Danish sports policy: An arena for conflicts and the fight for public subsidies

New book about sports with lots of facts, subjective analyzes and significant attitudes

There are books about sports which should absolutely be published, because with this we can become wiser about ourselves, the communities and the society of which we are a part. And there are books about sports that should never have been published due to lack of research, thin content or poor language. Let it be said immediately: “Danish sports policy – sports in the Ministry of Culture through 50 years” (Gads Forlag, 2023), which was prepared by cand.polit. Claus Bøje and cand.scient.pol. Søren Riiskjær clearly belongs to the first category. Anyone with an interest in sports, culture and politics can become wiser by reading the book, which contains lots of facts, subjective analyzes and significant attitudes. It is already emphasized in the preface that “… the book was written based on the desire to uncover the state’s management of sports in the Ministry of Culture. The production is supported by the authors’ personal view of the development and strong commitment to sports”. This point of view becomes the book’s greatest strength and weakness at the same time.

Shared ideological position: Sports Research Center at Gerlev Sports Academy

Both Claus Bøje, who has been sports policy advisor at the Ministry of Culture (1972-1987), editor at Danmarks Radio (1976-2008), researcher at Sports Research Center at Gerlev Sports Academy (1989-2000) and head of development at the Danish Foundation for Culture and Sports Facilities (2000-2008) and Søren Riiskjær, who has been sports policy advisor at the Ministry of Sports (1979-1997), researcher at Sports Research Center at Gerlev Sports Academy (1997-2005), CEO of Team Denmark (2005-2006) and head of department at DGI (2006-2016), has to a very large extent contributed to putting sport on the (cultural) political agenda over the past five decades. The ideological starting point for those authors was Sports Research Center at Gerlev Sports College, which from the end of the 1970s until the turn of the millennium played a very decisive role in connection with the establishment and development of a critical humanistic-social science sports research in Denmark.

Clash with the thesis about the unity of sports

It was especially Claus Bøje’s article – “Clash with the thesis about the unity of sports” (1978) – which was published on the occasion of Gerlev Sports Academy’s 40th anniversary, which in subsequent decades came to shape conflicts and power struggles in Danish sports. The article was a showdown with the perception of sport as one big movement, where everything is naturally connected from top to bottom and from one participant group or activity to the many others. Bøje argued that the thesis “elite creates sport for all, and sport for all creates elite” served to postulate connections and camouflage contradictions and thus limited the possibilities of sport as a cultural factor. The article was also a direct attack on the Confederation of Danish Sports’ (DIF) monopoly as sports’ “mouthpiece” vis-a-vis both the Danish Parlament and changing governments.

The diversity of sports with different wishes and needs of citizens was empirically documented a few years later by Søren Riiskjær, who, together with Eigil Jespersen from Sports Research Center, published the report “80’s sports – towards a new grassroots sport” (1984). The report concluded that unorganized sports – such as running, cycling, swimming, outdoor activities and aerobics outside of organized clubs – formed a very significant part of the overall sporting picture. In other words, both the state, municipalities and the sports organizations were “necessary” to find new solutions, if the slogan about “sport for all” was to be anything more than a rhetorical speech.

Ministers of culture with varying quality with and without a passion for sports

Bøje and Riiskjær have, as personal advisers to ministers of culture of varying quality and with greater or lesser passion for sport – both directly and indirectly – contributed to the vast majority of sports policy visions, initiatives and concrete legislative proposals put forward by changing ministers of culture in the period 1972-2005. A period where the Act on Elite Sports (1984), the Act on Public Education (1990), Revision of the Lottery Act with the establishment of the Danish Foundation for Culture and Sports Facilities (1992), Sports Policy Ideas Program (1997) and Act on Anti-Doping in Sports (2004), changed the distribution of roles and responsibilities between the state and the main “autonomous” sports organizations: DIF, DGI and DFIF. The book’s source material is both ministerial reports, parliamentary reports, articles from the media, non-fiction as well as the two authors’ personal experiences and experiences.

Sports in the Ministry of Culture: From a peripheral position to ministerial profiling through sports

The book contains a foreword, 10 chapters, an afterword, an overview of Danish ministers of culture in the period 1968-2022, Minister of Culture Ebbe Lundgaard’s speech on 10 November 1997 and a bibliography. The individual chapters follow a chronological timeline from the end of the 1960s, when a cultural policy statement was prepared without a single word about sports to the beginning of the 2020s, when topics such as doping, match-fixing, mega-events, children’s certificates, dissatisfaction in elite sports, good governance and sport-washing require political involvement from the Parlament, government and the Ministry of Culture. In the course of the book, the two authors describe and discuss a number of central themes: The expanded concept of culture, cultural political principles such as freedom of expression, cultural democracy, quality and decentralization, ministry of culture activism, cultural and sports policy statements, establishment and development of Team Denmark, anti-doping at national and international level, elite sports and art, media rights, grassroots sports and public health, leisure law and public education, architecture and urban planning, charter for the voluntary sector, sports research, Sports in the EU Treaty, liberalization of gambling legislation, distribution of the lottery, alliances and power struggles between DIF and DGI, performance contracts and framework agreements, sports as combat, play, dance and immersion and much, much more. Individual chapters could benefit from sharper editing, just as references and notes (always) strengthen the credibility of books and articles.

A great sporting political “testament”

The book’s final chapter – “Tensions in sports policy” – deserves top marks. Here, Bøje and Riiskjær succeed with wide and precision in summarizing and concluding on the biggest challenges of Danish sports policy. Bøje and Riiskjær have consistently and credibly maintained sports as an important cultural phenomenon for half a century, while most other actors – the sports organizations, governments, ministers of culture, political parties, municipalities, associations and federations – have focused to a (far) greater extent on the health, social and entertainment dimensions of sport. However, Bøje and Riiskjær’s sporting political “testament” is full of both value and meaning. “Danish sports policy – sports in the Ministry of Culture through 50 years” should henceforth be a mandatory curriculum for all future ministers of culture and their staff, political decision-makers in sports, culture, health and education as well as sports students at all higher education institutions. Sports managers from organizations, federations and associations can also “broaden their horizons” by reading the book, either in full or in excerpts.