THE SOCIAL VALUE OF ELITE SPORT: SPORTING ROLE MODELS, A SIGNIFICANT FACET IN A MULTI-SIDED TALE OF ELITE SPORTS’ SOCIETAL OUTCOMES
The escalating costs needed to achieve elite sport success causes governments to get entangled in an unsustainable, upward competitive spiral leading to excessive spending (Houlihan & Zheng, 2013). When facing the challenge of justifying this prioritization to their public, elite sport policy makers increasingly tend to advocate for elite sport development by stating that it will ‘trickle’ a wide range of societal benefits (e.g. an increase in its population’s sport participation) (De Bosscher, Sotiriadou, & van Bottenburg, 2013). This strategy, however, is being criticized by academics questioning its efficiency and effectiveness and the justification of its investments (Grix & Carmichael, 2012). One could state that elite sport is ‘battling’ with its societal position in light of the uncertain/unproven influence mechanisms and societal benefits. As a result, the aim of this PhD study is to build knowledge related to the question ‘why nations should care about winning medals, and therefore why they should invest in elite sport’. This PhD project is guided by ‘Realist evaluation’, a theory-driven evaluation method used in evaluating social programmes. A Multiphase Design strategy (Creswell & Clark, 2011), which involves different phases of data collection and analysis will be used. Thus, in a first phase, the elite sport potential societal outcomes will be identified and a conceptual model and a measurement instrument will be developed. In a second phase the conceptual model and the measurement instrument will be tested and used in an empirical environment. In order to do this, a population study in Belgium will be performed. In the third – and last – phase, the focus will be on only one aspect of the elite sport actors, namely the elite athletes and their assumed role model function. This in relation to one potential elite sport outcome: the stimulation of the masses to participate in sport. More specifically, we will evaluate the effectiveness of a programme using elite sporting champions on stimulating grassroots sport participation. The project will contribute to theoretical understanding of the societal value of elite sport, furthermore, it can inform elite sport decision makers in judging whether or not elite sport funding can be the answer to a specific goal.