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Creating a sustainable Heritage Sporting Event

Copyrights: Triathlon Audencia La Baule

Creating a sustainable Heritage Sporting Event

Heritage Sport Events, like the Audencia-La Baule Triathlon, may be the sustainable alternative to Mega Sporting Events.

At a time where Mega Sporting Events are increasingly criticized and cities are tending to develop more sustainable policies, the concept of “Heritage Sporting Events” (HSE) appears like an attractive alternative. But what exactly is understood by this concept?

Theoretical and empirical research on territorial development carried out within the framework of my master’s thesis at ESSCA School of Management has allowed me to both study the conceptual features of HSEs and apply them to a successful example, the Audencia–La Baule Triathlon, the 34th edition of which will take place on 18-19 September 2021 in the well-known Brittany seaside resort of La Baule.

What does “Heritage” refer to?

An HSE is best defined as “an event, generally involving a single sport, that has taken place in the same place for many years and that has been held regularly since its foundation”. By nature, such events recur on a yearly basis and use or refer to the specific heritage of a territory. This allows host territories to accumulate expertise and consequently develop the event in the long run, taking into account local specificities, generating popular support and media recognition.

HSEs, with their close link between sports and territorial development policies, stand in sharp contrast to so-called Mega Sporting Events, the most visible examples of which are the Olympics or football World Cups. These are now criticised by many as the perfect expression of neo-liberalist policies, which favour the interest of the private sector over the local population and the host cities themselves. Small seems to be beautiful – smaller sporting events are said to generate benefits in the field of the local economy, social participation, tourist promotion and sporting practice. But just being small is not enough – relevant use of the specific resources of a given territory is indispensable for generating a sustainable development strategy.

HSEs can refer to heritage both in the sense of the territory’s cultural or geographical heritage or in the senses of sport heritage, depending on the strategic orientation of the event and resources of the territory. HSEs may leverage an already existing heritage arising from historical traditions (classic ice hockey or vintage cycling) but may also create their own heritage and end up being incorporated over time within the territory’s heritage, thanks to myths and traditions surrounding the event (Wimbledon would be a perfect example). They can then become a central element of a sustainable development policy within the territory. If produced and managed well, HSEs can become a territorial resource in themselves, providing a good leverage tool and generating important benefits.

How the yearly triathlon became La Baule’s HSE

HSEs are not created overnight. They emerge through a process that combines numerous elements. The periodical recurrence of the event allows the accumulation of know-how in its creation and management, while the authenticity of the event is a major element which allows the event to become a territorial resource, thanks to the specific image provided. For the Audencia Triathlon of La Baule, those three elements were combined with the good implementation of the event within the territory, thanks to a long-term political will to develop a sustainable territorial development strategy.

The recurrency feature was key for the creation of the triathlon. It allowed the event to be created by the city and for the city, but also ensured the potential longevity of the event and its prospect of being perceived as a “not-to-be-missed” event of the territory. Launched in 1985, the Audencia Triathlon of la Baule the event has been managed by Audencia, a renowned French business school located in Nantes, which has developed an appropriate budget and lent its expertise and know-how. With the development of the event, the municipality saw it as a mean to rejuvenate the image of the city, which was suffering from the sepia picture of tennis and horse-riding events reflecting an old, bourgeois reputation.

The authenticity of the event, as well as its uniqueness – it being the largest event managed by students (as both organisers and volunteers) – and its increasing popularity gave a specific image and identity to the territory. Authenticity is essential in a differentiation strategy where the event, by focusing on a city’s specific heritage, may obtain a competitive advantage over other events in the larger region. The triathlon thus became a territorial resource of its own. Today, the event attracts 7000 athletes and 70,000 spectators.

The La Baule case study shows that when HSEs manage to have a direct link to the image and identity of the territory they are implemented in, they also have a great sustainable development potential. For the triathlon, the event is developed year after year, using the territory’s resources to develop further. Many local associations are then mobilized to set up the event and a whole dynamic emerges around it. Volunteers also take part in the creation of the event, which is made by the territory and, most importantly, for the territory.

This article has been written by Jules Parlier for the Sport and Citizenship think tank. 


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Jules Parlier


Wednesday, September 15, 2021 - 12:52

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