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An analysis of the design and effect of the government support to Swedish elite sport

Research project Swedish elite athletes experience very different conditions even though they are part of one common elite sport system that during the past three years has been granted SEK 212 million in additional financial support. What are the results of this effort and what has it meant for the competitiveness of Swedish elite sport?

Government support to club sport has during its century-long history been directed towards children and youth sport. The motives are primarily connected to public health and the social values of sport. A clear break in this trend was when the government in 2009 decided to add a specific elite sport goal in its commission to the Swedish Sports Confederation, accompanied by SEK 212 million in additional financial support. The purpose of this project is to analyse the design and implications of the government support to elite sport.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2011-01-01 2012-12-31

Funding

Centrum för idrottsforskning

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Education, Umeå School of Sport Sciences

Research area

Pedagogy

Project description

In 2009, the government decided to add SEK 212 million to the government support to club sport in a means tested endeavour for all national sport organisations. The Swedish Research Council for Sport Science was commissioned to perform a deepened analysis of the design and effects of this endeavour and answer questions about Swedish elite athletes’ international competitiveness. This project covers the parts of the commission that focused on reviews of extant comparative international research on national elite sport systems and on the conditions for Swedish elite sport.

The analyses of the factors that research points out as significant for international competitiveness and of the problems that research highlights as stemming from an increased focus on international success show that the debate about elite sport ambitions that has been intensified in Sweden recently is not particularly unique. On the contrary, it is widespread both in terms of geography and over time, which means that there are many lessons to learn from. They also show that there are many perspectives to be taken in the debate about what elite sport is and should be, why a society should or should not devote resources to elite sport, what systems for their distribution should look like and how potential effectiveness in such systems can or cannot be estimated.

The analyses of the conditions for Swedish elite sport show that the organization of elite sport seems to be functional. In financial terms, however, elite athletes are worried. They call for more resources but above all, for increased transparency in the systems and criteria for their distribution. In their view, the systems ought to be put under the same scrutiny as the recipients of resources are. Some suggest that higher and more precise demands on the systemic levels could contribute to alleviating some of the uncertainty many athletes experience. More transparency in the distribution of resources would also avail for analyses of priorities between sexes, sports, and coming or established athletes that have been missing so far.