Important study, groundbreaking results, problematic conclusions

Anne Tjønndal
Nord university, Norway

Tomas Peterson & Katarina Schenker (red)
Sport and Social Entrepreneurship in Sweden
Translated by Staffan Klinborg
126 pages, hardcover.
London: Palgrave Macmillan 2018 (Palgrave Pivot)
ISBN 978-3-319-72495-9

The study of entrepreneurship and innovation in sport have gained momentum during the last decade and is increasingly becoming its own international field of research. Yet, these fields are still under-developed, under-researched, and with a great need for increased academic attention. Like it or not, as analytical perspectives, the innovation and entrepreneurship terms have become important in both Swedish and Norwegian policies. As scholarly fields, both innovation and entrepreneurship stem from economy, business, and management studies. This background has shaped the introduction of entrepreneurship and innovation perspectives in sport studies. The vast majority of studies on innovation in sport deals with commercial and market-based sports innovations, such as increasing profits for businesses in the sports industry (Tjønndal, 2018). This is also true for entrepreneurship studies in sport (Ratten, 2011a; 2011b).

Social entrepreneurship and social innovation are perhaps the most under-researched areas of entrepreneurship and innovation studies in sport. In other words, there is an apparent lack of knowledge of both social innovation and social entrepreneurship in sport. Therefore, it is immensely exciting to see that Peterson and Schenker (eds.) have put together this anthology on social entrepreneurship in Swedish sport. One could also argue that the changing social conditions in the Nordic countries have highlighted the need of further studies of innovation and entrepreneurship in sport, and because of this, an anthology such as Sport and Social Entrepreneurship in Swedenis both important and timely.

There are six contributing authors in this anthology representing two Swedish universities, Malmö University and Linnaeus University. The book contains eight chapters, and almost all of them are co-authored by several of the contributing authors – the exceptions being chapters 2 and 3, which are single-author chapters. While the editors do not express a clear-cut aim for the anthology, or target group of readers, in their introduction, this book offers a vital and valuable contribution to an emerging field of research, social entrepreneurship in sport. The most important contribution that Peterson and Schenker’s anthology makes to this field is that it represents a useful and meaningful step in the conceptual development of social entrepreneurship in sport contexts, and the authors do this brilliantly with the use of their seven cases of social entrepreneurship and sport in Sweden. These cases are:

    • KIOSK (a project which Peterson and Schenker have written a book about in 2015)
    • Enjoy Water (a nation-wide project focusing on helping children overcome their fear of water)
    • Equestrian Ventures (a social venture for those who would not normally come into contact with horses, such as children from low-income households or migrants).
    • Football for integration (a project aimed at getting more minority girls to enjoy football).
    • Mapping (a project started by two orienteering clubs in Southern Sweden aimed at changing young people’s views on maps, the forest and orienteering).
    • Pre-emptive activity (a cooperative school project in a small city in Southern Sweden).
    • The Sports Club on the Island (an organized non-profit sport club off mainland Sweden, aiming to offer all inhabitants of the island participation in sport and physical activity).

Chapter four describes KIOSK in depth, while chapter five lays out the details for the remaining six cases of social entrepreneurship in Swedish sport contexts. The use of these empirical cases works well because they provide the reader with practical examples of social entrepreneurship in sport, something many previous articles on social entrepreneurship in sport fails to do adequately. So, there are some groundbreaking aspects to this book, but there are also some potentially problematic parts.

The authors of the book highlight the importance of context when studying social entrepreneurship in sport and call for an increased awareness of contextualization in this field of research. This is important for any study of innovation and/or entrepreneurship in sport and is far too often underplayed in peer-reviewed articles in this field. The book also brings up a number of methodological and ethical issues they have encountered in their studies of social entrepreneurship in Swedish sport (chapters 7 and 8) – this is something the field sorely needs to discuss.

What is most groundbreaking, and at the same time perhaps most problematic, in this volume are the five theses presented in chapter four to “frame the concept of social entrepreneurship and to make it fruitful in a sports policy context” (pp.41). On one hand, this is a very innovative and clear way to help the reader understand how the authors understand the three core terms in this book: social, entrepreneurship and sport. The five theses are as follows:

    1. What is inherently socially good can be qualified to refer to the normative goals of democratic fostering of the sports movement, which are initially based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
    2. Social entrepreneurship in sport uses sport as a means, not as a goal.
    3. In social entrepreneurship, money (the profit) is used as a means, not as a goal.
    4. Social entrepreneurship in sport is characterized by activities that cross boundaries between different sectors of society.
    5. The crossing of boundaries entails that the analysis of the social entrepreneurship in sport is based on a conflict perspective.

While there is no doubt that these five theses of social entrepreneurship in sport contribute to a more concise theoretical and analytical conceptualization of the term ‘social entrepreneurship in sport’, some of the theses are overly assertive in their formulation, something that is also reflected in the arguments around them. Thesis 2 for instance, make up an important part of the authors’ understanding of social entrepreneurship in sport but also demonstrates a standpoint that many (including myself) will disagree with. This is highlighted by the first sentence following thesis 2 on page 51: “Distinguishing between sport as a goal and sport as a means is equal to distinguishing between fostering democracy or competition”. Together, this sentence and thesis 2, paints a very black and white picture of organized sport – one that I would not use to describe Norwegian sport. There are many nuances of social entrepreneurship and innovation in sport that falls outside a statement like thesis 2, and ‘using sport as a goal’ does not necessarily equal competition, exclusion, and selection. For instance, it could be ‘sport as a goal’ in terms of personal enjoyment of participating in sports activities as leisure.

This type of assertive-black-and-white statement can also be found following thesis 4 on page 54, highlighting the difference between a ‘driving spirit’ and a social entrepreneur: “as driving spirits, real enthusiasts are not likely to cross boundaries. […] improvisation is not usually one of their characteristics”. Again, I am sure there are many people whose projects and engagement for social improvement in sport will not be so easily defined, and the terms ‘driving spirit’, ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘innovator’ are sure to overlap in a number of cases and contexts.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2018

Bjärsholm, D. (2017). Sport and Social Entrepreneurship: A Review of a Concept in Progress, Journal of Sport Management, 31(2): 191-206.
Peterson, T. & Schenker, K. (2015). KIOSK – Om idrott og social entreprenørskap. Malmø: BokBox Forlag.
Peterson, T. og Schenker, K. (2017). Social entrepreneurship in a sport policy context. Sport in Society, 1-16.
Ratten, V. (2011a). Sport-based entrepreneurship: Towards a new theory of entrepreneurship and sport management. International Entrepreneurship Management Journal, 7, 57–69.
Ratten, V. (2011b).‘A social perspective of sports-based entrepreneurship’. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, 12, 314–326.
Tjønndal, A. (2018). Sport Innovation: Developing a typology. European Journal for Sport and Society, vol. 15, issue 1: 1-17.


Table of Content

Tomas Peterson, Katarina Schenker

Sweden: The Societal Setting
Johan R. Norberg

Social Entrepreneurship in an International Context
Daniel Bjärsholm

A Definition of Sport and Social EntrepreneurshipT
Tomas Peterson, Katarina Schenker

The Cases
Daniel Bjärsholm, Per Gerrevall, Susanne Linnér, Tomas Peterson, Katarina Schenker

Social Entrepreneurship, Sport and Democracy Development
Per Gerrevall, Daniel Bjärsholm, Susanne Linnér

Ethics in Researching Sport and Social Entrepreneurship
Daniel Bjärsholm, Per Gerrevall, Susanne Linnér, Tomas Peterson, Katarina Schenker

A Methodological Tool for Researching Sport and Social Entrepreneurship
Daniel Bjärsholm, Per Gerrevall, Susanne Linnér, Johan R. Norberg, Tomas Peterson, Katarina Schenker



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