Acceleration or Deceleration?: Personalizing Sustainability Models Based on Elite Sport Careers


General sustainability-related issues can be analyzed well using smaller societal and economic sets. Here we choose to study elite sports through the voices of athletes, which reflect the characteristics of society and the economy regarding power, peak performance, and competitiveness. The purpose is (1) to identify existential elements in elite sport through thematic analysis, and (2) to invite readers to generalize qualitative results to personalize competing models of sustainability. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was adopted as a research method. Semi-structured interviews were implemented with five successful, retired elite athletes. Data analysis of the participant narratives involved conceptualizing the content into five higher order themes: identity, relation, transition, function, and health. Issues arising within these themes were categorized according to Coakley’s labels ‘Power and Performance’ and ‘Pleasure and Participation’. Through a two-step generalization process (transferability and analytical generalization), we personalize two competing visions of sustainability: one in which society is embedded in the economy (weak sustainability; the acceleration/growth model), and another in which the economy is embedded in society (strong sustainability; the slow/degrowth model). In the second vision of sustainability, Slow can be interpreted as the basic human condition, not a special case associated with inefficiency, laziness, and waste.


Attila Szathmári
Assistant Professor, Department of Decision Theory, Corvinus University of Budapest, Budapest, Hungary

Tamas Kocsis
Associate Professor, Institute of Sustainable Development, Corvinus University of Budapest, Budapest, Hungary


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Sport and Health


Generalization, Degrowth, Elite sport, Sustainability, Wellbeing

Digital Media


Acceleration or Deceleration? (pptx)