Value of Comparative Policy Analysis

With the use of academic literature and theoretical framework, the following essay will undertake a comparative analysis of the sporting policies which operate in Finland, Australia and the United Kingdom. In doing so, a contrast will be drawn between certain aspects of sports culture, provision and organisational structure (Houlihan, 1997). Furthermore, due to the nature of the policies which reside in the selected countries, a wider comparison between countries which prioritises elite level sport and a country which prioritises mass participation will occur.

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The overarching purpose of this text is to critically determine the value of comparative policy analysis within the context of sport. Methodically, the following essay adopts a predominantly qualitative stand-point as it seeks to develop in-depth evaluations of key areas; however, it also draws on certain statistical premise which can be considered a quantitative practice in itself (Bergsgard 2007; Gratton and Veale 2011). Finally, a conclusion is drawn which indicates that the value of comparative policy analysis lies in its ability to take cross-national perspectives and determine what constitutes an effective practice.

Broadly, policy can be defined as a collection of principles which are in place to help guide a rational outcome (Blakemore and Warwick-Booth, 2013). The role of policy in sports development has becoming increasingly apparent over the past decade (Green and Collins, 2008). As the influential power of sport has grown so has governmental interest; this is something which has been attributed to sports extensive ability to influence alternative areas such as social inclusion, community development and national cohesion (Houlihan, 1997; Green, 2006). However, the particular direction of governmental interest has been shown to contrast significantly between different countries, this has consequently lead to such comparisons taking place.

Whilst policy in areas such as health, education and social welfare have witnessed extensive developments in the production and refinement of framework and theory, relative development has not occurred within the context of sports policy (Houlihan, 2005). However, this is not to say that such framework is limited in its value; Cairney (2012) suggests that the framework and theory which operate in sport policy, provide a relatively robust method of structuring observation and explanation.

Furthermore, the implementation of this framework can be considered an adequate way of generating a wider analysis (Houlihan, 2005). It has also been argued that the increased implementation of such framework could improve current methods of policy development by enabling policy-makers to construct more theoretically informed choices (Houlihan, 2005). The immediate text seeks to implement the “stages model” in order to inhibit structure, depth and specifically, for its “capacity to illuminate a range of aspects” in the policy process (Houlihan, 2005, p167). Due to the varied nature of the forthcoming comparison, the stages model was deemed the most suitable way of encouraging the desired factors (Cairney, 2012).

The policies of Australia, Finland and the UK have been selected for comparison because of the vast differences which operate between them. Perhaps most notably, the neo-liberal, social democratic and advanced liberal approaches which separate the countries (Green and Collin, 2008; Green 2006). Furthermore, a separate focus between elite sport and mass participation provides a platform for wider discussion, from which the value of comparative analysis can be further explored (Green and Collins, 2008). The design of this research draws on research from the past 25-30 years, as at this point both Australia and Finland experienced significant changes in the nature of their policy. Policy in the UK changed its focus more recently, this transition will be used to further develop discussion.

In referring to the “stages model” to inhibit structure, the comparative agendas of Australia, Finland and the UK have been explored. Agenda can be further understood as the translation of issues into a plan which can resolve them (Cobb, Ross, and Ross, 1976).

Despite the Australian Sports Council (ASC) identifying objectives to develop both elite level sport and mass participation, it would appear that Australia have created an environment which prioritises the development of elite athletes (Green and Collins, 2008). Magdalinski (2000) forwards the notion that developments in the structure of elite sport signalled a shift in governmental interest. Green and Collins (2008) have labelled Australia’s increased emergence of systematic planning and funding into elite level sport as the “scientific approach” to success. Despite calls to reconsider such emphasis on elite development over the past three decades, Australia have remained focused on attaining a high national standing in elite sports performance (Commonwealth of Australia, 1999; Stewart et al., 2004).

Comparatively, Green and Collins (2008) have labelled Finland’s approach to elite level sport as the “hand-off approach”. Whilst Finland have provided some levels of focus to “traditionally competitive sports”, they have typically prioritised programmes which encourage mass participation (Compass, 1999). The countries decision to incorporate sport into social policy, perhaps best highlights the countries intention to use sport as method of developing welfare opposed to national success (Green and Collins, 2008). In the emergence of the welfare state, an environment has been developed in which it is favourable to instil values of a “sport for all” mentality (Green and Collins, 2008). With exception to the focus which is given to some of the “traditionally competitive sports”, it would appear much of Finland are supportive of the current regime (Green and Collins, 2008).

When considering the agenda for elite sport and mass participation in the UK, it has demonstrated less continuity and clarity than that of Finland and Australia (Green, 2006). Most notably, sport policy in the UK shifted from a “sport for all” focus, to a twin target regime highlighting “active citizenship” and a “no compromise” approach to national success (Green, 2006). “Active citizenship” was seen as a new approach to social welfare, providing focus on children and young adults (Green, 2006). The “no compromise” approach in elite sport, was another new method which aimed to increase provision over sporting objectives (Green and Houlihan, 2004).