland. Furthermore, this research found that regardless of governmental recognition of increasing obesity rates and increased physical inactivity, countries which prioritised elite level sport, would continue to do so as a result of the self-retained values within that country (Evans, 2005). In undertaking a comparison of Australia, Finland and the UK, this essay is able to add, modern twin approach systems; such as that adopted in the UK, can work with relative effect as demonstrated by the statistics above. The UK was able to develop their elite sport system, whilst maintaining levels of physical activity levels greater than those seen in Australia. However, it should be noted that this analysis does not consider wider issues which may have substantial effects on measures such as physical activity (Bauman et al., 2012).
The final part of the “stages model” is labelled maintenance and termination, this stage involves a decision based upon the evaluation of whether a policy should be maintained or terminated (Weible et al., 2011).
Each policy evaluated within this text demonstrates various limitations, from this it can be established that sports policy is a universal issue. In undertaking a rationalist’s perspective the multi-focus approach adopted by the UK seems the best way to approach policy-making (Lacey, 1986). However, it is clear from the policies currently in place within in the UK that they will need to be developed.
In using the “stages model” for this comparative analysis it provided an infrastructure which has guided a more rounded evaluation of the policy process. This helps draw attention to a range of aspects which otherwise could have been missed (Houlihan, 2005). In using this infrastructure, this text has been able to analyse policy as a series of actions which ultimately have led to a policy being put in place (Heywood, 2007). In taking this approach, it has helped provide a more central understanding of how current policies in Australia, Finland and the UK have been developed, providing the basis for this comparison (Houlihan, 2005).
Whilst the “stages model” worked with relative levels of effect, there are apparent limitations to its use. Primarily, Houlihan (2005), proposes that this model provides insufficient focus on the physical production and impact, of policy once it is in place. It could be argued that if analysis fails to capture details on the production and application of policy, then its value is limited due to its inability to aid future practice. More generally, this model has been critiqued for its simplicity. Sabatier (1999), suggests that it is unrealistic to assume that policy-making occurs in fluent cycles. Additionally, John (1998) explains that policy-making is an inherently messy process, which involves going back and forth between stages. The “stages model” is also criticised for its inability to acknowledge the weighting of a decision, consequently it assumes all policies are considered with the same depth (Sabatier, 1999).
Whilst the “stages model” appears to be very heavily critiqued, Cairney (2013) proposes that other models are also limited in their individual use. Furthermore, it is suggested that a combination of these theories would provide a more established means of undertaking a comparative policy analysis (Cairney, 2012; Ostrom, 1999). This is important, as when considering the general value of comparative policy analysis, this example may have adopted a structure which does not demonstrate its true potential (Cairney, 2013).
The overarching purpose of this text was to help determine the value of comparative policy analysis within the context of sport. De Knop et al. (1996) explains, knowledge can be developed through direct comparison, in following this notion it could be suggested as countries compare and contrast their polices effective practice is more likely to be established. On this occasion it has been identified that Australia perform well within elite sport and Finland are capable of encouraging high levels of participation, it could be suggested a hybrid design of these policies could produce a system capable of high participation rates and elite achievement. Furthermore, comparative policy analysis can lead to the development of completely new insights. These can be considered important to the overall development of international policy (De Knop et al., 1996). In a conclusive statement, the value of comparative policy analysis can be seen in its ability to draw cross-national perspectives which are capable of developing universal concept which can be beneficial to human societies (Gibbs, Kraemer, and Dedrick, 2003).
This essay has shown different comparative analyses of Finland, Australia and the UK in relation to different sports culture, provision and organisational structure. It has demonstrated Australia’s commitment to elite sport policy, whilst Finland opted for policy relating to mass participation. The UK has attempted a twin approach, with data showing that it leans towards elite sports policy. It could be suggested Australia and the UK opt for political capital over health. This has shown through the rising levels of obesity and inactivity. It was also noted how there was recognition of change needed but implementation of these changes would come at political cost. However, research from Finland showed although the focus was on mass participation, elite performance may have been important too as the ‘doping scandal’ of 2001 proved. Australia and the UK have shown to focus on success and national pride whereas Finland opted for health. The biggest comparative showed in funding, whilst Finland majorly self-funds participation rates, Australia dedicates just 5% of the sports budget towards mass participation policies. This is hugely reflective in obesity and inactivity levels. Whilst this essay also recognised the limitations of the stages model, it could be argued until a more thorough model is designed, this is most appropriate. In conclusion, a thorough model needs to be adapted to be more inclusive of factors which may affect policy-making. In reflection of the policies using the current stages model, policy approaches could adapt a hybrid design, incorporating both approaches, such as the UK, in both participation and elite success.
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Sports Policy in Action, 4th March 2016