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Children’s Sport, a Question of Rights? Children, Childhood and the Swedish Sports Movement

By Kristin Fransson


Practicing sports has traditionally been regarded as a good and healthy leisure activitiy for children. Organised sport has a strong position in Sweden and most children will take part in organised sport at some point during their childhood (Engström 1996; Patriksson 1987; Ungdomsstyrelsen 2005). The image of children participating in organised sport seems to be so strong and positive that it has become a part of what is considered ‘good childhood’ (and ‘good parenthood’ means letting your child participate in sport activities), along with play and innocence. Sport has become a part of how children’s life and childhood today are socially constructed. Through sport a child can become what it should be, and learn important lessons before entering adulthood. However, the belief that children automatically benefit and develop into good citizens just by participating in organised sport is losing its strength in the public debate. One reason for this is that it seems as if the most important element, playing for fun, is gradually disappearing and that children’s sports have become too serious (David 2004; Peterson 2002). Increasing professionalism and commercialisation of sport has been blamed for contributing to the seriousness and the belief that children should practise sports from an early age, in order to develop the right and necessary sport specific skills (ibid.). The critical voices in the public debate may have been influenced by the growing awareness of Children’s Rights. Whether this is true or not is an interesting question; however, it is not the subject of this article. Instead, the aim is to discuss the social construction of children and (indirectly also) childhood in connection to two empirical examples, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Swedish sports movement. The point of departure is a presentation of ‘new childhood studies’ and some previous research on children’s sports connected to children’s rights (human rights). This is followed by a brief account of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and a short retrospect of children’s admission to the Swedish sports movement. Throughout the article I will elaborate on the shortcomings of previous research and some of the paradoxes in the social construction of childhood in order to point out some interesting questions for further research

Publisher: Malmö högskola, Idrottsvetenskap
Year: 2009
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