Sport and recreation in New Zealand Pasifika Communities

Sport and Recreation in New Zealand Pasifika Commu…
01 Nov 2010

One of the fundamental issues underpinning this research is the simple question of why Pasifika should be encouraged to participate in sport and recreation. There is an underpinning assumption that, in general, participation is a “good” thing but this assumption needs to be examined in line with the experiences and understandings of Pasifika themselves. The discussion around Pasifika experiences of sport and recreation and of the outcomes they see arising from participation helps establish the reality of sport and recreation within their lives. Many of those interviewed believed that sport and recreation was a positive factor in their personal lives and in the wider lives of their communities. It is important to note, however, the alternative view of others who felt negativity towards sport leading to a lessening of the pleasure of participation and sometimes complete withdrawal.

Policy makers, and those intending to be influencial around sport and recreation in Pasifika communities, need to make decisions and develop programmes that are culturally aligned and relevant. They should understand the fundamental cultural principles that guide daily interactions among Pasifika peoples including their engaement with sport and recreation. There is a need to ensure that cultural clashes that have the potential to make their work ineffective are avoided. The greatest opportunity is to work with the communities in ways that respect the culture of the group and their particular understandings and needs. This approach can take advantage of the powerful cultural factors that work within the communities and has the potential to be more successful than attempts to implement change from the outside.



The objectives of this project are to understand the:

  • perceptions and experiences of sport and recreation in New Zealand Pasifika communities;
  • barriers to involvement in sport and recreation in New Zealand Pasifika communities;
  • enablers that would increase participation in sport and recreation in New Zealand Pasifika communities.


This research was underpinned by grounded theory, a conscious decision to conduct the research without preconceived ideas around what was likely to emerge. To increase confidence that the voices that did emerge were legitimate and valid it was decided to use a Pacific research methodology, an approach that has  sport and recreation context. The following recommended guidelines for researching with Pasifika groups along with the inclusion of two experienced Pasifika researchers gives confidence that this research was appropriate for the communities involved in the project.

A major component of this research involved focus group interviews, interviews which were implemented using a Talanoa approach. "Talanoa is an exchange of ideas or thinking that allows more real information to be available for Pacific research than data derived from other research methods" (Vaioleti, 2006, p. 23). Talanoa is widely supported by Pacific peoples because they feel this process is aligned with all the other safe processes of engaging in Pacific discussions and consultations and leads to their having a more meaningful role in the research process. This project consisted of two distinct phases. Phase one started with an initial fono with a leading health and social services provider in the Bay of Plenty. This was followed by the interviewing of four individuals and the completion of six focus groups. At the completion of this phase the data were analysed and initial findings were produced. Phase two involved the interviewing of two individuals and two focus groups with the aim of clarifying and exploring key issues identified in the first phase.

The analysis of the transcripts of the interviews/focus groups was carried out according to the principles and practices of grounded theory. Transcripts of the interviews were carefully analysed and a process of open coding was followed. Data were coded to identify patterns and assist in meaningful interpretation. The patterns and themes emerged from the data as the analysis progressed.

The coding process was supported by the use of the QSR Qualitative Research software package.

The writing of this report was based on the sources of data collected during the research process and the process of analysis of these data. The findings were also tested against two previously published projects “Obstacles to Action” and “Active New Zealand”. Both of these quantitatively-based projects included data related to sport and recreation and Pasifika groups.


Key Results

Meaning of sport and recreation

The question of what “sport meant” to participants led to a range of answers that were notable for the wide variety of responses received. While many identified activities that would be traditionally associated with sport, such as rugby, basketball or volleyball, a number of other responses indicated a wider conceptualisation of the term. Dance, cultural activities, anything with a ball, and singing are examples of the diversity of responses given.

When the meaning of recreation was considered there were a number of overlaps in the activities selected with those identified as sport. Basketball, touch, volleyball etc were all mentioned as being recreational activities, just as they had been given as examples of sports. A major difference between the two terms appeared to be the belief, held by almost all interviewed, that recreation was more relaxing, more fun based, and noncompetitive in comparison to sport. Recreation was described variously as noncompetitive sport, not playing competitively, not competitive, and as a more relaxed version of sport.

While sport related activities were identified as being recreational, there was also a range of recreational activities identified that had little association with sport. These included experiencing nature through walks and outings, reading, having coffee with friends, cooking, shopping, girls stuff, keeping up with fashion, drinking, talking, walking with friends, watching TV, and laying in bed relaxing and reading the bible.

Experiences with sport and recreation

Participants were happy to share their stories, both positive and negative, around sport and recreation. The experiences of individuals differed of course, depending on their personal interests and experiences, but there were some common themes emerging from the narratives. One consistent theme was the reporting of positive experiences where there was family or community group involvement. The coming together for a ‘relaxed’ common purpose was a significant finding in relation to positive sport and recreation experiences. Going to the beach with family or ‘hanging out’ with the kids, playing sport or quietly reading were examples of the types of activities described when interviewees were asked to talk about their experiences of sport and recreation.

A number of those interviewed re-counted experiences around participating in competitive sports. Many of the comments were positive and mentioned working hard as a team to succeed, the development of self confidence, the joy of winning important games, and being held in high regard for their proficiency. For some, who may not have seen themselves as academically able, sporting prowess was also seen as an important aspect in maintaining self-esteem while at school.

While there were many positive comments about sport, it was also noted that a high number of respondents, when discussing their experiences of sport, included negative experiences which had either turned them away from participation or limited their enjoyment. There seemed to be a number of factors that led to this negativity, including the influence of powerful members of the family, injuries, the behaviour of coaches and team mates, and the pressures associated with participating in highly competitive sport.

In any discussion on Pasifika communities’ experiences with sport and recreation, it is important that the pivotal role of spirituality and church is acknowledged. An indication of the centrality of spirituality and church in sport and recreation was demonstrated by the number and nature of comments associated with these areas. A number of outcomes from participation in sport and recreation were identified during the interviews. These included the development of personal and life skills such as team building, goal setting, personal discipline, self-esteem and good character. Many of those interviewed related participation in sport and recreation with improved health and wellbeing. While these comments were often around medical issues such as obesity and diabetes, there was also an indication of an alternative Pasifika understanding of health and fitness. Social and community interactions were perceived to be valuable outcomes related to participating in sport and recreation. Many felt that the opportunity to gather together was a particularly important aspect of Pasifika culture that was strongly supported by sport and recreation. The ability to contribute to strengthening and improving communities was also identified as an important outcome for sport and recreation. Examples of clubs and programmes specifically designed and run to help “at-risk” children were given along with personal examples of how participation in sport and recreation had helped those interviewed in their own lives. An interesting discussion around the role of sport in allowing for the legitimate release of aggression eventuated. While some saw this as a justifiable role for sport, others felt that aggression in sport was not a simple matter and led to negative outcomes for participants.

The barriers that limit and the enablers that increase participation in sport and recreation for New Zealand-based Pasifika communities

A central requirement for this project was to identify the factors that Pasifika communities felt restricted their participation in sport and recreation and to identify the means by which their participation could be improved. As would perhaps be expected, some factors were identified in both areas. The cost of participation, for example, was identified as an important barrier to participation and the reduction of cost was seen as a way of increasing involvement.

A useful theoretical framework to underpin an understanding of Pasifika involvement in sport and recreation has been developed by Sauni (2009). Sauni’s work relates to the concept of the space (time) available and the differing cultural obligations and expectations that fill up that finite space (time) for Pasifika. The impact these factors have on the space (time) available for participation in sport and recreation is an important cultural influence that needs to be acknowledged when considering what helps and hinders participation.

A number of factors were identified as being influential in either enabling or restricting participation in sport and recreation. A major influence, mentioned by many, was the need to feel culturally safe or comfortable. This included having visible Pasifika involvement in the programmes, and in particular Pasifika leadership. Family and community were seen to have a strong role to play in either motivating or discouraging participation. The roles of the fathers were described as powerful and having the potential to be both positive and negative. Spirituality and/or the church were described as important and central influences in all aspects of Pasifika life. The association between sport and church was identified by many as a strong positive one which encouraged and facilitated involvement. An alternative view, however, was expressed by some that the church was a factor in restricting participation. The high priority accorded educational success in Pasifika communities was seen as a disincentive towards involvement in sport and recreation for some, with many families believing that participating in sport would take children away from their studies.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018