Calisthetics, The Games and creating social impact.

Creating social impact with sport events, that is the true goal of The Calisthetics Games. As investments in sport events have increased, sport events have become the subject of public scrutiny. Demands for ‘evidence’ supporting the claims of sport event organisers that they contribute to the public good have started to accumulate.

Starting on the idea of Calisthetics for its founder in 1994.

This demand for transparency was further fuelled by e.g. ‘white elephants’, corruption in sport organisations and budget overruns that accompanied at least some of the larger sport events in recent decades, and that brought into question the degree to which societies actually benefitted from organising sport events. This demand for evidence has spurred research in the economic domain for quite some time. Over the years, a significant body of evidence has been built up on the degree to which sport events contribute to economic development. And even though economists still dispute the economic logic behind sport events, this body of knowledge has led to more or less standardized practices and guidelines that steer research and allow for basic levels of comparability.

The driving force behind this vast body of economic sport event research is that sponsors demand some sort of legitimation of their economic investments, and hence demand economic impact analyses, media-impact studies and the like. In the social domain, however, things have not developed to quite the same extent. Even though it is not difficult to see how sport events elicit outbursts of enthusiasm and excitement, there is little research on how that energy translates and feeds into larger social processes, and may contribute to solving some pressing societal issues like integration, inequality and non-participation.

To date, sport event impact studies have been mainly economic in nature, while thorough evaluations of the social impact are relatively scarce . So far, no well-developed methods have been created to measure the impact that sport events have outside the economic domain. The social impact as a result of a sport event is, to a certain extent, obvious and unquestionable . However, providing scientific evidence as to the sustainability of this impact, as well as its broader social significance, is very much another matter. The truth is that the social impact that is generated by sport events is ‘easy to see, but hard to prove’. Sport events may attract large-scale attention, live, on TV and via the internet (live streams and social media). Indeed, sport events are among the most broadcast and viewed, they make for larger than life headlines in newspapers, and turn winners into national icons. But how exactly this ‘magic dust of sport events’ may or may not transform the lives of participants, spectators, volunteers and local citizens in the long run, remains a question yet to be answered satisfactorily.

One that we are trying to define. You see Calisthetics was created too around a question, “what makes an athlete?” so that if we can define it, we can teacjh it and then test for it at The Calisthetics Games. However The Calisthetics games themselves pose a question, “ What is the social impact that is generated by sport events and how can we make it bigger and effect more people!”.

The main reason for this shifting of attention is that sport event proponents, typically public authorities, aim to optimise positive social impact, while this is only occasionally measured. For example, Mourato found that the expected ‘intangible benefits’ of the 2012 Olympics in London were seen as more important by citizens across the country, than the tangible benefits such as economic gains and improved infrastructure.

As a Londoner this makes me proud and excited.

Against this background, it is our aim to provide a platform to learn about the current state of play as regards research into the social impact of sport events.

This blog or paper intends to cluster the leading scientific literature on (creating) social impact from sport events, add to the debate and present possible directions and actions geared to obtaining sustainable positive social effects from sport events.

The main questions is, “What scientific evidence is there for different types of social impact as a result of a sport event?” and which strategies contribute to creating a positive social impact.

With this we hope to provide readers, whether they are politicians, policy-makers, sport event organisers, sport federations, sponsors, journalists, researchers, students or interested citizens, with an opportunity to join us on our mission with Calisthetics and The Calisthetics Games.

Calisthetics ‘We Are Athletes’

Since the year 2000, the concept of legacy has gained increasing interest. The IOC organised its first conference on legacy in 2002 . Since then it has been mandatory to include legacy in bids for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. And in its Agenda 2020, the IOC has included leaving a sustainable legacy as a key-objective for future Olympics. The legacy concept is now popping up in other sport event contexts as well. These days, sports events, especially mega events, are mentioned in the same breath as legacy. There are indications that this had led to excessive use of the ‘L-word’ (Not the TV show dealing with complex LGBTQ relationships). This excess is especially troublesome because promised or expected impacts and specifically legacies from event organisers and other event advocates either do not occur or cannot be demonstrated.

A prominent example was (is) the ambition of the national government in the United Kingdom to ‘inspire a generation’ with the organisation of the 2012 Olympics in London. But also in the case of smaller events, like European Championships and World Championships, there are high expectations among event advocates of the social goals that can be achieved with sport events. More and more professionals currently in the sport event industry realise that a sport event in itself does not by itself lead to all of the outcomes desired by the investing parties. In order to produce positive social impacts, leading to a sustainable social legacy, stakeholders must put mechanisms in place which anticipate on the momentum that a sport event offers.

Strategic planning for event legacies is called leveraging. Leveraging refers to the way the event and its resources are exploited in order to produce social impact with sport events desired (social) effects . Thus, a prerequisite for generating legacies is that the organisations and stakeholders involved have planned for it . In another domain of the sports industry, sport sponsoring, it is a well established fact that any initial sponsor budget requires an additional activation budget for the financing of supplemental activities that allow for the initial investment to function effectively and generate desired results.

A one-to-one investment ratio between the initial sponsor budget and the activation budget is not uncommon. As far as the social impact of sport events is concerned, this is not the current practice. Even though social outcomes of sport events are generally hoped for and desired, this rarely means that such effects are also planned for and that leveraging processes are being put into place . Successful leveraging is absent in a significant number of events, partly because of inadequate knowledge, and sometimes unwilllingness to invest time and money.

As someone in events, I can tell you that it is typically, the main event itself is a ‘greedy institution’, absorbing all the time and money and leaving little energy for thinking about and acting on activities that extend well beyond the closure of the event.

Legacy: the planned and unplanned, positive and negative, intangible and tangible structures created through a sport event that remain after the event.

Leveraging: the implementation of strategies which are geared to creating social impact with sport events, regarding the event as a lever. Leverage is relatively new discourse. As a result, there is very little understanding of how events could be used for more inclusive, positive social outcomes. In many studies the basic facts about the sport event (like duration, number of participants and visitors) and the impact it generated is what is presented.

What happens in between — strategies separate from the organisation of the event itself, aimed at creating social impact — frequently remains a ‘black hole’.

This is a significant finding as it is assumed that it is precisely this process that highly influences the intended social (and economic) effects.

The question arises as to what has to be done — and how, when, and by whom — to be able to “use” a sport event to optimise positive social effects which the the point of The Calisthetics Games.

What do we mean by Social impact?

Social impact refers to the manner in which a sport event prompts changes in the collective and individual value systems, behaviour patterns, community structures, lifestyle and quality of life.

We believe there are three main aspects of social impact :

Sport and sport participation: the degree to which sport events stimulate the sport sector and especially stimulate participation in sport;

Attitudes and beliefs: the degree to which sport events influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, norms and values (e.g. happiness, ‘feeling good’ and pride);

Social cohesion: social cohesion is the ongoing process of developing a community of shared values, shared challenges and equal opportunities, based on a sense of trust, hope and reciprocity , as a result of a sport event. This is one of the goals and hopes of Calisthetics.

While attitudes and beliefs mostly refer to individual (psychological) characteristics, social cohesion in addition refers to social processes and interactions that are stimulated or initiated by sport events. This means that social cohesion is not limited to individual beliefs and values. Rather, social cohesion is the result, the sum, of the interactions of the many citizens that make up a society. Part of that creating social impact with sport events interaction occurs within and between individuals acting as part of local networks, organisations and institutions: schools, sport clubs and other voluntary associations, possibly churches and other local communities, local businesses, municipalities etcetera.

Whether a society experiences ‘social cohesion’ comes in part from the degree to which such institutions exist and operate and the practices that they help shape. This implies that these networks, organisations and institutions need to be studied as well, if one intends to establish whether sport events generate some sort of effect on ‘social cohesion’.

We hope and aim that The Calisthetics Games provides the positive aspects of impacts including: increasing mass sport participation and physical activity, increased health-consciousness, increased (national, regional and international) pride, a feel-good factor, feelings of connectedness, increased social cohesion, social inclusion and social capital, increased social identity, getting the best out of yourself and psychic income (like feelings of euphoria and even transcendental effects).

Social impact refers to the manner in which a sport event effect changes in the collective and individual value systems, behaviour patterns, community structures, lifestyle and quality of life.

Three main types of social impact, can be distinguished: mass sport participation, individual attitudes and beliefs (pride, feel-good) and social cohesion. Different stakeholders can be associated with sport events. Main stakeholders include the event organisation, the national and local community, media, public authorities, participants, rights holders, sponsors, suppliers, visitors and volunteers. Following that three-way distinction, we look at mass sport participation, attitudes and beliefs, and the broader issue of social cohesion.

Advocates of sport events repeatedly refer to the appearance of a ‘demonstration effect’. A demonstration effect is a process by which people feel inspired by elite sport and the achievements of elite sportsmen and women at sports events to participate in sport themselves; to increase their sport participation or to take up new sports . In addition, one might be inclined to think that organising sport events may provide a stimulus to the sport sector as a whole (the federation, the clubs, the facilities, the budgets and the media attention). Studies that focus upon the realisation of such effects are scarce however.

The social identity theory is used to describe how sport events influence the individual identification with their communities, regions or nation. Certain values and emotional attachment towards a community, region or nation can be developed because people look at an event with hope and sense of belonging. Traditions, symbols and rituals such as raising a flag or singing national anthems play an instrumental role within the process of developing identity . Additionally, sport events provide outlets to experience belongingness to local or regional groups .

What we at Calisthetics HQ love is that sport events can be used to promote values such as team spirit and discipline, but also, at a wider level, tolerance, multiculturalism and solidarity.

The relationship between a sport event and social or national identity can be perceived both by local residents, participants and visitors . The FIFA 2010 World Cup in South-Africa offers interesting insights. Although there were threats of xenophobia, this did not deter many from celebrating the event as having resulted in a positive therapeutic effect that set the nation and continent on a new path of confidence and unity . Interestingly, due to the work of a foundation which was set up to capitalise on the increased excitement about football in a non-host small-town community, the event also led to short term increased levels of community pride in that region. In spite of the effect on national pride, the FIFA 2010 World Cup had marginal effects on the national identity experienced by local residents . Research on stories from local residents in South African townships showed that they take a critical stance towards the World Cup’s legacy, because personal situations and community structures were often disrupted, rather than improved. But still, many residents are positive about the event because they perceive changes in public safety, the image of their city and pride that such an event visited their country. This example shows that it creating social impact with sport events is possible to create feelings of pride in both host and non-host areas in the host country, even when the residents are critical towards the event. It seems plausible that long-term identity through sport events is more powerful at yearly hallmark or local events than through one-off events. But up to now, few studies have been conducted at hallmark and local sport events from a social identity perspective.

The 2012 Games in London also offer interesting insights. At the end of 2012, 38 per cent of the British adults was proud to be British because of Team GB. Team GB, the national team, performed well during the Olympics in London. The national mood became particularly positive during the eighth day of the Games, on ‘Super Saturday’, when several British athletes won gold medals, including Mo Farah (10,000 metres) and Jessica Ennis (heptathlon). This proportion for Team GB is higher than the proportion of citizens that were proud of the Royal family (36 per cent) and the BBC (16 per cent). On the other hand, this is lower than the proportion that is proud to be British because of military forces (40 per cent) and — on top — healthcare (45 per cent). Events provide a platform for sport fandom.

When fun experiences during events (when normal social boundaries are broken and alternative social constructions are explored) engenders communities, additional social capital is activated as new social relationships are forged or existing relationships are strengthened. Although social networks are widely regarded as a pivotal component of social capital, we know very little about how relationships are forged or strengthened via events. We do know, however, that social networks play a significant role in health, community development, and entrepreneurial success. The unique feature of event communities is that they enable relationships to form across age, gender, and social class boundaries that are not normally broken outside the fun space of events.

Borgmann claims that the coming together of people around a meaningful leisure activity presents a positive context for a ‘community of celebration’. Within this context, sport programs and events are often seen as a promising way to encourage communication and communal celebration, as they have a certain ‘intrinsic power’ to activate people, remove barriers between groups and change people’s attitudes and behaviour. What makes the context of events attractive is that they are fun. There is a ‘feel-good’ outcome. That positive feeling is itself a leverageable ( is that a word) resource, as it can sustain agendas for social and community action. Much of what was done to leverage the Rugby World Cup in South Africa represents an effective effort to capture and use the positive affect that an event can engender.

We sometimes forget that fun can have social value. The good news is that by cultivating celebration and camaraderie at our events, we can enrich the social lives of our communities.

Earlier we spoke of leveraging, and what we know is that attention should be paid to the question of who is leading the leveraging process (public or private sector?). In particular, the effective mix of events with the local product and service mix requires formation of strategic alliances — not merely between the event and local business or government, but also among local businesses and between business and government.

Although work to date has demonstrated the necessity of alliances to enable leverage, three clear impediments have also been noted. First, businesses that need to ally themselves may normally be competitors. Second, the leveraging that local governments and businesses undertakes may strike event organisers or event owners as being perilously close to ambush marketing. Third, local organisations may require substantial help to develop the skills and/or resources.

In the end we know, without a question of doubt that we at Calisthetics need to know which strategies can be distinguished to create positive social impact and what are opportunities, constraints and pitfalls when aiming for positive social impact?

Social impact from sport events does not occur by itself and requires careful planning, additional actions (‘leveraging’) and the cooperation of a great number of stakeholders, starting well before the event and continuing well beyond the end of the event. In order to enhance social impact by sport events, we recommend the following strategies:

  1. Be proactive in planning with regard to the benefits for the host community, take strategic measures to make events more sustainable;

2. Invest in building links with existing policies and networks (local governments and community organisations), institutionalise those networks;

3. Allow for the active involvement of stakeholders (e.g. citizens, community organisations) in the overall hosting process, respect community values;

4. Reassure internal and external stakeholders that appropriate decision-making is being accomplished by applying principles of ‘good governance’ (accountability, participation, performance, and transparency) to event legacy;

5. Bond events in different fields, in order to reach a wider audience and create broader social impact;

6. Pay due attention to the question who is leading the leveraging process: public or private sector? It seems that non-mega sport events provide more positive social impact and outcome opportunities (power relations, urban regeneration, socialization and human capital) for local residents compared to mega sport events.

The bottom-up strategy in organising a smaller event in niche communities like we plan on doing in October 2018 with the MICE Book for the MICE community ( Meetings. Incentives, Conferences and Events) program instills a sense of ownership in the local community, a solid foundation to support positive outcomes.

The big picture produced by this paper is that sport events do carry a potential for social impact, especially though not exclusively, for their primary target groups (participants, visitors, volunteers).

Still, social benefits are not shared equally and effects are primarily short-term. It is believed that there remain unexploited opportunities to further utilise the social potential of sport events, beyond what is happening today.

Promising next steps when striving for positive social impact from sport events include the involvement of groups of people beyond the usual suspects (e.g. non-participants in sports, socially disadvantaged), and considering the event as an element of a broader strategy in a way in which it contributes to solving societal problems.

We believe, in Calisthetics, that in the years to come it will become crucial to put this on the agenda of sport event organisers and of local and national authorities in order to develop a body of knowledge on strategies and best practices, and — not unimportant — to establish guidelines and models that help build evidence for the occurrence of social impact of sport events.

We hope to see you at the next Calisthetics Games.

Founder Jason Allan Scott of Calisthetics and The Calisthetics Games with Kelly Starrett.