“We are breaking new ground in assessing sustainability in sports”

Pamela Wicker is a Professor for Sport Management and Sport Sociology at Bielefeld University and holds the Chair for Sport and Society. In this interview, she talks about how the UEFA EURO 2024 relates to sustainability, how to raise awareness on the presence of women researchers in the media, and how the social value of football can be measured. 

What are your current research interests and questions?

Our current focus is on assessing the three dimensions of sustainability in sport: Ecological, economic, and social sustainability. We also conduct research on sport participation and gender studies in sport, with a particular focus on women in sport leadership.

Pamela sits in an armchair and speaks into a microphone.

You are leading the evaluation study of the UEFA EURO 2024 in cooperation with the German Sport University Cologne. What is it about? What are the objectives? 

This project assesses the ecological, economic, and social sustainability of the European Men’s Football Championships. We will collect a wide range of data to measure different aspects of sustainability before and after the tournament in order to systematically analyse its impact in all three dimensions of sustainability among different stakeholders such as residents, fans, sports clubs, and host cities. 

The chart illustrates the three dimensions of sustainability in major sport events: ecological, economic, and social sustainability, which can be viewed as a ‘magic triangle’. This concept emphasises the interrelationship between the three dimensions and how they all contribute to the overall outcome.

The evaluation study will help to advance sustainability efforts in sport and provide a basis for understanding ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable major sporting events. The lessons learned and recommendations for action can be used for future sporting events. The unique contribution of our overall project was to look at sustainability, rather than just collecting the typical data on the economic impact of the event, such as spectator numbers and their spending. This is critical as impact and sustainability are different concepts – generating high impacts is not always sustainable.  

When it comes to ecological sustainability, the systematic estimation of the carbon footprint generated by the event is important, as it provides information on climate responsibility and potential compensation payments. Moreover, we examine the perceptions of residents and ticket holders regarding ecological sustainability and their pro-environmental behavior, as well as the sustainability efforts of sports clubs in Germany before and after the event.  

You have mentioned your research on women’s leadership in sports. What is that about?

One example is our initiative ‘Women in Sport Economics, Management and Sociology (WISE MS)’. This initiative is part of a research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which focuses on the visibility of female academics, specifically female professors in the social sport sciences. We examine how they are perceived as role models, what characteristics are attributed to them, and what characteristics are deemed necessary for professors. We also investigate the existence of gender stereotypes and whether there is a gender citation/publication gap. Our findings challenge the theory that a mismatch between gender roles and leadership attributes contributes to the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, suggesting that other factors must play a role here.

You are also cooperating with UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations. Can you give an example of a recent project?

In a project recently conducted for UEFA, we examined the social return on investment of playing grassroots football and of volunteering. We made the contribution of these activities more tangible by assigning a monetary value to playing football and volunteering. Various valuation methods, such as the well-being valuation approach, can be used to convert these social impacts into monetary values. This approach makes it possible to allows quantify the social value of football, taking into account both measurable expenditure and more qualitative social impact. This type of research is strongly supported by sports organisations as it helps to quantify and better understand the positive impact of sport participation and volunteering.