Beckham and Owen have virtual monopoly on the minds of UK kids

Article date: 22 May 2003

When it comes to sporting role models, boys and girls acrossBritain have only two people on their minds – David Beckhamand Michael Owen. Among 8-14 year olds responding to a survey byinsurance company Norwich Union, more than a third of boys andgirls said they had a sporting hero named Beckham as their numberone. With Owen named by 12 per cent and Alan Shearer named by threeper cent, all the others, including footballers, athletes, tennisplayers, basket ball players, motor racing drivers, skateboardersand body builders took less than two per cent of the vote each.

In the focus groups that were run as part of the research, onlyone female sporting role model was chosen by girls – gymnastBeth Tweddle. The rest of those chosen were men, predominantlyfootballers. This reveals a distinct lack of good female sportingrole models that girls can aspire to.

While 58 per cent of the young people questioned said theyfollowed their heroes because they are best at their support, 41per cent said they liked them because they are cool, or becausethey are good looking.

According to Dearbhla McCullough, a sports psychologist fromRoehampton, University of Surrey: “What came across verystrongly is how distant young people feel from their sporting andother heroes. They feel closest to those where they can relate tothe route to celebrity status.”

Just over a fifth of young people said they wanted to be liketheir sporting hero. According to Listening to Tomorrow’sAthletes, the survey commissioned by Norwich Union, there seemsto be a strong sense that children increasingly perceivetoday’s role models as unattainable, virtual heroes orheroines, not realistic ones. Almost certainly this feeling is notaided by the marketing, publicity and advertising hype that createsthe illusion of top sports people being out of reach and the factthat children increasingly only come across their heroes and thesports they play via electronic media viewed, or played in theprivacy of their own rooms.

While 32 per cent of boys wanted to be a sports star, only 4 percent of girls had this goal, with more hoping to be pop stars (22per cent), actresses (14 per cent) or teachers (12 per cent). Andalthough body builders such as The Rock (33 per cent of boys), andpop stars such as Kylie Minogue (24 per cent of girls) were admiredfor having the best body, just 9 per cent of boys and 7 per cent ofgirls dreamed of having the body shape of their role models whenthey were older. Perversely, significantly more children wereexpecting to having the fuller body shapes of Kate Winslett, DavinaMcCall and Ricky Gervais than those who originally chose them ashaving the best body shape.

“Ironically, while most young people say they want to havemore contact with local sporting stars from their own area, orcommunity, Beckham and Owen have managed to go full circle in theminds of young people. The blanket coverage they receive fromreporting on their successes to their appearance in everything fromadvertising to chat shows has turned them into super brands intheir own right giving the impression to young people that they arealmost a part of their lives,” said McCullough.

David Czerwinski, head of sponsorship for Norwich Union, adds:“It is deeply concerning that there seems a complete lack ofgood sporting role models for girls. Athletes like Ashia Hansen,Paula Radcliffe, Denise Lewis and Jade Johnson have the potentialto become these inspirational figures for young girls across thecountry but for some reason they aren’t being referred to bythe girls that were questioned. With success this summer and inAthens next year, hopefully this will change, and even nowwe’re working with UK Athletics to help unearth and nurturethe next generation of athletic role models – both male andfemale.”


Press office contacts:

Stuart Wareman - Total Sponsorship - 020 7803 2306
Suzie Dias – Total Sponsorship - 020 7803 2416(
Louise Goffee - Norwich Union - 08703 66 68 70

Notes to Editors

  • Norwich Union is the UK’s largest insurer. It is aleading provider of life, pensions and investment products and oneof the leading IFA providers. IFAs provide around 70% of thecompany’s long- term savings business.
  • Norwich Union has strategic alliances with building societiesand other leading UK brand names including Tesco Personal Financeand The Royal Bank of Scotland Group.
  • Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of imagesare available from Aviva's internet press centre

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