Back from the future without major sports events
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a circle of footballers gather on a dusty pitch
Key changes and a renewed focus for sport and development post-COVID-19.

Imagine a future without large-scale sport events. No more World Cups. No more Premier League. No more Olympics. People cannot gather in crowds to attend events. Fans cannot travel long distances. Rights-holders are broadcasting competitions without spectators. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we are actually living in this future. Things that used to be normal because “this is the way it has always been done” have been stopped and questioned overnight. Sport leaders have adapted quickly to make impactful decisions via video call, because in this new world, we cannot jump on an intercontinental flight for a 2-hour meeting. Many old truths are suddenly not valid. As we look forward to a new reality, how do we think the role of key actors in sports can change and what would be their renewed focus or added scope?

Coaches at the grassroots are empowered

Coaches' role as facilitators increase as they support athletes and learners in their technical and professional development. Coaches need to be empowered to work more independently, and will have to be more tech-savvy and resourceful. Online tools, video solutions and remote coaching techniques will play a bigger role.

Athletes become entrepreneurs

Athletes will embrace their role as autonomous entrepreneurs and social influencers. They will need to leverage on individual sponsorship and promote themselves through social media as contracts will decrease for most.

Clubs adopt a social enterprise model

With reduced income from ticketing and sponsorship clubs will turn to social business models and will enhance community engagements. They will provide the technology and  framework for coaches and athletes to conduct safe (remote) training programmes.

Schools play an enhanced role

Schools will play an even bigger role in supporting students of all ages and abilities in their physical and mental development through physical education and sport activities. Intra and inter-school programmes become integrated to the public policy and strategic planning of sports governing bodies.

Universities offer new solutions for sports and society

Universities will leverage on their interdisciplinary nature to grow collaboration with other stakeholders in sports, e.g. sports governing bodies, governments, NGOs, to develop more targeted research and solutions to pressing issues in sport and society.

Governments face growing scrutiny to ensure socio-economic development

With less cash available to spend on large sport events, governments will be under scrutiny on how they use public resources. In order to invest in high-impact sport and physical education programmes, governments will partner with Universities, NGOs and NFs to enhance cross-sectoral monitoring & evaluation mechanisms and ensure the relevance of interventions for the community.

(I)NGOs are the brokers of purposeful multi-stakeholder partnerships

(I)NGOs have the know-how and expertise to identify the gaps between sports and social systems. They will help sports governing bodies and governments to  ensure sports are used as a tool that drives local solutions to address societal issues.

National Federations empower the grassroots

As a result of holding fewer competitions, NFs will have more responsibility towards empowering the grassroots through transfer of knowledge and technology. They will enhance support and provide more resources for the professional and technical development of coaches and athletes.

International Federations become social enterprises that leverage the power of sports

IFs will hold fewer events during the year and there will be growing interest in innovative mechanisms to leverage the power of sports to address social issues. E-Sport is incorporated into their scope. IFs become social enterprises and explore a franchising model as an alternative to manage its member associations.

Broadcasters and sponsors to focus on local content and local partners

Fewer events and economic constraints will call for adapted strategies for sport sponsorship and broadcast. Smaller scale events and non-commercial sports activities will gain content space and broadcasters will develop more local and cost-effective methods. There will be an increased use of  VR and other technology solutions to address attendance constraints. Global sponsors will have an increased interest to drive local solutions for athletes, clubs, grassroots and sport for development initiatives.

While the post-Covid-19 reality may not be a world without any large-scale sport events, the number of events may be fewer, and events may look very different. In order to stay relevant in this context, key actors in sport will need to re-evaluate their mission, their purpose and their way of doing things. To thrive in this ‘new normal’, they must explore alternative models which refocus power and resources on the base of the pyramid. This will take courage. However, if there was ever a moment to try something new, it is now.

Diogo Jurema: With over 15 years working in sports, Diogo has worked with different IFs as well as public and private organisations to build and implement sport event  strategies; he worked with bids and event organisers, and managed sports events and legacy programmes.

Sarah Crumbach:  For the last 12 years, Sarah has worked in project management and operations of Olympic and non-Olympic events in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. As a grassroots football coach herself, she is passionate about sport as a tool for education and social development, and is currently doing research on the impact of youth sport events. 


Sport Event Manager & Researcher


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