Sports practice is believed to make people interact through which they are brought closer together, are learning to co-operate better, are showing more mutual understanding, more trust in each other and their environment. In this way, sport is not only believed to facilitate the process of social bonding, but also the process of social bridging. Social barriers are avoided, through one comes in contact with people outside their own network. It is precisely in a society which is characterised by a growing desintegration, that sport can work compensatory, as it strenghtens the integrative forces of society. This social-integrative value of sports participation (especially in a club context) is believed to lie in the contribution of the realisation of 'social capital'. While the research on social capital in recent years has received more and more academic attention, the research of the relation between sport and social capital is still in its initial phase. To date, assumptions regarding the social-integrative value of sport are mostly based on theoretical insights and conceptual frames. Convincing, empirical evidence of the Flemish and international context are, at present, scarce. This, in fact, is also true for quite a number of other social functions and meanings that is attributed to sport.
Several research questions can be raised with regard to the relation between sport and social cohesion, such as: (i) Who participates in sport or is involved in sport? (participation level); (ii) In what way and with who? (context level); and (iii) With what consequences? (meaning level). In the first question, one can look at sports participation, as well as if and how participation differences occur in relation to a number of social variables, such as age, gender, educational level, ethnicity, etc. (Scheerder et al., 2002, 2005). Next, one can raise the question to what extent sport is practiced in the company of others. The context in which someone participates in sport, can be measured based on indicators such as club participation, the involvement in team sports (versus individual sports) and with which persons one comes in contact through sport. The central question is to what extent sport can bring people together and let them make contact in a positive way. Finally, the question can be raised what the meaning is of participation. A distinction can be made between 3 subcomponents, i.e., networks, opinions and behaviour. In the case of networks, the question can be raised of meeting others in sport will also lead to the formation of relations and networks, as well as if these relations and networks are rather limited to the own social environment or can reach further and as such have also a 'bridging' and not just a 'bonding' meaning.
This study is aimed at providing more insight in the relation between sport and social cohesion. More in particular, it shall be determined to what extent sport can contribute to social cohesion.
The following subquestions shall be raised:
-Does sport 'bond' or 'bridge'? Does sport unite people or does it distinct them?
-How is the relationship between the bonding and bridging functions of sport in relation to the process of individualisation?