Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Globalization’ Category

Sport Ecology: all it is, and all it could be

Madeleine Orr* & Walker Ross**

*Madeleine is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. She currently teaches in the Sport Administration program at Laurentian University in Canada.

** Walker is a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina.

As PhD students, we often answer the question: “what’s your area of specialization?” It’s a reasonable question: it’s important have a clear and consistently personal brand on the job market. But, what if your research doesn’t fit into one of the established ‘sub-disciplines’ of sport management?

When we met in 2017 (via Twitter posts on sustainability, of course), we compared notes and realized we both got the same ‘what’s your specialization’ question, and that answers such as ‘I study sport and the natural environment’ or ‘sport sustainability’ didn’t seem to satisfy the inquisitor. Perhaps the better answer is ‘sport ecology’, as this term is broad enough to include the full breadth and depth of the relationship between sport and the natural environment.

We’d like to use this blog to advance the understanding that the relationship between sport and the natural environment is complex and dynamic, ever-present yet ever-changing, meriting a subdiscipline of its own. What it comes down to, is that sport’s relationship with the natural environment is about more than just recycling and turning off lights.

Picture1

Concept Art for Forest Green Rovers’ proposed stadium in UK, made of sustainably sourced wood a caption

For example, sport ecology would encompass research on:

  • Weather and environmental conditions of sport,
  • Sport in natural versus artificial environments,
  • Impacts of climate change on sport,
  • Methods for making sport more environmentally sensitive and sustainable,
  • And more…

As a starting point, it is important to recognize the fundamental relationship that sport has with its environment. Many sports developed out of social-ecological connections in their places of origin. Think of golf (from Scotland), ice hockey (from Canada), or surfing (from Polynesia). Changes to the planet’s ecological state, coupled with rapid globalization and commercialization, have and will continue to alter where and when sport is played and enjoyed. For example, who would’ve guessed there would be indoor alpine skiing facilities in Dubai, or irrigated golf courses in the Nevada desert? These changes present new challenges which complicate the previously taken-for-granted relationship between sport and the natural environment. It follows that a sport ecology sub-discipline should develop in response.

Picture2

Caption: Heat exhaustion at the Australian Open, January 2018

We’re not the first to work in this space – we stand on the shoulders of giants: Brian McCullough, Tim Kellison, Sylvia Trendafilova, Melanie Sartore-Baldwin, Jonathan Casper, Cheryl Mallen, Haylee Mercado, Kyle Bunds, Greg Dingle, and others. These scholars have contributed substantially to sport ecology. There have also been contributions outside of sport management from geographers and natural resource scientists. Importantly, practitioners have been working in this space for decades: ski resort managers can tell you their job has everything to do with knowing and adapting to snow patterns; most college and NFL football games have a meteorologist on site (or at least, on call) to warn of storm activity; the golf industry has entire conferences and organizations dedicated to turf management.

Picture3

Recreational skater on melting ice in Edmonton, Canada

Here is some broader context for sport ecology:

  • The term ‘ecology’ combines ‘eco’ (environment) and ‘logy’ (study). The emphasis on ‘study’ in ecology is important: we are scientists and our work, first and foremost, is to understand.
  • Sport ecology would follow in the rich scientific tradition of human ecology, a derivative of geography and ecology, and would be related to recreation ecology (Marion, Leung, Eagleston, Burroughs, 2016; Monz, Pickering and Hadwen, 2013), tourism ecology (David, 2011), and business ecology (Abe, Bassett & Dempsey, 2012).
  • In the sport industry, associations and conferences have emerged to address issues related to sustainability and climate change. Examples include the Green Sports Alliance and the Sports Environment Alliance. Many major leagues and organizations, including the NHL, NFL, PGA Tour, and the NCAA, have launched green initiatives. There is even a ‘Green Sports Day’, recognized by the White House in 2016.

We are still working to define the boundaries of the sport ecology sub-discipline (we’ll get there – currently working on conference presentations and academic papers) And we would love to hear your input. Please, get in touch with us to discuss!

Sport Issues: S4D

We look too close, then we overlook

By Laura Coughlin, Development Aid Intern, Sports Charity Mwanza

There is this overarching idea that the western world needs to go to Africa and help, but do we see what we want to see or do we see what is really in front of us? I fell into this mindset after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2017, as I knew I wanted to avoid the corporate world a little longer and decided to travel to Tanzania to work for a sports charity. We worked to provide equipment and training to local teams and clubs. I quickly learned how Western influence is not this rainbow filled picture of volunteerism and help. We assume and judge and try to change what we see because it differs from the way we grew up, and then we overlook the issues we leave behind.

Kids in Tanzania play sport to keep off the streets. They play sport to avoid gang involvement. They play sport with the hope of becoming a professional and being able to provide for their family. They play sport with the hope of receiving an education, which they fail to receive at their local schools. In Eastern Africa, sport is a hope, a dream, and a means of survival.

IMG_2463[8]

Kids in the United States play sport for fun and to be active. They play to get into college. They play to make money; to be rich and famous. Sport in the United States is a pastime, a business, and a way for school kids to make friends.

When westerners enter these rural parts of Africa, we look close and narrow in on the fact that this boy is playing football without any shoes on and a red flag goes off in our mind. We are used to having the latest pair of Nike cleats at our reach, therefore how can this kid properly play sport without similar shoes? Because of instinct, we search and donate shoes to that little boy and some of his friends. They enjoy and show them off and now everyone in the community wants the same nice shoes. Can you blame them? As volunteers, we do what we can but to give a whole community a pair of shoes is just too much. So we leave these few boys now possessing an unnecessary material item, and unknowingly have created a demand that we cannot fill. We look too close at the shoes, and then we overlook the larger picture.

IMG_2462[8]

While the sports industry drives our economy in a positive way, maybe it is driving our values in a negative way. These kids in Tanzania had some of the most impressive football skills I have seen in a youth community, without shoes and without a properly lined field. We need to stop looking at these players as charity cases and begin to see them for what they are, talented youth with the potential to dominate a professional football league. There needs to be a push to get them exposure and the resources they need to have their skills seen, to give them the opportunities to change their lives through sport, the way athletes in the United States can. We cannot expect these opportunities to be identical. They must be relative to the location, such as a chance to escape violence in Tanzania versus the chance to go pro in the United States. These opportunities will vary, but they need to exist.

Don’t get me wrong, donating to a child in need is great and something to smile about. I just hope we can get to the point where we take another step into the investment of these poverty stricken kids. We need to help them take another step towards their future in their new shoes. I hope Western culture doesn’t lose the passion and dedication that is the true key to success in sport, and we do not just remain focused on the money or cool shoes. I hope to focus my future career in sport on community development and athletics that have a direct impact on individuals and their situations. Imagine how many kids from Eastern Africa could out play Ronaldo, but will never get the chance because we only give them shoes instead of a shot.

%d bloggers like this: