Leisure policy in New Zealand and Malaysia: a comparative study of developments in sport and physical recreation
This comparative study assessed the usefulness of the convergence thesis as a tool for understanding developments in leisure, recreation and sport in New Zealand and Malaysia. The study examined the interrelationship between 'global' and 'local' or 'contingent' factors and their impact upon leisure behaviour, leisure policy and leisure structures. 'Local' factors included institutional arrangements (notably political ones) and national cultural practices. A social history of New Zealand and Malaysia with particular reference to leisure, sport and recreation and national cultural practices was provided as a context for discussion of these issues. The study utilised a mixture of archival and library research and semi-structured interview, and was guided by an explicit comparative framework, concentrating on the development of leisure, sport and recreation in the two countries between 1970 and 2002. Interviews with 'key players' in both countries captured valuable data in the form of 'insiders' views' on leisure behaviour, policy and structure. These data were analysed with the relevance of the convergence thesis in mind. This study shows that contemporary leisure behaviour in New Zealand and Malaysia is shaped by the media and is highly commercialised, placing a high value on entertainment, and involves increasingly passive forms of participation. Informal sport and individualised recreational activities are replacing organised team-based sports in popularity. Leisure behaviour trends have led governments in both countries to encourage greater participation in sport and physical activity and to encourage private sector ventures into leisure-related products, services and infra-structures in the form of private-public partnerships. In terms of leisure policy, developments in leisure, recreation and, noticeably, sport, in Malaysia and New Zealand have been shaped by the wider agendas of the governing political parties. This is particularly noticeable at central government level. Individual political leaders in both countries have been influential in setting leisure-related policy. They had the vision to see that sport in particular might serve wider, national interests and that investments in sport could help raise the profiles of their countries in international markets and among trading organisations and the regulatory bodies that oversee trading practices. Malaysian and New Zealand governments seek to make leisure, sport and recreation policy supportive of other priorities. In Malaysia, the government legitimises its control over the policies which affect people's lives by appeals to Islamic principles and the need to put collective needs of nation building ahead of individual concerns for freedom. In terms of institutional, political, arrangements, this impacts at both central and local government levels in Malaysia. New Zealand, following a pluralist, Westminster, tradition of political representation, experiences regular changes in political management at central government level and a system of local government whereby local autonomy is jealously protected. Malaysia has resisted 'the global', by virtue of the nation-building policies of the Barisan Nasional, which has been in power since 1957. New Zealand's 'resistance' stems in part at least from the autonomy which local government enjoys. These experiences demonstrate that resistance to 'global' change can take varied forms at the 'local', contingent, level (Thorns, 1992). Differences in leisure structures reflect, once again, different agendas stemming from different political arrangements. The Malaysian government's approach is multi-Ministry, and micro-managed. In New Zealand, a 'hands off' approach via a quasi-autonomous non-government organisation (‘Quango'), became the favoured means of structuring central government leisure provision in the 1980s and 1990s. This was with a view to encouraging stability and consistency in leisure policy and provision in a pluralistic political system. Overall, and 'cautiously', this study provided support for the convergence thesis as a way to explain development in leisure, recreation and sport in New Zealand and Malaysia over the past 32 years. Although institutional arrangements and national cultural practices have provided some resistance to convergence processes, changing consumer sentiments may weaken such resistance in future.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordselite sport; convergence; convergence thesis; leisure policy; Malaysian leisure policy; New Zealand leisure policy; comparative analysis; contingency; globalisation; leisure consumption; resistance; Sport-for-All; leisure behaviour; leisure structures; sport and recreation
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