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Clubsports are usually considered amateur sports under the aegis of sports organizations, primarily staffed by volunteers and providing participation opportunities in local or community sport at a range of levels. Clubsports (at this amateur level) provide two major elements of the sport experience that are part of the overall performance but not necessarily core elements of the sport event. These elements are the sport’s club structures and the ethos of amateur or community sport that may be concerned more with participation than with performance.
The full spectrum of clubsport structures, however, includes those engaged with amateur sport through to the professional sport organization. McConnell (2003) offers a core classification of clubsports that assists in considering their range and characteristics. This includes:
■ Professional clubs, with teams competing in professional sport-specific environments. These clubs are each associated with only one sport;
■Pro-am clubs, which have professional sport-specific participation and may also have lower-level participation in community or amateur competition in the one sport;
■ Amateur clubs, which are sport-specific and compete mainly, or solely, in amateur competitions;
■ Community clubs, which offer a range of sport-participation opportunities, usually across various clubsports, under the aegis of a community sports organization;
■ Clubs in nonsport organizations, found in organizations whose primary operational goals are not necessarily community-based or sport-centered; and
■ Governance clubs, which are mainly engaged in the governance and/or administration of a specific sport or sport facility.
A club operating in a professional “paid-to-play” environment may be owned by an individual, a group of investors, or a commercial organization. Such clubs are usually based around one sport and may have “feeder levels” below that of the elite. The feeder levels offer a step up to the top team, opportunities for athlete assessment, and induction to the club culture. Realities of player transfers, purchasing of players, and draft systems in fully professional clubsports influence formation of only one squad that exists at the elite level. Examples of such clubs are the Dallas Cowboys Football Club and the Real Madrid football team.
Professional clubsports are associated with paid athletes, salaried or contract administration staff paid by the club, media focus, and a highly paid coach (known as the “manager” in many sports). Such clubs have facilities and infrastructures oriented to performance, an emphasis upon winning, low tolerance for underachieving coaches and athletes, require financial support from wealthy backers, and engage in competition characterized by high media attention and a play-off or finals system of competition. The club has substantial financial investments in its athletes, in comparison with athletes engaged in other categories of clubsports.
New York Yacht Club
The New York Yacht Club is a contemporary professional sports club that, historically, has not had a focus on annual competition. Inaugurated in 1851 with the New York Yacht Club, the America’s Cup competition asks the winning yacht club to set the rules and conditions for the next challenge it hosts. Clubs in the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland have held the America’s Cup. Each country’s association is characterized by a small, committed group of backers; high costs of participation (including boat construction); intense media attention upon each every-fourth-year competition; an increasingly mobile pool of sailors who move beyond their original club allegiance; and an undercurrent of legality and laws issues governing yachts and racing.
Pro-am clubs have participation up to the elite level, with some or all athletes at that level being paid professionals. Club administrators include some paid officials, but lower-level teams participate in amateur levels of the sport with unpaid managers and coaches.
Such clubs must balance resources between professional and amateur levels of the club, face incremental professionalization of some sports (as in demands on players’ time), and engage in competition with clubs of differing athlete populations or financial resources.
Tensions arising in clubs that encompass amateur and professional sport or in clubs facing increasing professionalization have been studied by researchers in New Zealand (McConnell, 1998) and in Australia. The Kicking Goals in Community Football research in Victoria was carried out by an RMIT University research group headed by Peter Kell and Scott Phillips and Mark Penaluna of the Western Region Football League.
They explored recruitment training, volunteer retention, contemporary club management, and tensions between professionalizing clubs, as well as the complexities of developing a professional dimension with volunteers. An overriding dimension of the research was the need for a sport club to operate in a manner that recognized the cultural and linguistic diversity of its community. The complex challenges of commercialization, professionalism, inclusion, and perpetuation of a volunteer ethos in the face of increasing professionalization were features of the research findings.
The “amateur clubs” category is the usual focus for persons examining clubsport. Clubsport is traditionally regarded as any amateur sport organization that is primarily staffed by volunteers and existing to provide participation opportunities in local or community sport over various levels of competition. Amateur clubsport competition is usually officiated by volunteers. Administrators in these clubs are volunteers, although some amateur clubs may pay executive officer and clerical assistant salaries. Such clubs, despite engaging in “amateur sport,” may overtly or covertly pay certain players or assist them financially (known as “shamateurism”), but the majority of participants are amateurs. Some clubs engaged in “shamateurism” in certain sports before they became professional, rugby union being an example. In sports such as Gaelic football in Ireland, the clubs engaging in a national amateur competition face challenges in trying to retain an amateur ethos or structure in contemporary environments that have expectations of professional or pro-am commitment, media focus upon achievement in elite competition, high levels of skills mastery, and player time committed to club training and practice.
Consett Rugby Club
The innovative Consett Rugby Club of County Durham in northeast England is an example of an amateur sport club with a strong community base and entrepreneurial development of facilities and operations. The area once encapsulated the experience of northern England rugby clubs, whose players sought payment for broken time when away from their workplace playing club rugby and met antagonism from administrators and lawmakers of more traditional or affluent clubs in the south of England. This dissonance eventually led to the separate sports of rugby league and rugby union and the establishment of famous rugby league clubs such as Bradford and Wigan.
Today, the Consett Rugby Club has revamped its playing headquarters and successfully obtained major financial assistance of some £800,000 (U.K.) to install ground lighting and develop facilities for players and club supporters. Club administrators generated private funding to purchase a local hotel, which has become a valuable investment in terms of developing a club social center, generating approximately £70,000 annually for the club. In a significant political move affecting club-sport, the British government in 2003 created tax relief in the category of “Community Amateur Sports Clubs” (CASC), which provides relief to amateur sport clubs, like Consett, similar to that granted charitable trusts. In a soccer-oriented town of thirty thousand persons, the rugby club has 150 playing members and three thousand social members. Club playing strength has risen, with four senior teams and teams at each age from Under-7s to Under-16s participating in mini rugby and fifteen-a-side rugby union. The club’s development officers work with local secondary schools and educational institutions and received external funding support over the past ten years of £250,000. A feature of the club is the off-season arrangement of activities for their club members.
Birkenhead Bowls Club
On the other side of the sporting globe, the Birkenhead Bowls Club in Auckland, New Zealand, elects a voluntary governance committee, in the structure of an incorporated society. Subcommittees work in the areas of match organization, tournaments, grounds and maintenance, and dealing within fractions of discipline. Competition is at various levels from juniors to Champion of Champion events, and coaching is provided by club coaches every Tuesday evening, at no charge. Revenue comes from the amateur club’s bar, open each evening and all day on weekends; from gambling machines; and from funding agencies. Most tournaments are sponsored, so entry fees for such competitions go to club funds. Prize money is provided at tournaments, but the club has no paid professionals or salaried employees, although the greenkeeper is contracted to maintain the club’s greens. As with many amateur sport clubs, the secretary and treasurer receive modest honoraria annually.
There are many clubs or community organizations that offer participation in community sport through sport clubs operating within their structure. These are found across the socioeconomic spectrum, ranging from country clubs that offer relatively select sport club membership to community service organizations reliant upon limited budgets and volunteers.
The Meadowood Country Club in the Napa Valley of California has an “introduction fee” of $25,000. At Meadowood members can play a number of sports, one of which is the flourishing sport of croquet. In the 1980s there were fewer than fifty croquet clubs in the United States, but by 2004 the number had increased dramatically to over four hundred clubs.
In contrast, the Brentwood YMCA in Nashville, Tennessee, is an example of a community-oriented organization that offers sport-club involvement at minimal costs for young people. It has a youth soccer league with up to 130 teams and a youth winter basketball league with 120 to 140 teams involving children from ages three to fourteen.
An amateur sport club formed by a particular sector of the community is seen in the Spears Sports Club of Bankstown City, Sydney, Australia, a not-for-profit organization founded by the Islamic Charity Projects Association in 1999. The club participates in soccer, netball, karate, and table-tennis competitions run locally or statewide.
Clubs in Nonsport Organizations
Many social, commercial, educational, and other types of organizations not formed for sporting purposes have sport clubs operating within their structures. They offer opportunities for their members, followers, or employees to participate in organized clubsports formed within the organization, and offer social or informal sport (for example, weekly baseball matches between different divisions of a company) up to countrywide competitions (such as national university tournaments). Factories in nineteenth-century England, arguably, formed such sport clubs or teams to facilitate control over and allegiance from their workers. Historically, examples of clubs were found within railway companies in South
America, churches in Ireland, aboriginal tribes in Australia, and branches of the armed services in many countries.
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) is an educational organization with clubsport in various sports and competition levels. At UMass, clubs include bicycle racing, fencing, ice hockey, baseball, lacrosse, rugby, volleyball, water polo, wrestling, tennis, and disk Frisbee sport. All athletic department sport clubs at UMass are recognized student organizations. Competition exists at intercollegiate or interuniversity, club and intramural, and internal-university levels, offering opportunities for students to participate at several levels.
The final category of clubsport, governance clubs, is markedly different from those discussed above. In certain sports, over time, prestigious clubs have become recognized as special bodies shaping a particular sport’s laws and assuming responsibilities for the sport’s governance. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, established in 1754 by twenty-two “Noblemen and Gentlemen” as the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, has had responsibility for the rules of golf and major facets of the sport. The club has been recognized in all countries except the United States as the governing authority of golf, despite having been a private sport club. In 2004, on its 250th anniversary, the Club devolved authority for golf’s administration to a group of companies known as the R&A. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews had two thousand four hundred members worldwide in 2004 and retained its identity as a private sports club.
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), based in London, has had a similar role in cricket, influencing the inter-national development of the sport.
In Australia the Melbourne Cricket Club is, arguably, the largest sport club in the world. It is responsible for the administration and operation of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, popularly known as the MCG, and has some eighty-five thousand members, of whom fifty-three thousand are full members and thirty-two thousand are in restricted membership. Such governance clubs may offer members the opportunity to engage in social sport under the club’s name.
Development of Clubsport
A study of sports such as lacrosse and cricket in North America reveals historical trends and macroinfluences on clubsport, globalization, and diffusion of sport. In lacrosse, such factors as the indigenous influence, the 1850s-1860s Canadian-club foundations, formalized competition, a national body for governance of the sport, the rise of clubs in the late nineteenth century, and introduction of night games are illustrative signposts of the shaping of clubsport.
The introduction of cricket by the British into North America illustrates the impact of settlers on clubsport. West Indians in the latter half of the twentieth century spread the game, and rising numbers of nonimmigrant Americans have joined cricket clubs. In 2004 there were ten thousand registered players from five hundred clubs in twenty-nine regional leagues.
The twenty-first-century development of sport continues to be influenced by myriad factors affecting local and national sport bodies and community organizations in decision making and implementation of clubsport. These include:
■ local and national government support for community sport
■ attitudes of national sport structures towards local sport
■ participation opportunities
■ sport promotion
■ media attention and support
■ sport in schools
■ cultural, gender, religious, and political considerations
■ quality of sport administration
■ influence of significant individuals and clubs
■ opportunities for special populations and persons of varied abilities
■ limited funds sought by rival community interests
■ personal costs of sport, as in subscriptions, travel, equipment, fees, and time off work
■ competitive opportunities appropriate for the age and ability of participants
■ possible mergers, amalgamations, and ventures of common interest between clubs
■ sponsorship, revenue generation, and grant applications
■ equity in participation opportunities
■ policies and organizational culture of clubs
■ recognition of minority and special population groups
■ building a youth or school-age base
■ participant retention
■ differences between sport opportunities in schools and those provided by local clubs
■ transfer from secondary school participation to clubsport participation
■ funding sought by elite sport levels and community or amateur sport within a club
■ forces for professionalization of amateur sport
■ social attitudes toward sport for participation and sport for performance
■ volunteer training
■ child protection and legal aspects of clubsport participation
A range of perspectives is covered in sporting-body publications. Guides for clubs and further information are published by bodies such as Sport England, and a New Zealand report (Genet, 2000) notes barriers to participation that are found in virtually all clubsport systems.
Sport clubs have a range of shapes, as noted above. Clubsport has existed, in various forms, for some two centuries and continues to be the base of much community sport, as outlined in the section called “Amateur Clubs” in this article. Historically shaped by factors as noted across the globe, clubsport continues to be subject to forces, both social and sport specific, into the twenty-first century. Significant among such challenges are the tensions between amateur and professional sport, often within the one sport, and the competition for allocation of resources to performance sport as against supporting the widening of participation opportunities. The opportunities for young people of particular social classes or special populations to engage in certain clubsports continue to be restricted by cost and perceived social attitudes in some sports.
- Genet, G. (2000). Barriers to participation in active recreation and sport: A study to identify constraints and solutions for specified Christchurch subgroups. Christchurch, New Zealand: Christchurch City Council.
- Hylton, K., Branham, P., & Jackson, D. (Eds.) (2001). Sports development: Policy, processes and practice. London: Taylor & Francis.
- McConnell, C. D. (1998). The Changing Face of Sports Management. Unpublished Master of Business Studies thesis. Massey University, Albany, New Zealand.
- McConnell, R. C. (2003). Sport management: The case for a typology of sports clubs. Jordanstown, Northern Ireland: School of Applied Medical Sciences and Sports Studies, University of Ulster.
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