Multi-Million Euro Sports Initiative for Third Graders Remained Ineffective

Research

Evaluation of Free Sports Club Membership Programme in Saxony

A sports promotion programme for third graders launched by the Saxon state government in the 2008/2009 school year and subsidised with 1.5 million euros annually proved ineffective – both in the short term and in the long term. This has been shown by a study published in the renowned American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, co-authored by ZEW economist Nicolas Ziebarth.

In order to give children from disadvantaged and economically deprived households in particular the opportunity to engage in regular physical activity, the State Sports Federation of Saxony, in cooperation with the Saxon state government, distributed sports vouchers to the more than 33,000 third graders in Saxony at the beginning of the second half of the 2008/2009 school year. With these vouchers, the children could join a sports club of their choice free of charge for half a year. In August 2009, at the beginning of the fourth grade, the same children received a second voucher. The programme initially ran for three school years until 2011/2012. Combined with an information campaign, the aim was to encourage boys and girls to try out club sports.

“Despite the well-intentioned goal of encouraging children to engage in sports activity in the long term, with potentially many positive effects – i.e. better physical and mental health, improved concentration skills, more self-confidence, and the development of team skills – the initiative remained largely ineffective,” says Professor Nicolas Ziebarth, one of the authors of the study and head of the ZEW Research Department “Labour Markets and Social Insurance”. The vouchers particularly benefited better-off households whose children were already members of a sports club and thus saved on membership fees. “We could not find any evidence that the initiative increased non-members joining sports clubs and participating in sports in the long term.” From both a short-term and long-term perspective, the sports activity of the affected cohorts in Saxony was not statistically significantly higher than that of third graders in the neighbouring states of Thuringia and Brandenburg.

“Even though the intentions were good, the desired results were unfortunately not achieved,” says Ziebarth and adds: “In principle, the initiative was very well planned and implemented. But what policy-makers should learn from this is that such broad-based free offers for children are not sufficient to reach certain groups. It is probably more effective to first convince parents of the benefits of such offers.”

For the study, the authors sent out more than 150,000 survey questionnaires to households with children who were third graders in Saxony, Brandenburg or Thuringia from 2008/2009. The database was complemented with representative data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) and the Saxon Public Health Service.

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