In a technically connected world the opportunity to retreat into smaller and less diverse physical communities is becoming easier and easier, so the need to actively develop social capital becomes more critical.

Social capital is the glue that connects people and communities;  peer groups and families – people who hang together; communities and individuals  in similar socio-demographic groups; and people from outside each others social, economic and demographic groupings.

Should and how can sport be engineered to develop social capital?

A social capital dilemma exists in the world of organised sport. Social capital creates close ties between club team mates, volunteers and fans, but conversely, due to the competitive nature of sport, such deep bonds can erode social capital between like people with the creation of superficial allegiance barriers. Think football fan violence as the ultimate portrayal of this. Provincial rivalry, state against state – innocuous statements of gamesmanship or social capital destruction?

Social capital  can create bonds between communities that ordinarily have little to no interaction. If engineered, could sport play a part in developing this linking social capital? Sports that have a high cost barrier (snow sports, golf, rowing, cycling etc.) create barriers to social capital, but others such as football, rugby, running, with low economic hurdles, present an opportunity. Recreation is ideally suited to developing linking social capital – costs nothing to go for a walk in the park. What is the opportunity to develop a social atmosphere around these otherwise individual or family activities?

Street sports, which attract a wide range of people are a great chance to develop social capital that spans socio-economic groups. The unifying voice in street sports is often brands – Red Bull, Vans etc. Is this good? Is it desirable that kids connect over brands to create a sense of community? Nike sure thinks so!

New Zealand community sport and recreation has a sophisticated structure. Along with organised sport, regional sports trusts traverse traditional sport boundaries, schools, councils and a menagerie of community sport and recreation groups. Surely, structured and motivated accordingly we have a massive opportunity to build positive social capital, and indeed shouldn’t that be our infinite game – connecting our communities and people?

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