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East is East - BRICS building new future for sport

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: July 17, 2014

This piece is based on the Editorial from Volume 2, Issue 1 of the Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal

If one looks back to the 19th century, the history of sport during this era was one of European pre-eminence. During this era, sports such as football developed through custom and practice, and were later codified to become the basis of sports that are stilled played today. Several sporting mega-events, like cycling’s Tour de France, were also a product of the era, and many are still staged even today. The way in which sport in the 19th and early 20th centuries emerged, effectively enforced distinctive modes of research and analysis. Studies often stressed the historic, socio-cultural, and philosophical foundations of sport, with disciplines such as sociology prospering as vehicles through which contemporary sporting phenomena could be examined.

As the 20th century progressed, a North American model of sport emerged, initially paralleling the European model. Latterly, this model appeared to transcend the European model leading to the development of a business and managerial focus on sport. Underpinned by strategic intent and commercial purpose sport in North America, rather than reflecting custom and practice, was reflected operating considerations such as the sale of rights, and the notion of fans as customers. It is within such a tradition that this journal emerged, reflecting a prevailing paradigm that pervades across many sports (but which has still to have a profound or meaningful impact on others).

Yet while some sports, and the organisations within them, continue to grapple with the ramifications of sport’s 20th century model, a new model appears to be emerging. Some might be surprised by the emergence of this model, while some may dismiss it as a mirage rather than a meaningful reality. However, I predict that the 21st century will see the emergence and eventual dominance of an Asian model of sport. This will have serious ramifications for journals such as this publication, but also for the areas of sport in which we engage in research, and also in terms of the methodologies, tools and techniques employed by researchers.

We already have ample evidence that this is happening: for instance, the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was notable not just for the financial commitment of the Chinese government to the event, but also for the way in which a sporting mega-event became the focal point for the re-branding and symbolic re-birth of a nation. More recently, Qatar has won the right to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup, an achievement that signifies how important the Asian model is becoming.

The Qatari experience is an interesting one: just as some countries may seek to invest in manufacturing, electronics or tourism as the basis for building and sustaining economic activity, so the Qatari government has adopted sport as a central strategic pillar. By investing in this way, Qatari is creating foundations for the development of civic infrastructure such as roads, houses, shops and industrial areas. In parallel, sport is simultaneously being used to boost participation in sport amongst the population, improve health and lifestyles, promote social cohesion, enable the generation of country branding opportunities, and provide the basis for international networking and political influence. There is also the intention too that the new and emerging Asian model of sport will produce the kind of elite athletes that could propel Asian countries to the top of leader boards across the sporting world. The nature and scale of state intervention in sport does not, nevertheless, preclude the continuing global commercial development of sport, and so we are witnessing the on-going development of issues in the business and management of sport. Indeed, Qatar’s first sport hedge-fund has recently been set-up, with the purpose of analysing global sporting investment opportunities.

The 21st century is thus witnessing the emergence of a new sporting model, and this will inevitably impact upon the nature, focus and delivery of sport research in the years to come. What the specific impacts will be is currently difficult to precisely identify, but given the nexus of different goals and the multi-institutional nature of emerging developments, one should expect to see network perspectives of sport continue to develop and flourish. Moreover, studies emphasising the embedded context of relationships in sport are also likely to enjoy some degree of prominence. At the same time, research undertaken from various stakeholder perspectives is likely, presumably accompanied by examinations of how the needs and expectations of these stakeholders are reconciled. One should also expect to see associated developments in methodology; as the United States has dominated sport, so too has research built upon a North American positivist tradition. One suspects that this tradition will continue to prevail for some time yet, especially given the global appetite for quantitative data. If one considers issues in measuring, for example, the intangible impact of sporting investments on country brands, the further importance of quantitative data analysis should not be under-estimated. However, such is the nature of an activity such as country branding, that qualitative and mixed-method approaches to research should not be underestimated.

And so, as we move deeper into the 21st century, emerging trends already indicate that this will be a very different sporting century to those we have encountered over the last 200 years. Whether these changes lead to on-field successes at major sporting events remains a moot point. However, off the field, it is anticipated that Asia and its sporting model will fundamentally change the way in which we observe, research and analyse sport in the coming years.

About Professor Simon Chadwick

Professor Simon Chadwick set-up and edits The Scorecard. He is Director of CIBS (Centre for the International Business of Sport) at Coventry University, where he works as Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing.  Simon tweets via Prof_Chadwick