A recent compilation of studies from all around the world pinpoints several societal benefits of outdoor sports. Moreover, a toolkit is now available for those who are developing or managing outdoor sports and want to demonstrate the socioeconomic impact of their efforts. We have spoken to ENOS, the network representing outdoor sports at a European level, about their efforts to highlight the power of – and diversity in – outdoor sports.
Benjamin Billet is the new Secretary General for ENOS (the European Network of Outdoor Sports). He is on his way to a big meeting somewhere in southern France where he is about to present the recent findings from one of their projects when I get a word with him. The first months at his new job have been very hectic, but he is clearly fuelled with a big portion of passion and enthusiasm over his task. Which is huge.
“The benefits of outdoor sports must be recognized at a European level” Benjamin explains. “In some countries, it is difficult to generate funding for initiatives in outdoor sports other than at local or regional level. Moreover, there is a demand for knowledge build-up. ENOS highlights outdoor sports in general plus focuses on more specific needs and challenges through various projects.”
One such project is BOSS (Benefits of Outdoor Sports for Society) – the project Benjamin is about to present the outcome of. A compilation of 133 previous studies from various countries around the world resulted in six key findings. Moreover, a toolkit for evaluating societal benefits in monetary terms has been developed. “Decision-makers are often reluctant to invest in outdoor projects if the benefits are unclear, and the societal benefit is sometimes greater than the short-term economic profit. Now we have a tool for visualizing the social effect in financial terms too” says Benjamin. “Some partners underestimated the level of complexity, and there has been some disappointment, but overall we managed to deliver a quality product.”
An additional outcome of the BOSS project was achieved during the testing of the method. Benjamin continues: “It was a new process for many of our project members and it triggered a lot of reflections. It was interesting for example to analyse the whole value chain and purpose behind a project focusing on getting women to cycle, which was one of our pilot studies. The project members are now ready for evaluating their own investments at home in a similar way.”
Another ongoing project, being highlighted at the ENOS website, is ESSA-Sport (European Sector Skills Alliance for Sport and Physical Activity). It is stated that the outdoor sector is growing and changing, with increasing expectations to improve health, develop people and communities and provide employment. Yet very little is known about the size and structure of employment and the skills needed to work in the sector. ESSA-Sport addresses this gap and conducts the first comprehensive mapping of employment and skills. The goal is to support strategic development of the outdoor sector.
ENOS itself is a network of European experts, local authorities, national federations, universities, practitioners and outdoor sports enthusiasts. It was formed in 2013, sprung from the need in several countries to look beyond narrow economic and sportif interests. One main objective for ENOS is to represent outdoor sports at a strategic level in Europe. Moreover, ENOS encourages the recognition of leaders and instructors across geographic borders. They aim to develop mobility and employment, and they promote initiatives towards responsible and sustainable access and use of nature.
A long-term goal is to present the unique variety of outdoor sports and represent the variety of interests. “But this huge variety is also one of our challenges” says Benjamin. “The interests of big commercial actors and those dealing with competitions are dominating in strategic thinking today.” He asks me to point out that ENOS has not reached its full potential yet. “We want to widen and create additional benefits to our members. Strategic improvements and development of outdoor sports can only be achieved in co-operation.”
Benjamin’s task is huge because ENOS is solely funded by membership fees, which in turn are low compared to other branch networks. But thanks to his long and diverse background he seems well suited for tackling his task. Benjamin grew up in France, and he worked as an outdoor instructor and for the Ministry for outdoor sports in France before moving to Sweden. “My wife and I were fascinated by the possibilities for outdoor sports in Sweden and decided to move to Stockholm” Benjamin explains. He continued to explore different perspectives as a professional too, like the retail industry and as a regional coordinator of outdoor sports at a county administration.
”In Sweden I worked a lot with democracy issues, and I have always been attached to the European Union and intercultural learning. There are so much we can learn from each other within the outdoor sector, among others concerning how to activate people and motivate them to try outdoor sports. It is important to look beyond national borders.” Now Benjamin is back in France at ENOS’ regional office. The headquarter is in Brussels in Belgium, though.
Benjamin is ENOS’ new engine, driving the network towards their targets. The network wants to improve the diversity and attract new members from additional countries and sectors within the outdoor community. Moreover, gender equality and sustainability will be more in focus.
“Co-operation with the initiative Europarc is a first step towards more sustainable outdoor sports and improved knowledge in environmental issues. When you buy a mountain-bike for example, perhaps you should get information about how to behave in nature with your bike – not just technical information about the bike.”
Benjamin wants to improve policy-work across different sectors too. “We want to challenge the current way of working in silos that is common practice in many countries. The outdoor sector is broad and has a huge responsibility because it involves so many people in Europe” he says.
Our conversation over phone is interrupted at times since Benjamin is driving, and it is time to wrap up, but before we finish Benjamin emphasises: “I want to point out that the biggest challenge we face in the outdoor sector is gender inequality, including disproportionate representation which is obvious within our network too. This is something I want to discuss further with you at WIMA and that ENOS will address.”
To summarize, the six key-findings concerning societal benefits of outdoor sports are no surprise. But now we all have solid facts to refer to when needed plus a toolkit for evaluating our own efforts. There is a network in place, which is aiming for strategic power and welcomes additional members in order to increase its diversity. Improved gender equality is an issue that must be dealt in order to maximise the societal benefits of outdoor sports. So,…
…WIMA seems to be right on track!