Published 2019-11-06

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New Mistra programme focusing on sport, ‘friluftsliv’ and sustainability

Most Swedes are involved in sport and ‘friluftsliv’ (‘open-air life’ or outdoor activities) in some way: as active practitioners of a sport, on outings in the forest and countryside or as spectators at various events. These activities will be examined with a sustainability focus in the new research programme Mistra Sport & Outdoors.

‘Our task is not only to do research but also, in collaboration with partners, to try to make things happen. We want to create a movement for more sustainable practice,’ says Peter Fredman, Professor of Tourism Studies at Mid Sweden University and the intended programme director of Mistra Sport & Outdoors  .

The objective of the new programme is ambitious: to establish a world-leading, network-based centre for research, development and policy support concerning sustainable solutions in sports and ‘friluftsliv’. Moreover, new sustainable practices will be developed.

‘Sports and outdoor activities are a dynamic sector, with many young people in it, which gives us a good opportunity to exert influence. We hope to develop innovative and sustainable solutions for such aspects as travel and consumption of equipment. The hope is that it can make waves, and also affect other parts of society.’

Two organisations in Sweden, the Swedish Sports Confederation and Svenskt Friluftsliv (‘Swedish Outdoor Life’), currently have a total of 4.8 million members. Since the sector is growing, there is a need both to study and to minimise the environmental impact to achieve a more sustainable trend, Fredman says.

‘Sport and “friluftsliv” have not only expanded over time; there are also a growing number of different activities. Today it’s an extensive sector in society with many participants employed and engaged as volunteers.’

What is more, we are practising sport and ‘friluftsliv’ in new ways. One example is the ‘sportification’ of outdoor activities that has taken place in recent years, he says.

‘What used to be mountain hiking is now trail running or mountain marathon. Events have proliferated, and that also makes sustainability more challenging.’

Research in Mistra Sport & Outdoors  will be organised in a total of six areas known as ‘work packages’. The programme covers four thematic areas:

  • transport and mobility
  • land and water use
  • materials and equipment
  • events and spectators.

Moreover, there is one work package for the study of present-day sports and ‘friluftsliv’ in societal and historical terms, and also another relating to behavioural issues and policy instruments.

In total, some 20 scholars are involved: historians, educators and researchers in sports and tourism studies, geography, recreation ecology and life-cycle analysis, and transport and materials science.

To date, sports and outdoor research projects have been largely conducted in parallel, according to Fredman. Mistra’s stated aim is to bring about more cooperation between these fields.

‘There’s an intention at Mistra for the research programme to try and merge the two research fields. We have a lot to learn from one another.’

The new research programme will be run from Mid Sweden University in Östersund, jointly with five academic partners: the University of Gothenburg, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Malmö University, Chalmers University of Technology and Dalarna University.

Associated with the programme, too, are numerous interest groups and government agencies connected with nature, the environment, sport and ‘friluftsliv’. Examples include the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Association for the Promotion of Outdoor Life, the Swedish Tourist Association, the Swedish Sports Confederation, and specialist sports associations like the Swedish Ski Association and the Swedish Para Sports Federation. Municipal and county organisations, including the City of Gothenburg and the County Administrative Board of Västra Götaland, are also participating.

‘Our work is going to be a collaborative process. Jointly, we’ll identify relevant issues that we’ll then seek the answers to over the next four years — and then, we hope, for a further four-year period, if we get an extended mandate,’ Fredman says.

So far, the Mistra Sport & Outdoors programme is in its infancy. During the autumn, joint preparations by Mistra and the research consortium are under way. One of the remaining tasks is to appoint a programme board. The programme will begin on 1 April 2020.


Facts — Mistra Sport & Outdoors  

Programme period: 2020–2023.

Budget: SEK 70 million, of which Mistra will provide SEK 56m.

Participants: The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Association for the Promotion of Outdoor Life, the Swedish Tourist Association, the Swedish Sports Confederation and several special sports associations. Municipal and county organisations are also taking part: these include the City of Gothenburg and the County Administrative Board of Västra Götaland.



Decision on allocation (from the newsletter, September 2019)

Expert group comments on the background paper (from the newsletter, June 2018)

Background paper (April 2018)