Aim and Research Questions: This systematic scoping review aims to clarify how context conditions shape nations’ elite sport policy process and international sporting success outcomes. ‘Context’ is something that many in the field of public [sport] management deem with significant importance, but few define it, and even fewer do so much to describe and analyse it (Pollitt, 2013). Hence, this literature review aims to describe the nature, potential use and value of the concept of ‘context’ of countries in the policy process of elite sport development and international success. The following primary review questions will be addressed: (1) How is ‘context’ defined or conceptualised within elite sport policy literature and other relevant academic studies?; (2) What methods and theoretical frameworks (if any) have been used for analysing elite sport policies?; and (3) To what extent do individual contextual factors shape international sporting success? This study hopes to contribute to our understanding of context conditions in developing elite sport systems. Finally, a unifying ‘macro-/meso-level context factors framework’ will be proposed that aims to clarify the many questions that remain about achieving optimal elite sport environment in different nation contexts.
Theoretical Background and Literature Review: The phenomenon that more and more nations are in the pursuit of international success (often referred to as ‘the global sporting arms race’) has driven researchers to investigate elite sport systems. In particular, the extent and pattern of government support for elite sport has been heavily examined during the past two decades (Houlihan, 2012). Although sport management scholars acknowledge that policy development and implementation are strongly dependent on specific conditions of a country, our understanding of how such context conditions actually influence the policy process of elite sport development remain limited and challenging (De Bosscher, Shibli, Westerbeek, & Van Bottenburg, 2015). Weible (2014) proposed that policy process research involves “the study of the interactions over time between public policy and its surrounding actors, events, and contexts, as well as the policy or policies’ outcomes” (p. 5). Therefore, as a focus of this review, the policy context relating to the socioeconomic conditions, culture, infrastructure, biophysical conditions, and institutions, including the rules comprising a constitution structuring a (sport) governing system are explored and conceptualised. Furthermore, emerging factors from the review may be classified into broad context dimensions as proposed by Digel (2005), such as, but not limited to, social structure, mass media, political system, economic situation, educational system, and mass media.
Methodology: The scoping review was based on the methodological guidelines for conducting systematic reviews by the Joanna Briggs Institute (Peters et al., 2015). Relevant databases (i.e., EBSCO Sportdiscus, Elsevier Scopus, Clarivate Web of Science, and Science Direct) were searched for related key search terms in January 2019. The search is limited to academic studies that adhere to the following criteria: investigating governmental elite sport policy (e.g., that of national sport associations or governing bodies), the development of elite sport policy process, or some aspects of delivery of elite sport outcomes. Articles are excluded if they were not written in English, and if they focused on individual performance of athletes (micro-level) or other sport policy domains (i.e., sport for peace and development). Furthermore, articles focussing on statistical models of success were opted out. The findings emerging from the review are to be categorised using thematic analysis into different broad context dimensions and will be represented in a conceptual framework.
Preliminary Findings and Discussion: The database search returned 4.075 academic and grey literature from 1974 to 2018. During the screening process of potential records identified, twenty four (24) studies were included in the review. Relevant statements were extracted and analysed using thematic analysis to define ‘context’ and conceptualise contextual factors shaping the nations’ elite sport policy process. Based on initial findings, most of the studies were conducted in highly-industrialised western countries, which utilised various theoretical frameworks (e.g., advocacy coalition framework, multiple constituency model, etc.) to analyse the elite sport policies of the respective participating nations. The synthesis of nation context definitions will be presented, including a discussion on the degree of operationalisation of context conditions in the selected academic studies. A ‘context conditions conceptual framework’ will then be proposed that attempts to understand the extent of influence of context conditions on the elite sport policy process and nation’s international success outcome.
Conclusion: This study addresses the unravelling of context conditions from being a static, passive backdrop to a more active constituent affecting the policy process of elite sport development and its success outcomes. The suggested ‘context conditions conceptual framework’ could guide the analysis of how context and underlying mechanisms shape the elite sport policy process. Indeed, this study contributes to a better understanding of the contextual configurations of countries’ elite sport policy system and their respective outcomes.