Norwegian swimmer Alexander Dale Oen (Foto: Shutterstock)
However, the panel states that the field could benefit from more innovation and greater researcher mobility.
In Norway, research activities in the areas of applied biology, sports medicine (especially sports traumatology) and social science research were found to be especially strong.
More research on physical activity and health
During the period covered by the evaluation (2006–2010), the number of studies on elite sport gradually declined in the Nordic region, while research on health risks and the benefits of physical activity increased. According to the evaluation, this reflects the stronger focus placed on these areas by government authorities.
Arvid Hallén, Director General of the Research Council of Norway, believes that the elite sport community has much to gain from closer cooperation with the research community.
– I don't see any incompatibility between research on elite sport and research on sport from a public health perspective. Studies of elite sport can produce knowledge that can subsequently be of significance for the public health, says Mr Hallén.
Elite sport and research must cooperate
The evaluation panel states that the Nordic countries have played, and should continue to play, a key role in elite sport research, including the prevention and treatment of sport-related injuries. If research is to become more innovative, it will be necessary to enhance cooperation between elite sport circles and research institutions.
The panel believes that the decline in research on elite sport is due in part to a lack of funding and facilities.
The knowledge gained from elite sport research is used to develop training facilities, but there has been little systematic evaluation of the impact of this research on the performance of elite athletes.
Norway lacks a career strategy
The panel assessed Nordic researcher training in sports sciences as “very good” to “excellent”. However, the quality of Ph.D. training varies substantially among the research units in the Nordic countries, and a post-doctoral period is generally required to obtain a research position.
The panel also notes that Norway lacks a clear strategy for career development for young researchers in sport sciences.
All of the Nordic countries have good national health registries and human biobanks, but the panel found that sport sciences researchers made only limited use of these resources. The committee believes that more cross-disciplinary cooperation between researchers would result in greater use of these resources.
The evaluation also notes that mobility among Nordic sport sciences researchers is limited. The lack of both national and international mobility inhibits the development of new ideas, innovation and broad scientific cooperation.
Nordic sport sciences research used to be known for its innovative approach to cross-disciplinary cooperation and methodological development. This is no longer the case, according to the panel, especially with regard to research on elite sport.
Norway has the most internal funding
Sport sciences research is conducted mainly by small research groups, and funding is often decentralised and spread among national research funding agencies and smaller funders. During the evaluation period, there did not appear to be a decline in funding for Nordic sport sciences research.
On average, 43 per cent of the research funding came from the institutions and 57 per cent from external sources. Most of the external funding was allocated by national authorities.
Norway had the highest share of internal funding, with 70 per cent from the research institutions and 30 per cent from external sources. The panel recommends that the research groups seek more funding from international sources, especially from the EU.
Professor Nina Vøllestad
Worth listening to
– The panel makes important recommendations and comments regarding funding, quality and strategic focus, says Professor Nina Vøllestad of the University of Oslo. Dr Vøllestad was a member of the steering group for the evaluation.
– Among other things, the panel would like to see more innovation and pioneering research. As I read the recommendations, the research groups should set more ambitious goals for their activities, says Dr Vøllestad.
Sport sciences in the Nordic countries
Commissioned by NordForsk, the evaluation was a collaborative project between the national research funding agencies in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway (the Research Council of Norway). The evaluation was coordinated by the Academy of Finland.
Nordic sport sciences research covers a wide range of areas, from clinical health-related research, epidemiology, genetics, exercise physiology and biomechanics to the teaching of sport, sociology and cultural research.
The international panel, chaired by active Professor Emeritus William L. Haskell of Stanford University, has identified the strengths and weaknesses of Nordic sport sciences research and the causes of these. The results of the evaluation will form the basis for further recommendations in the area in order to ensure the positive development of sport sciences in the Nordic region in the future.