Does Elite Sport Develop Mass Sport? A Norwegian Case Study

by Dag Vidar Hanstad & Eivind Å. Skille

Vol. 1 2010, pages 51–68
Published March 31, 2010


The notion that elite sport generates mass sport,seems to be a social fact among many and influential members of the society. The issue is, however, under-researched, and the little research which actually exists does not confirm a causal link. In this article, we take as a point of departure the case of Norwegian biathlon, and its development, both as elite sport and mass sport, to nuance the picture. We are not guided by any particular theory, but believe in a thick description of the empirical case in order to understand it. Therefore a mixture of methods is applied: document analysis, statistics and interviews. The article shows how increased income from elite performance makes it possible for a sport federation to make strategies and prioritize incentives for recruitment of mass participants. At the same time, it is evident that the relationship between elite sport and mass sport is best understood as a complexity of figurations where economic, strategic and other aspects interplay. In sum, elite sport does not generate mass sport per se, but it may contribute indirectly. In the end, it is critically reminded that mass sport is not prioritized to elite sport; apparently, the former is “prioritized” only when the latter is prioritized first.

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About the Authors

DAG VIDAR HANSTAD is PhD student at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo.

EIVIND Å. SKILLE is teacher and sport studies researcher at Hedmark University College, Elverum, Norway.