Towards a Model of Olympic Social Capital: Theory and Early Evidence

Nathalie Prüschenk, Markus Kurscheidt


Towards a model of Olympic social capital: Theory and early evidence


Social capital in sports has become an increasingly studied topic. In particular, it has been argued that social capital is created by value-based cultural practices and social exchanges with respect to sport participation and sporting events. However, empirical evidence is scarce and does not capture causal relationships in the process of social capital creation. A general criticism in the social capital literature is that the existing theory falls short of modelling causalities in more detail. Therefore, this paper attempts to develop a causal model of social capital formation within the Olympic movement. It is an exemplary case because of the global esteem of the Olympic Games and their value foundation in Olympism. The worldwide awareness of the Olympics moreover creates social capital among spectators. However, the process of how the perception of Olympic values by spectators is transformed into Olympic social capital is not well understood. Thus, the theoretical modelling focuses on the so-called bridging capital accumulated by Olympic spectators. It is reasoned that the interrelationship of the three Olympic key values of respect, friendship and excellence is perceived and adopted by live spectators via a cyclic process of simultaneous experience resulting in a sustainable episodic memory. In contrast, broadcast spectators develop a dichotomous semantic memory, more influenced by socio-economic tensions caused by the commodification of the Olympic value of excellence. Hence, the live Olympic capital tends to be larger than the broadcast Olympic capital. The plausibility of the model’s propositions is illustrated by data from a cluster sample (N=1,703) of German broadcast spectators of and visitors to the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games. The basic proposition of the larger live Olympic capital is confirmed, while the evidence for the emotional exposure and socio-economic environment when experiencing the event is mixed.


social capital, social exchange theory, Olympic Games, Olympic values, Olympism, International Olympic Committee, sport spectators, sport broadcast

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