Sport events as political capital: definitions, evaluation of effectiveness and who benefits.

Mark Piekarz, Andrew Adams

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


It is hardly a new observation that sport has the potential to be
used as a political tool. Indeed, Bose (2012) makes the claim
that as sport has grown and become more commercialised, it
has now become the most powerful political tool in the world. It
is a grand claim and one which needs critical scrutiny, because
the power of sport is often invoked as the key mechanism
through which impacts and transformations can be levied on
political processes and outcomes. Making sense of the claim
can be confusing when attempting to disentangle the
sometimes paradoxical rhetoric surrounding sport that comes
from many actors, not least governing bodies and governments.
Indeed, many international sport organisations regularly engage
in the rhetorical promotion of how sport can transform societies
and economies for good, yet at any hint of a sport event being
used as a platform for political protest, the mantra that sport
and politics should not mix is rolled out. The hypocrisy at
governmental level would seem obvious; many democratic
governments use sport events as a tool for mobilising political
support, whilst authoritarian regimes may use sport events as a
means for building political legitimacy.
In this paper, a model is designed based on a meta-analysis of
literature, which better represents the theory of political capital
and the role of sport in building this type of capital. The model
explains how sport can be used to influence and transform
politics; who is likely to gain and lose; and what factors
influence its effectiveness in capital development. Whilst
elements of these questions have been covered by other
writers, there are some crucial gaps in the literature. For
example, Grix (2013) has discussed how governments use
sport as a form of soft power to help maintain rule. Whilst
invaluable, it still only paints part of the picture. In particular, it
does not fully address how other actors and agencies, such as
sport bodies, pressure groups and businesses can also use
sport and sport events as tools for bringing about political
changes that benefit the groups they represent.
The model juxtaposes three important theoretical features: the
notion of political capital; the concept of leverage; and the
context of the potential impacts of sport on politics. In relation to
capital, the work of Bourdieu (1986) informs and underpins our
use and application of political capital, which in comparison with
other ‘capitals’, such as economic, social and human, is an
under-developed construct, rarely discussed in literature.
However, it is a construct which has great value when exploring
how and why sport can be used as tool which can impact on
politics to facilitate positive or negative changes. This idea that
sport has a value is, however, dependent on how it is used, or
leveraged, in order to make an impact on politics. Leveraging
draws mainly on the work of Chalip (2006), which looks at the
intervening mechanisms which need to be utilised if sport is to
have any real impacts, along with how this has known and
unknown knock on effects (Sam, 2009).
The model identifies the pathways, connections and processes
that show how sport has the potential to be used by
governments and a variety of actors to promote and protect
particular political agendas and interests. One particularly
important trend observed is the number of democratic countries
which appear to be losing faith in sport events potential for
developing political capital which they can lever for gain: this
can be contrasted by the number of authoritarian regimes who
seem to be attaching more faith in the role of sport and sport
events to try and build their political power bases.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event24th EASM Conference - Warsaw School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Warsaw, Poland
Duration: 7 Sept 201610 Sept 2016
Conference number: 2016


Conference24th EASM Conference
Abbreviated titleEASM
Internet address

Bibliographical note

The abstract only is available on the EASM website.


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