Making our footprint: Challenges to legitimizing sport ecology

McCullough and Kellison (2020) discuss the challenges that the sport sector encounters as it begins to embrace sport ecology among practitioners and academics. This book chapter is featured within a collection edited by Brian Wilson and Brad Millington on the politics surrounding sport and the environment. McCullough and Kellison focus on the politics of acceptance of sport ecology in the sport industry, as a whole, and more specifically, how academics can actively engage and collaborate with practitioners.


The authors first highlight the social platform and reach that sport has to promote sustainable change, whether in social or environmental movements. However, they argue that the sport sector is not the silver bullet as it would seem to be promoted as such among select practitioners and academics. Instead, sport is a piece in the overall picture to achieve climate action and address global climate change. As intended with the United Nations Sport for Climate Action Framework, sport brands can use their platforms to engage the global population to encourage sustainable behaviors at sport events and everyday life.


However, for the academic research to advance, sport ecology, or the study of the bidirectional relationship between sport and the natural environment, must first have an academic’ home.’ McCullough, Orr, and Kellison (2020) outlined the sport management subdiscipline of sport ecology in the Journal of Sport Management. This is a tremendous first step, but more must be done to institutionalize the subdiscipline within the broader sport management academy. This progress continues to be made through the active research by global scholars, most notably the Sport Ecology Group members. However, some notable researchers have come before and researchers outside of the SEG. Most notably, the sport ecology research will advance more quickly with better access to data, which results in higher quality data that result in more generalizable results. Such results will lend well to other contexts across the global sport sector that address pressing and significant issues confronted by practitioners.


McCullough and Kellison continue to argue that academics ought to actively engage with sport practitioners to assist them address and solve practical problems to advance organizational wellbeing and the wellbeing of the natural environment. This is the crux and general purpose of academic research – advance knowledge and understanding for everyone’s betterment in our global society. They proposed steps on how academics in this space can be to engage and collaborate with practitioners. This collaborative process requires a learning process to understand each other’s motives, methods, and objectives.


In short, both parties need to reevaluate how they engage with one another. Academics must think about how their research will advance understanding and theory and how their research can be practically applied and have a meaningful impact on the sport sector. Sport practitioners, unlike their counterparts in other industries, do not rely on expert academics to assist them in their organizational challenges – especially when confronting climate change, climate adaptation, environmental impact assessments, managerial decision making, leveraging revenue-generating opportunities, and marketing such initiatives to customers (e.g., fans, spectators). They conclude that this collaborative process is possible and will likely have growing pains. Still, the fruits will be bountiful and will rapidly advance the environmental movement in the sport sector.


CITE: McCullough, B. P., & Kellison, T. (2020). Making Our Footprint: Constraints in the Legitimization of Sport Ecology in Practice and the Academy. In B. Wilson & B. Millington (Eds.), Sport and the Environment (Vol. 13, pp. 199–216). Emerald Publishing Limited. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1476-285420200000013012



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