Sports’ Socioeconomic Gap Widening During COVID-19

Sports have always favoured families with money.

With COVID-19 taking away public arenas and fields, the socioeconomic gap has been widened, and the ability of families with financial privilege to get ahead, increased.

Families able to pay for private lessons, small group sessions, and training, or purchase at home equipment, will see their athletes continue to improve and develop, while others may not.

Imagine an hour of ice time. When a hockey school with 20-30 kids on the ice at a time used to cost $10 or less per player, now, restrictions allowing 6 skaters or less on the ice have seen those costs skyrocket to as much as $50 per hour per player.

While some facilities are closed locally, upper class families are taking their kids to private training locations in London, Toronto, and beyond.

Don’t fool yourselves, the rich vs. poor gap in youth athletics has always existed, but it’s about to get worse.

Among richer families, youth sports participation is actually rising. Among the poorest households, it’s trending down. Just 34 percent of children from families earning less than $25,000 played a team sport at least one day in 2017, versus 69 percent from homes earning more than $100,000.

These are not advantages every family can afford, and when sports return, some of these contraints, and added costs to the user may continue to exist.

Mix with this, lost wages of many families, and luxury spending, such as sports and recreation for youth might be some of the first expenses cut moving forward.

The differences in youth sports participation among youth from families of varying socioeconomic status is notable. Seventy-six percent of youth from households with incomes of at least 400 percent of the Federal poverty threshold participated in a sports team or lesson after school or on weekends within the last 12 months, compared to 41 percent of youth from households at less than 100 percent of the poverty threshold.

The National Youth Sports Strategy

Perhaps it is time to look at alternative models, trending away from the hyper competitive environment that is youth sports in Canada, where we expect every athlete who steps on the ice to be an NHL superstar, and to trend toward play, and participation for the vast majority of youth. With this, we would, through social programs and funding, allow any and all children who want to play a space on the field, court, or ice up to the age of say, 13.

Sound ridiculous? That is the exact model in Norway. In fact in Norway, no scores or results are allowed to be published until athletes are 14 years old.

Norway you say? They don’t produce top athletes. Ridiculous, kids need those results you say?


In the last Winter Olympics, the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, Norway, a country with a tiny population of 5.36 million, won 39 medals including 14 gold. Both totals were the most of any participating country.

Germany (83 million and 31 medals), Canada (37.5 million and 29 medals), and the USA (328 million and 23 medals) rounded out the top four.

After COVID-19, things will have changed in many industries. Businesses are going to have additional costs of operating for safety and sanitization, and costs of products and services are bound to go up. With that, disposable income will decline.

A decrease in enrolment, cancellations of programming, and the continued increase in cost for participation in organized sport is inevitable.

Municipalities, Provinces, and the Federal Government need to collaboratively work together, proactively, to remove future barriers for entry into sport, fitness, and recreation for youth…before it’s too late.

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