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New Research: Leveraging Sport Heritage to Promote Tourism Destinations

I am pleased to announce the publication of “Leveraging sport heritage to promote tourism destinations: the case of the Tour of Flanders Cyclo Event.” This article, to be published in the Journal of Sport & Tourism, was co-authored with Dr. Inge Derom from Vrije Universiteit Brussel and is based off of data she collected in 2013. A limited number of free e-copies of the article are available.

From the abstract:

The conceptual framework of event leverage has been applied to cases of event sport tourism, but it has been under-examined in cases of heritage-based active sport tourism. Using the framework of event leverage, the purpose of this paper is to explore the strategic opportunities for tourism destination development associated with hosting heritage-based active sport tourism events. Quantitative and qualitative survey data were collected from participants (N = 1091) at the 2013 edition of the Tour of Flanders Cyclo event. This annual active sport tourism event has gained world-wide popularity through explicit associations with Flanders’ cycling heritage. The findings reveal significant differences between national and international event participants in terms of their socio-demographic profiles, cycling behaviours, and event motivations. Active sport tourists who travelled internationally to take part in the event were more committed to experiencing and pursuing the event’s heritage, as active participants as well as passive spectators. While sport tourism events are commonly identified as the key resource in the event leveraging literature, this paper highlights the leveraging potential of other event and destination-related resources, including event heritage, route, and atmosphere. The findings contribute to the conceptual framing of event leverage by identifying active sport heritage as an important resource to promote participation among sport tourists. This study suggests a broader conceptualisation of sport heritage as an active and embodied process. Event stakeholders are advised to create temporary and permanent transformations that can enhance the connection between the facets of the event and the context of the host to attract domestic and international participants all year round.


This research is important for sport heritage scholars and practitioners in several ways, including that the heritage of sporting events can be an important lure for sport tourists, that sport heritage can be an active and participatory and not merely passive and consumptive, and that destinations could employ their sport heritage connections in tourism development, particularly to attract international visitors.

Heritage and the World Cup

David Lowenthal, in his essential text The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, contends that blood – in particular the real or imagined hereditary relationship we share with the past – is one of the most basic elements of heritage.  We might have an actual lineage to a particular past, or we imagine that we ought to, and as such, we claim certain traits, identities, and histories as our own.  Lowenthal’s contention came to mind today when thinking about the World Cup and, in particular, how we as spectators choose which team to support.  In the case of those fans from the 32 nations in the tournament, perhaps the choice is fairly clear.  However, even then, often times those fans will have hyphenated support – or, will choose the country of their ancestors first before supporting their country of residence or citizenship.  Here in the US, I know several people who are supporting Italy, or England, or Chile – as well as the US – because of their family’s background, or because they feel they have a tie (and, sometimes, a stronger tie) to those countries than they do the US.

As a Canadian (FIFA ranked #110 for the men’s team), the World Cup is but a pipe dream.  We didn’t qualify, didn’t even come close, so I find that I have leaned on the perception of my own heritage and identity to choose my “teams.” As such, I am supporting the following three squads:

England – My mother is English (though she’s spent almost all of her life in Canada) and I have many personal and professional ties to the country. Furthermore, there’s a weird colonial attachment I have to England.  So, my attachment is part blood, part identity, I suppose.

USA – I have had to reconcile my support of the “Eagles” with my national identity.  As a Canadian, I’m not really supposed to support the US. Yes, our nations are closely related, we are very similar culturally, etc, etc.  But, that’s kind of the point.  An oft used analogy is that the US is Canada’s big brother and, that as Canadians, we’ve had a hard time forging our own identity.  I recall that one US Ambassador to Canada quite astutely observed that the worst thing an American could say to a Canadian is “You’re just like us.” While the American sees that as a compliment, the Canadian sees that as a rejection of anything that is distinctive about the country and it’s identity.

So, why am I supporting the US?  Three reasons – first, my son is American.  Even though he’s two and has no idea what the World Cup is (though, as the picture below can attest, he does like to try and push a gigantic World Cup soccer ball through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s head office in Toronto).  So, blood is a big part of it.  Secondly, having worked in the US for over five years now, I know that it is far more than the caricature that many Canadians (and others) ascribe to it.  Yes, it is strange and downright scary here at times, particularly culturally, but there is still so much good here that it’s hard not to really, really grow to like it. And, finally, I like underdogs – and the US team certainly is one at this tournament.

ImageBelgium – I don’t have any Belgian heritage, at least in terms of blood, but I spend a great deal of time there each year professionally and I really have fallen in love with the country.  And, well, there’s a nationalism component to it as well, given the role of Canada in defending Belgium in the First World War.

Point is, I suppose, that heritage does play a role in how we view the World Cup – and, really, I can’t think of many other competitions where we are so flexible with how we affix our identity. Even when we choose to root against another team, we often do because of our adopted heritages, claiming distant conflicts, slights, and injuries as our own (as an English supporter, I still root against Argentina at every opportunitiy – even though I have no direct attachment to the Falklands War). As such, there is a strange kind of existential heritage in World Cup fandom that makes it, from my perspective, a unique form of sport heritage.

Meta-heritage: an observation

Every May for the past three years I have been a visiting scholar at KU Leuven in Belgium.  Although part of my role here is teaching, primarily in an EU-sponsored master’s degree, I do have the great fortune to see a variety of heritage sites and get involved in a number of heritage-based research projects (some of which do involve sport heritage topics).  In any event, as you can imagine much of the heritage tourism in Belgium is focused on the First World War, particularly during the centenary commemorations. This past weekend I went to an exhibition called Ravaged at Museum Leuven. The text below describes the purpose of the exhibition:


The sacking of KU Leuven’s library, detailed in the introduction of Margaret MacMillan’s excellent The War That Ended Peace, was one of the most shocking instances of cultural heritage being targeted in wartime, and placed Leuven as having a shared-heritage of destruction with other cities around the world.  However, beyond topic itself – which is very interesting, and awfully depressing – of particular interest to me was that this was the first instance that I had encountered of (for lack of a better term) “meta-heritage.” In other words, here was a heritage site essentially staging an exhibition about heritage.  I’m sure there are loads of other examples, particularly in celebration of anniversaries of heritage legislation and heritage organizations (though these would seem to me to be a bit once-removed), but this was the first exhibition I have encountered where the heritage was the…heritage.

Of course, this hasn’t a lick to do with sport heritage – until, of course, sport heritage gets very self-referential.