Governance and the Challenge of Development Through Sports: A Framework for Action

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Previous papers such as Russell, Barrios & Andrews (2016), Guerra (2016), and Russell, Tokman, Barrios & Andrews (2016) have aimed to provide an empirical view into the sports economy. This proves to be a difficult task, given the many definitions of ‘sports’ and data deficiencies and differences in the sports domain (between contexts and over time). The emerging view in these previous papers provides interesting information about the sports sector, however: it shows, for instance, that different contexts have differently intensive sports sectors, and that sports activities overlap with other parts of the economy. This kind of information is useful for policymakers in governments trying to promote sports activities and use sports to advance the cause of broad-based social and economic development.

This paper is written with these policymakers in mind. It intends to offer a guide such agents can use in constructing sports policies focused on achieving development goals (what we call development through sports[1]), and discusses ways in which these policymakers can employ empirical evidence to inform such policies.  

The paper draws on the concept of ‘governance’ to structure its discussion. Taking a principal-agent approach to the topic, governance is used here to refer to the exercise of authority, by one set of agents, on behalf of another set of agents, to achieve specific objectives. Building on such a definition, the paper looks at the way governmental bodies engage in sports when acting to further the interests of citizens, most notably using political and executive authority to promote social and economic development. This focus on governance for development through sports (asking why and how governments use authority to promote sports for broader social and economic development objectives[2]) is different from governance of sports (which focuses on how governments and other bodies exercise authority to control and manage sports activities themselves), which others explore in detail but we will not discuss.[3]

The paper has five main sections. A first section defines what we mean by ‘governance’ in the context of this study. It describes an ends-means approach to the topic—where we emphasize understanding the goals of governance policy (or governance ends) and then thinking about the ways governments try to achieve such goals (the governance means). The discussion concludes by asking what the governance ends and means are in a development through sports agenda. The question is expanded to ask whether one can use empirical evidence to reflect on such ends and means.  One sees this, for instance, in the use of ‘governance indicators’ and ‘governance dashboards’ in the international development domain. A second section details the research method we used to address these questions. This mixed method approach started by building case studies of sports policy interventions in various national and sub-national governments to obtain a perspective on what these policies tend to involve (across space and time). It then expanded into an analysis of sports policies in a broad set of national and sub-national governments to identify common development through sport ends and means.  Finally, it involved experimentation with selected data sources to show how the ends and means might be presented in indicators and dashboards—to offer evidence-based windows into development through sports policy regimes.

Based on this research, sections three and four discuss the governance ends and means commonly pursued and employed by governments in this kind of policy process. The sections identify three common ends (or goals)—inclusion, economic growth, and health—and a host of common means—like the provision of sports facilities, organized activities, training support, financial incentives, and more—used in fostering a development through sports agenda. Data are used from local authorities in England to show the difficulties of building indicators reflecting such policy agendas, but also to illustrate the potential value of evidence-based dashboards of these policy regimes. It needs to be stated that this work is more descriptive than analytical, showing how data can be used to provide an evidence-based perspective on this domain rather than formally testing hypotheses about the relationship between specific policy means and ends. In this regard, the work is more indicative of potential applications rather than prescriptive. A conclusion summarizes the discussion and presents a model for a potential dashboard of governance in a development through sports policy agenda.

[1] This terminology comes from Houlihan and White, who identify the “tension between development through sport (with the emphasis on social objectives and sport as a tool for human development) and development of sport (where sport was valued for its own sake)” (Houlihan & White 2002, 4).

[2] The paper relates to a vibrant literature on this topic, which investigates the reasons and ways governments support the sports sector (classic and recent studies in this literature include Adams and Harris (2014), Gerretsenand Rosentraub (2015), Grix and Carmichael (2012), Grix (2015), Hallman and Petry (2013), Houlihan (2002, 2005, 2016), Houlihan and White (2002), Hylton (2013), Koski and Lämsä (2015), Schulenkorf and Adair (2013), and Vuori et al. (1995).

[3] Work on the governance of sports assesses the way international entities like FIFA and the IOC work with national and local governmental bodies to oversee, regulate, and otherwise manage sports like football and the Olympic movement, using authority to create and implement rules on behalf of those involved in the sport itself. See, for instance Forster (2006), Geeraert (2013), and Misener (2014).

CID Working Paper: 323
Last updated on 09/13/2016