Call for Papers | “Societal impact of elite sport: Benefits and harms” | Special Issue of European Sport Management Quarterly. Call ends May 30, 2020

Relevance of the topic

In the early twenty-first century, elite sporti increasingly became a policy priority (Green, 2009). When facing the challenge of justifying investments in elite sport to their public, elite sport policymakers tend to argue that a wide range of societal outcomes will ‘trickle down’. However, there is scarce evidence to support this dominant discourse (Grix & Carmichael, 2012). This special issue underscores the critique that public investment decisions are often politically motivated and thus rarely evidence based. Undeniably, the current empirical evidence base regarding a range of claimed impacts generated in the context of elite sport is inadequate and fragmented (Frick & Wicker, 2016; Funahashi, De Bosscher, & Mano, 2015; Van Bottenburg, 2013). When measuring impacts assumed to be triggered by elite athletes, sporting success, or the organisation of major sporting events, it seems that academics have traditionally used study designs where causality is difficult to establish. A further criticism of elite sport impact research is the strong use of case studies and expert opinion with the subjective perceptions of individuals playing a key role as the main source of evidence. This special issue resonates with calls for the research community to contribute to empirical research with robust and appropriate research designs rather than offering assertions or opinions (Weed & Dowse, 2009).

Moreover, we propose a shift of focus from ‘if’ public investments can be legitimised towards ‘how’ public investments can (more) successfully be allocated for social impact purposes. Intrinsically, elite sport is neither beneficial nor harmful (Coalter, 2007). If we believe that elite sport can and should enable impacts, then we need to ask how elite sport should be envisioned and implemented to enable and, ideally, optimise its assumed impacts.

Overall, the quality of evidence for the impact of elite sport in relation to several outcome areas is relatively weak (De Rycke & De Bosscher, 2019). We contend that what is required to develop the field is innovative, robust designs (like for e.g., mixed-method designs based on theories of change), which are more appropriate for establishing causality. Research that pushes forward with (inter- and transdisciplinary) research designs (e.g., mixed-methods), informed by recognised conceptual frameworks will assist in providing a more solid evidence-base to guide the decision-making of practitioners and policymakers. Therefore, the purpose of this special issue is to develop the investigation concerning the assumed societal impact of elite sport further. Theoretical, empirical, and methodological submissions in light of the problematic evidence base and resulting limited understanding of the role of elite sport in society are welcomed.

Overall, the Special Issue on the Societal Impact of Elite Sport aims to:

    • review the current state of theoretical and empirical insights regarding the potential positive and negative societal impacts that flow from the various ways elite sport is organised, managed and marketed in society;
    • critically reflect on the existing research designs and encourage interdisciplinary exploration as well as new approaches that contribute to the understanding of the assumed societal impact of elite sport; and
    • propose a future research agenda for robust measurement of the assumed societal impacts of elite sport

Possible themes and subthemes this proposed special issue would include

Contributors may come from any social or human science discipline, including sport management, marketing, sport policy, sociology, sport psychology, sport economics… Robust qualitative, quantitative and mixed method research approaches that would focus on the societal impact of elite sport are welcome. We are looking for studies that advance theory and knowledge on the understanding of societal impact of elite sport. For instance, studies that apply innovative methodologies or that may contribute to broader methodological debates.

Additionally, we encourage research that goes beyond the well-used qualitative methods or traditional quantitative research strategies that are well established in sport management studies.

    1. Research that aims to empirically investigate assumed positive or negative societal impacts in the context of elite sport is specifically encouraged. We invite contributors to examine the following themes and subthemes:
    2. Research on social equality and inclusion in the context of elite sport; investigations of the potential of elite sport (when properly leveraged) to bridge different cultures and increase equality (e.g. social mobility). Or studies on manifest and institutional forms of discrimination (e.g. sexism, exclusion, exploitation, racism, human trafficking, etc.) in the context of elite sport;
    3. Research on identity and pride; international sports events are used to highlight national symbols and present athletes and teams as representatives of nation states. This provides occasions for the public expression of national values, pride, collective unity, identity and nationalism, rivalry and aggressive behaviour;
    4. Research on ethics and fair play in the context of elite sport; elite sport provides a platform for ethical conduct and positive social debate but is often associated with unethical practices: scandals regarding corruption and fraud, competitive trait, aggression/violence, doping, unfair play and other deviant examples;
    5. Research on the ‘feel good factor’ or ways in which sports fans who attend or watch live sporting events derive a pleasurable form of excitement, happiness and satisfaction. Or, in contrast, experience anger, disappointment, frustration or hostility;
    6. Research related to the attractive power of elite sport. Sport events, teams and athletes enjoy a great deal of worldwide media coverage and have the potential to build strong brands by capitalising on the emotional relationship shared with fans;
    7. Research on international prestige and image (category 6); ‘showcase effects’ set in as sport offers an arena for countries to compete with each other to gain international recognition and prestige. Indeed, countries bidding for major events sometimes do so to create a powerful public stage for their ideological battles, for propaganda, or to gain soft power;
    8. Research on the stimulation of sport participation and healthy behaviour in the context of elite sport; investigations whether athletes provide inspiration to develop an active lifestyle or alter personal characteristics (volunteering, character building, self-efficacy…). Or studies on negative impacts like decreased body image or discouragement to participate in sport due to the competence gap with successful athletes;
    9. Research on sponsors and commercial activity in the context of elite sport; partnerships and sponsorship deals hypothetically lead to direct economic impacts relating to merchandise sales, TV rights, jobs or sport industry assets. Nonetheless, throughout history, there are indications of mega-event organisers suffering from financial hangovers;
    10. Research on the local beneficial and harmful impacts of elite sport-related activities; studies reporting on tourism, consumption, employment, exploitation costs and the impact on the living conditions within host communities (e.g., overcrowding, disorder and price rises). Host cities often try to regenerate neighbourhoods by investing in public transportation, local infrastructure, hotels and green zones. Especially when hosting mega-events there is a clear negative environmental impact (including air pollution, waste…).

Submission details

Papers should be submitted in electronic format through Manuscript Central using the following link:; indicating you want the manuscript to be considered for Special Issue 21.1.

Proposed and Indicative Timeline:

October, 2019: Call for Papers for the Special Issue is widely disseminated
May 30, 2020: Submission deadline of full papers for consideration. Manuscripts in review process.
September 1, 2020: Feedback to authors
November 1, 2020: Return date for revised manuscripts
December 1, 2020: Second round of review process (if necessary) and finalisation
ecember 31, 2020: Chapter written by SI editors – introduction to the SI
December 31, 2020: Materials are prepared for final publication and sent to publisher
Januari, 2021: First ESMQ issue of 2021

Please contact Jens De Rycke via email ( ) if you have any questions.


 Coalter, F. (2007). A wider role for sport: Who’s keeping the score. London: Routledge.
De Rycke, J., & De Bosscher, V. (2019). Mapping the Potential Societal Impacts Triggered by Elite Sport: A Conceptual Framework. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics. Advance Online Publication.
Frick, B., & Wicker, P. (2016). The trickle-down effect: how elite sporting success affects amateur participation in German football. Applied Economics Letters, 23(4), 259–263.
Funahashi, H., De Bosscher, V., & Mano, Y. (2015). Understanding public acceptance of elite sport policy in Japan: A structural equation modelling approach. European Sport Management Quarterly, 15(4), 478–504.
Girginov, V., & Hills, L. (2009). The political process of constructing a sustainable London Olympics sports development legacy. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 1(2), 161–181.
Green, M. (2009). Podium or participation? Analysing policy priorities under changing modes of sport governance in the United Kingdom. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 1(2), 121–144.
Grix, J., & Carmichael, F. (2012). Why do governments invest in elite sport? A polemic. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 4(1), 73–90.
Grix, J., Lindsey, I., De Bosscher, V., & Bloyce, D. (2018). Theory and methods in sport policy and politics research. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 10(4), 615–620.
Van Bottenburg, M. (2013). “Passion alone is no longer enough”: the reframing of elite sport from a private trouble to a public issue. In P. Leisink, P. Boselie, M. Van Bottenburg, & D. M. Hosking (Eds.), Managing Social Issues. A Public Values Perspective (pp. 126– 142). Cheltenham, UK: Elgar, Edward.
van der Roest, J.-W., Spaaij, R., & van Bottenburg, M. (2015). Mixed methods in emerging academic subdisciplines: The case of sport management. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 9(1), 70–90.
Weed, M., & Dowse, S. (2009). A missed opportunity waiting to happen? The social legacy potential of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, 1(2), 170–174.

Name and affiliation of Guest Editors

    • Veerle De Bosscher, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
    • Simon Shibli, Vrije Sheffield Hallam University
    • Maarten Van Bottenburg, Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands
    • Jens De Rycke, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Contact person:

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