When nations face the challenge of justifying their elite sport development policies, they tend to state that a wide range of societal benefits will ‘trickle down’. This argument, however, is being criticised by academics who claim that there is a lack of empirical evidence for the way elite sport influences society. In light of the uncertain/unproven positive and negative societal impacts, this study developed an encompassing conceptual framework that integrates the empirically supported potential societal impacts assumed to result from elite sport. Hence, an extensive mapping literature review regarding the potential positive and negative societal impacts of elite sport was conducted. The process involved interpreting, labelling, clustering and validating. The resulting framework includes 10 categories representing 79 sub-categories. It was found that, since the turn of the century, a growing number of empirical studies has increased the realisation that elite sport does not automatically initiate positive societal impacts. Moreover, the various ‘dark sides’ of elite sport seem to be underestimated. The framework and overall empirical picture of the potential societal impacts of elite sport presented in this paper contribute to progress the field as, until now, no mapping review that captures the full scope of this top-down relationship has been conducted. This paper hopes to make a contribution to the understanding of elite sport as a societal phenomenon. It could be argued that the potential societal impacts assumed to be sparked by elite sport have been identified but are still little understood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-502
JournalInternational Journal of Sport Policy and Politics
Issue number3
Early online date14 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

    Research areas

  • Elite sport, conceptual framework, elite sport impacts, elite sport policy, societal value

ID: 45453552