Sport Vlaanderen and TomorrowLab are working together to build a tool that sports organisations can use to research how future-proof their organisation or business model is.
So, can we predict the future? No, we don't have a crystal ball but we can draw up a framework that enables us to look at the future in a structured way. That way we can map out where innovation will be needed to remain relevant as an organisation or business in that future.
Survival of the fittest
One comment we hear frequently in discussions with various organisations is: "Everyone seems to be talking about it, but what exactly is Innovation?"
According to het Innovatienetwerk [the innovation network] it's about experimental development, focused on developing new of better products, procedures or services. This can be done by acquiring, combining or shaping existing knowledge and skills. It can also focus on formulating or planning concepts for alternative products processes or services.
Wikipedia takes a slightly broader view and talks about any human activity that is focused on renewing (products, services, production processes, etc.).
In other words, humans have always innovated. It is the common theme that runs through our evolution. Without innovation humans wouldn't have survived. Anyone who doesn't adapt is doomed to extinction. So it isn't a new phenomenon from the last few years. But it does seem to be fashionable to talk about innovation these days. Furthermore, both politically, socially and technologically, the world is going through one of the most disruptive periods ever. That is why we feel as though everyone is obsessed with innovation, but let's hope that is actually the case.
The sports world is facing some serious challenges that are forcing us to innovate.
Trends in the world of sport
Today, the societal trends on a political, social and technological scale are so disruptive that it would be an illusion to think that this would not impact the sports world. The sports world is facing some serious challenges that are forcing us to innovate.
1. Commercialisation of sport: Who is still involved and who is setting the rules?
Professional sport is being increasingly defined by big money and the industry. It has become a sort of show, with extremely well-paid players that we all want to watch. The fight between Mayweather and McGregor[SU1] is perhaps the best example from the last few weeks. A boxer coming out of retirement to go up against an MMA fighter. Two different disciplines are coming together because promoters have seen an opportunity to make some good money out of it?
It is a well chosen example of course, but the same mechanism was involved in the decision about the FIVB reforms in volleyball. Despite the Red Dragons' sporting performance the team is at risk of losing its position among the world's best teams, because it is not interesting commercially.
How can “small” countries continue to have professional sports policy if they are disregarded by the big sports associations.
How can the sports with less entertainment value and a smaller market value survive? Can they and do they have to adapt to stay afloat or will the government take care of it?
Along with the desire for commercialisation, corruption scandals in the large sports organisations have also been exposed. It diminishes credibility and the question is whether people will continue to put up with it?
2. Science and technology: Is there still a level playing field?
Today it is already so difficult to get doping under control, while phenomena such as genetic manipulation, artificial intelligence, biochips or artificial organs are emerging on the horizon. These trends are so radical that they will force us to redefine sport.
How will we deal with that in the future? Will innovation of competition formulae, categories, types of competitions, etc. be sufficient to keep sport exciting, enjoyable and unpredictable?
3. Leisure time: Sports clubs are under pressure
Sports clubs are finding it increasingly difficult to find volunteers, trainers, board members etc. Our free time is valuable and we want to fill it as well as possible. A long-term commitment with responsibilities puts a lot of people off.
How can we adapt the organisation model of sports clubs so that they remain attractive?
- New forms of membership
- Partnerships with schools
- Partnerships with neighbourhood and senior citizens organisations
- Extending the range of services
- Forming sports societies with other actors
Playing sport in a sports club has so much more to offer than simply guaranteeing good quality training.
4. Participation in sport: how do we get everyone on board?
Despite the success of large sporting events such as the Brussels 20 km run, the Antwerp 10 Miles, and for cyclists, the Tour of Flanders etc. there is still a growing number of people that are on the verge of falling by the wayside. A large number of the indigenous middle-class has recently become aware that sport is good for your health and the range of sports available to this group has had a recent boost.
But, for example in Antwerp today approximately 48% of the population has non-indigenous origins. 27% of the children in Antwerp today are born into families living below the poverty line. And the expectation is that the rest of Flanders will follow.
Getting these groups to take part in sports will require a policy in which all policy domains work together and put together a sports policy that focuses on:
- New sports
- Easygoing sports communities
- Sports in public domains
- Sport as a means of participation
- Integration in society
It is clear: innovation is not a fashionable word or a passing obsession, it is a must and time is of the essence. The sports world is facing a number of challenges and will have to adapt. We can't stop social change, but we can face up to it, take the positive from it and respond to it appropriately.