Published 2020-04-28

This post is also available in Swedish

Coronavirus offering new research opportunities in sport and outdoor life

How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting Sweden’s sport and outdoor recreation? For the newly launched Mistra Sport & Outdoors programme, it is important to act quickly to collect data and study the effects of the greater interest in local open-air activities.

Environmental challenges to society are intended to be the starting point of all research in Mistra Sport & Outdoors. It will be possible to link every solution presented by the programme to a specific challenge. The long-term goal of the programme is to initiate a movement for sustainable development in Swedish sport and outdoor life through research that leads the way. In practice, this means inducing people to act more sustainably in terms of clothing, consumption, transport, events and much more.

Peter Fredman, Mistra Sport & Outdoors

‘To succeed, collaboration is a key — to identifying environmental challenges, creating relevant research, reaching out with results, starting the movement we want and so on. I believe the solutions will take shape when the expertise in research, the environmental sector and the organisations in the consortium are cross-fertilised,’ says Peter Fredman, Professor at Mid Sweden University and Programme Director of Mistra Sport & Outdoors.

Mistra’s call for a programme encompassing both sport and outdoor life was prompted by the fact that these two sectors’ environmental impact had not previously attracted attention in a broad sense. Another reason was that climate change may greatly affect these sectors, explains Åsa Moberg, Programmes Director at Mistra.

‘Many people in Sweden are involved in sport and outdoor life, and we also see great potential to contribute to a transition. You may think there’s a big overlap but, at the same time, there are no clear research links between the two sectors. And we’re seeing many interesting synergies that can produce exciting new results.’

Coronavirus pandemic — a golden study opportunity

Starting at the height of the current coronavirus pandemic is also having an impact on the programme. Several stakeholders have noted that more and more Swedes are looking to get out into the natural environment, primarily in their local surroundings, while many events are being rescheduled or cancelled. Accordingly, the programme has scope to study the current situation and the changes that occur when society returns to normal after the pandemic. But acting quickly is important if data collection is involved.

The prevailing situation also raises broader questions. Is it possible for everyone to engage in sport and outdoor activities near their homes? What are the implications of a high proportion of unaccustomed visitors to natural surroundings for information regarding, for example, freedom to roam and sensible behaviour in the natural environment? In the programme, there is a clear interest in addressing this issue.

Major collaborative partners important for achieving transition

Mistra Sport & Outdoors is divided into six themes, with ‘learning groups’ in which partners are actively taking part for the purpose of collaboration. Testing various sustainable solutions is another basic prerequisite for the target activity to achieve the desired impact.

Several of the programme’s collaborative partners are raising the possibility of testing more sustainable practices among their members.

‘We know that not all decisions in sport, especially international ones, take environmental or human-rights aspects into account enough. The Swedish Sports Confederation brings together all the specialist sports associations. And when it comes to identifying challenges, shaping sustainable solutions and creating an effective programme, we want them to fully join in and implement new ideas,’ says Peter Mattsson, Head of Sports Development at the Swedish Sports Confederation.

Maria Ros-Jernberg

Maria Ros Jernberg, who will take over as Secretary General and CEO of the Swedish Tourist Association after the summer, also regards the associations’ close contact with their members as highly important for disseminating the sustainable solutions that Mistra Sport & Outdoors aims to test and implement.

‘We’re in direct contact with many people and can both participate in surveys and test sustainable solutions. Once we’ve achieved the goal, and the solutions are to be implemented, it’s important for us to disseminate them and ensure they’re used in practice. Last but not least, we must remember social sustainability. It’s easy to talk about sustainability with reference to terrain damage, soil and water, clothing, transport and so on, but if not everyone has access to sport and outdoor life, we’ve failed.’

The starting point of Mistra Sport & Outdoors is the study of sport and outdoor life in Sweden, but in many ways it also aims to capture international perspectives, since many activities and events involve trips both into and out of this country.