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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics

For a Special Issue on
The Politics of Physical Activity: Connections, conflicts and compromises

Abstract deadline
28 February 2022

Manuscript deadline
31 August 2022

Cover image - International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics

Special Issue Editor(s)

Joe Piggin, Loughborough University, UK
[email protected]

Jessica Lee, Griffith University, Australia
[email protected]

Benjamin Williams, Griffith University, Australia
[email protected]

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The Politics of Physical Activity: Connections, conflicts and compromises

Concerted efforts have been made to raise physical activity rates around the world, but progress is slow and difficult (see Guthold et al., 2018). Despite the impassioned efforts of physical activity advocates, there is “limited comprehensive policy action commensurate with the size of the problem” (Salvo et al., 2021). To understand more about the dynamics that shape physical activity policy, provision and participation, the aim of this special issue is to encourage critical discussions and advancements in physical activity advocacy, politics and policy.

Traditionally, promoted benefits of physical activity have been physical health outcomes, More recently however, justifications have included connections with human rights, equality, education, mental health, sustainability, and community cohesion. By invoking more reasons for the promotion of physical activity, more groups are implicated in the problem and solution(s). Consequently, various tensions are at play in the quest for more physically active populations. For example, as countries manage the Covid-19 pandemic, competing narratives inform what the future could be. One narrative is the hope to “get back to normal”; the way life was before the pandemic. Others frame the pandemic as an opportunity for change. The UK government claims it will “build back better” (Johnson, 2021). These competing goals of continuity and change are not easily reconciled.

The global climate emergency will likely influence how, where and why people are active (Obradovich and Fowler, 2017), and will require communities to reconsider how resources are efficiently and sustainably allocated. For example, public spaces and roads are contested terrains. Urban landscapes are being rethought and reshaped in attempts to reclaim limited spaces for children and community interaction. This in turn is leading to conflict over whose values and practices should be prioritised. While the connected issues of vehicle pollution and sedentary behaviour are levers to promote physical activity, there is potential for conflict between user groups (Wild et al., 2018). Research has shown various benefits of ‘green’ and ‘blue spaces, and yet widening inequality in many countries means these benefits are not available to all (Georgiou et al., 2021). Schools too, as potent sites for learning about activity and movement, face numerous pressures in promoting physical activity, including resource and space issues (Casper et al., 2011).

Making significant change to spaces is often controversial and brings rise to arguments over which evidence is best to make policy decisions. While “evidence-based policy” is often praised as the gold standard for physical activity interventions, it is also clear that to address this 'wicked' problem of physical inactivity (see Rittel and Webber, 1973), interventions often need to be novel, creative and flexible. “Scaling up” evidence-based solutions when faced with unique cultures and contexts is certainly difficult.

While some progress is being made in the promotion of, and interest in women’s elite sport, it is also apparent that progress has not been adequate for women and girls to be safe and comfortable in all public spaces for both commuting and leisure. Similarly, many groups including minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, older adults and children are often marginalised from decision-making processes and therefore marginalised from physical activity opportunities. Understanding more about how to include marginalised groups continues to be an important area for research (Collins and Kay, 2014).

Physical activity is deeply enmeshed with politics (Piggin, 2019). There is much to illuminate about how political processes and dynamics affect both physical activity and the people who partake in it. There is an opportunity to:

  • question the “seemingly apolitical landscapes of recreation” (Reid-Hresko and Warren, 2017) and explore how organisations (from local to trans- and supranational) shape physical activity.
  • examine how decisions are made about which physical activities are promoted, funded, and catered for, often in times of severe, ongoing, resource constraint (Widdop et al., 2018).
  • interrogate the assumptions and claims made about the impact of physical activity interventions (Weed, 2016)
  • learn about how decisions are made about which groups are prioritised for access to limited spaces, such as swimming pools, playing fields and natural habitats. Decisions about access rights can often lead to conflict (Dudley, 2017) and there is much more to explore in this regard.
  • research at the level of the individual, where physical activity is intensely personal, comprised of unique motivations, sensations, emotions and ideas. The extent to which personal activity interests are fulfilled is not simply a matter of free choice, but the result of contingent, situated, and mediated opportunities.

The success or failure of physical activity policies depends in part on the dynamics, contests, and conflicts inherent in the policy-making process. Policy successes and failures have real world implications for communities and individuals, particularly marginalised groups. Examining and illuminating good practices and struggle can enhance future policy decision making about physical activity policy.

The aim of this special issue is to encourage critical discussions and advancements about the politics involved in physical activity advocacy and policy. While harmony is unlikely in all the contested aspects of physical activity politics, contributors are encouraged to propose the way forward for the groups and problems they research.

Papers based on empirical research are welcome and should be presented within an appropriate conceptual and theoretical framework.

The topics covered in this special issue could include the following, although the list is not exhaustive:

- PA advocacy - successes and challenges

- Conflicts over provision and values in PA

- Contests over PA evidence

- Grassroots resistance and PA

- The climate emergency and PA politics

- Risk, safety and PA policy

- Rights and PA

- Inequality and PA

- Human rights and PA advocacy

- PA spaces: green space and blue space politics and PA

- PA spaces: the politics of access and trespass

- The elite sport / mega-event / PA participation nexus

- Corporatisation and privatisation of PA

- PA and politics of the built environment

- Systems and complexity in PA policy

- Community-wide PA interventions

- Policies and politics of mobile/smartphone apps for PA

- Successful PA policy implementation and effects

Submission Instructions

Papers based on empirical research are welcome and should be presented within an appropriate conceptual and theoretical framework.

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