Challenges to grassroots participation
The expansion of international professional sport had an impact on patterns of sporting participation from the 1980s.
While sports sometimes increased their player numbers as a result of major events being on television, the emphasis on elite sport undermined the traditional importance of the local club. The club role in sending talent to the next level was weakened by sports academies in schools, a significant increase in age-group tournaments, talent identification programmes in most sports and scholarship opportunities to overseas universities.
There is also evidence that participation and club membership among all sports declined in favour of sedentary leisure activities such as watching films, live performance and television, and, more recently, internet use. Changes to weekend and evening trading hours also affected participation in team sports as many people were required to work on Saturday or Sunday. Increases in both single-parent and two-career families challenged the notion of the weekend as a time for team sport.
The rise of individualism
Generational change may have influenced sporting preferences. Those whose social habits were shaped by experiences of war and economic depression were succeeded by generations without the same need to cooperate. They were less community-focused. Team and club memberships declined.
By the early 21st century changing lifestyles resulted in a stronger emphasis on individualism and a greater interest in those sports that took less time or offered flexibility in when they could be undertaken. Walking, cycling, swimming, gardening and going to the gym became more popular ways of gaining fitness.
At the beginning of the 21st century a survey revealed that the top five sports for all adults were golf, tennis, touch rugby, cricket and netball. Rugby union had slipped to ninth place, while horse racing struggled for widespread active support on all but the major racing occasions.
At the end of the 20th century, in a number of sports such as cricket and rugby, the formerly separate administration of women and men’s sport came together and this helped funnel additional funding to women’s activity. There was increasing interest and participation in women’s sport as a result, and there was wide participation in sports like touch rugby, where women played with men.
Māori and Pacific dominance
Since the 1980s there has been a disproportionate Māori and Pacific Island presence in team sports such as netball, both rugby codes and softball. This is frequently attributed to superior physical attributes, especially among Māori and Pacific youth, compared to their European counterparts. But there are many sports in which physically strong Polynesians could excel but do not. The likely explanation is that sporting choices are shaped by socio-economic and cultural considerations. Māori and Pacific people pursue a narrower and more traditional range of cheaper sporting choices and have a cultural preference for team rather than individual activities, while European preferences and talent are more dispersed.