The impact of sport for all policies on elite sporting success.

Bake Dijk, M. Van Bottenburg, Veerle De Bosscher, S. Shibli, Hans Westerbeek

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)Research


Theoretical background
Although it is often assumed that the scale of sport participation is a condition for elite sporting success, the literature on this subject is inconclusive (Green, 2005; Green & Houlihan 2005; Sotiriadou, Shilbury & Quick 2008; De Bosscher & Van Bottenburg 2011). Of course, most top athletes originate from grass roots participation. And yes, a large base of mass participation numbers provides a broad breeding ground for elites sport. But the relationship between sport for all and elite sport is not that straightforward. First, many people practice a sport without any desire to attain a higher level, and increasingly on an informal, non-competitive basis. Second, it appears to be possible to build high performance programs without relying on a broad participation base, making use of highly developed system-related talent identification and development processes (Green 2005). Unfortunately, there is a dearth of empirical analyses of this relationship, primarily due to a lack of internationally comparable data (De Bosscher et al. 2008; De Bosscher & Van Bottenburg 2011). This paper contributes to filling this gap in the literature, based on the SPLISS 2.0 study.

Aim of the paper and research question
This paper addresses the question to what extent national sport policies directed towards sport participation determine their elite sporting success, and which policy aspects are most crucial in that respect.

Methodology, research design and data analysis
The SPLISS 2.0 study elaborates on earlier studies in which a nine-pillar model was developed which identified key sports policy factors that influence the international success of nations (De Bosscher et al. 2008). From January 2011 onwards, researchers from 15 nations collected data following this pillar model and measured 126 critical success factors in a standardized way, with the help of a validated scoring system. As in SPLISS 1.0, these data were collected in all participating nations through an overall sports policy research instrument consisting of 226 questions answered by desk research and interviews, and through surveys with primary stakeholders. Pillar 3 (sport participation) consists of 16 questions, measuring 12 critical success factors.
With respect to the relationship between national sport policies directed towards sport participation (pillar 3) and elite sporting success, six levels of analysis were distinguished:
* (1) the organization of sport at schools (physical education and extra-curricular activities);
* (2) the level of non-organized sport participation;
* (3) the level of sport participation in clubs;
* (4) the level of sport participation in competitions,
* (5) the national policy to improve total quality management in sports clubs; and
* (6) the national policy to improve the quality of talent development in sports clubs.

Elite sport success was measured by the success ratio of the SPLISS 2.0 countries in the Olympic Games and World championships in the 2009-2012 period, in Olympic summer and winter sports, using the Infostrada database .

At the time of this abstract submission, the final results could not be calculated yet. However, preliminary findings revealed interesting results. First, in general, the relationship between national policies directed towards sport participation and national sporting success appeared to be rather weak. Second, the relationship was found the weakest with respect to national policies towards total quality management in sport clubs, the level of unorganized sport participation, and the organization of sport at schools, and the strongest with respect to the level of organized sport participation and sport participation in competitions.

Discussion and implications/conclusions
These findings suggest that sport policies directed towards broadening the participation base are only of secondary importance in explaining differences in elite sporting success between nations, and that such policies are most effective from an elite sport perspective if they lead to more organized sport participation. More research is needed on a sport by sport level and in relation to competitive and more frequent sports participation.

* De Bosscher, V. & van Bottenburg, M. (2011). 'Elite for all, all for elite? An assessment of the impact of sport development on elite sport success.' In: Houlihan, B. (ed), Handbook on Sport Development (pp. 575-595). London: Routledge.
* De Bosscher, V., Bingham, J., Shibli, S., van Bottenburg, M. & De Knop, P. (2008). A global sporting arms race. An international comparative study on sports policy factors leading to international sporting success. Aachen/Oxford: Meyer & Meyer.
* Green, B.C. (2005). 'Building sport programs to optimize athlete recruitment, retention and transition: Toward a normative theory of sport development.' Journal of Sport Management, vol. 19, pp. 233-253.
* Green, M., & Houlihan, B. (2005). Elite sport development. Policy learning and political priorities. London/New York: Routledge.
* Sotiriadou, P., Shilbury, D. & Quick, S. (2008). 'The attraction, retention/transition and nurturing process of sport development: some Australian evidence.' Journal of Sport Management, vol. 22, pp. 247-272.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInvited speaker at the symposium: SPLISS-II: benchmarking national elite sport development systems. In N. Balagué, C. Torrents, A. Vilanova, J. Cadefau, R. Tarragó, E. Tsoladkidis (Eds). Book of Abstracts of the 18th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science – June 26-29 ECSS, pp. 284, Barcelona, Spain: ECSS
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jan 2013 → …


Period1/01/13 → …


  • elite sport
  • sport for all
  • pyramid


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