Published 2018-06-26

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More focus on sustainability needed in research on sport and outdoor life

Mistra is exploring prospects of a research programme on sport and outdoor life. One hope is that the initiative will enable reduction of climate impact and contribute to sustainable development. It is equally important to gain more knowledge about policy issues and decision-making. This is stated by international experts in their report to Mistra.

‘A broad research programme would be needed to integrate research on the environment and sustainable development with research on sport and outdoor life.’

So says Brian McCullough. Associate Professor and researcher at Seattle University in the US, he chairs the international expert group that recently submitted to Mistra a background report on the area.

Sport participation, spectator sports and outdoor life play an important role in the lives of many children and adults, but can also involve a significant impact on the environment. They may entail, for example, resources for arranging major sports events, transport to and from sports and outdoor activities, equipment and food. In addition, opportunities to experience nature often attract people to remote, unspoilt areas, affecting the local countryside as a result.

Ongoing climate change is, to some extent, modifying conditions for sport, and there are those who express fears about the future of their sport, McCullough says.

‘Representatives of the National Hockey League (NHL) in North America have pointed out that warmer winters are resulting in fewer areas of natural ice and eventually affect recruitment of both players and supporters,’ McCullough says.

During the spring, the international working group — with five well-reputed researchers from Norway, Finland, Austria, the UK and the US — have met via video link and also had a two-day meeting in Stockholm. Their mission has been to review current research and suggest areas for a possible research programme.

In its report, the group note that a systemic view and an interdisciplinary approach are needed for better inclusion of sustainability issues in today’s research on sport and outdoor activities. Two areas are identified as particularly important for making a change: first, research relating to policies and policy instruments for changing behaviour and, second, research on decision-making, at both individual and group level.

An initiative on increased sustainability in sport and outdoor life could also generate positive effects in other areas, McCullough believes.

‘Sport and outdoor activities have a huge range, and reach out to many people all over the world. That can be used to promote sustainable behaviours and alternatives that become important in other parts of these people’s everyday lives as well.’

At its June meeting, Mistra’s Board decided to launch a research programme in the area. The call for proposals will be published on Mistra’s website shortly.

Text: Henrik Lundström