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Optimising elite sport policies

SPLISS (Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success) deals with the strategic policy planning process that underpins the development of successful national elite sport systems.

It answers the question: how can nations be more successful in elite sport?  Drawing on various international benchmarks, it examines how nations can optimize and develop elite sport policies in order to increase the medal winning opportunities (e.g. at Olympics or other events).

In addition SPLISS projects also focus on the impact of elite sport to understand “why nations invest in elite sport? Using the MESSI-scale (Measuring elite sport Societal Impact of Elite sport) it identifies the positive and negative outcomes of elite sport

20 years experience * more than 20 countries

More than 20 years ago, an international group of researchers joined forces to develop theories and methods on the Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success (SPLISS). Two large-scale international SPLISS-projects were conducted that identified, compared and contrasted elite sport policies and strategies in place for the Olympic Games and other events in over distinct nations. With input from over 50 researchers, 30 policy makers worldwide and the views of over 3000 elite athletes, 1300 high performance coaches and 240 performance directors, this work is the largest benchmarking study of national elite sport policies ever conducted.


SPLISS model

Key questions are:
  • What makes an elite sport policy effective and efficient?

  • How can nations improve their chances of winning medals in international sport?

The SPLISS 9 Pillar model

The SPLISS model consists of 9 PILLARS and approximately 100  Critical Success Factors (CSF) that have been identified as key drivers of successful elite sport policies at the overall national policy level. It has been widely used by nations worldwide to evaluate elite sport policies. The model is based on an 40 years extensive literature review, a benchmark in more than 20 nations including surveys with athletes, coaches and performance directors.


The SPLISS research takes existing calculations of inputs (e.g., money) and outputs (e.g., medals) and considers the “black box” of throughput or processes of elite sport policies into consideration.

More information:


Description 9 Pillars


Pillar 1: Financial support

Countries that invest more in (elite) sport create more opportunities for athletes to achieve success. SPLISS research revealed that “in terms of input-output analysis, the best predictor of output appears to be the absolute amount of funding allocated to elite sport”.

Pillar 2: Governance, structure and organisation:

The amount of resources devoted to elite sport is important, but it is the organisation and structure of sport and its relationship to (a national) society that enables efficient use of these resources to increase the chance of elite sporting success. It is important to have a good national communication system, involve the stakeholders, have a clear distribution and description of roles in the system.

Pillar 3: Sport participation

Although the (lacking) relationship between sport for all and elite sport is often debated, most top athletes originate from grass roots participation. A broad base of sport participation is not always a condition for success, but it may deliver a foundation for potential success because it provides a supply of young talent and various training and competition opportunities for this talent to hone their skills. Pillar 3 assesses sport opportunities at school as well as in sports clubs.

Pillar 4: Talent identification (ID) and development system

Pillar 4 studies the discovery and development of talented athletes. Policy makers need to focus on creating monitoring systems to identify talent characteristics, robust talent detection systems that minimise drop-out, and well organised scouting systems. Many countries have talent development initiatives to support governing bodies in setting up high level training and competition programmes and to support athletes to combine their academic career with a sport career.

Pillar 5: Athletic and post career support

Many athletes who have the potential to reach the top, drop out of the system before they achieve true success. We look at the different ways in which governments provide financial support for athletes to meet their living costs and have support programmes to provide access to the services required to realise their potential. Finally, athletes also need to be assisted in preparing for life after sport.

Pillar 6: Training facilities

Training facilities, infrastructure and equipment are an important success factor in the process of enabling athletes to train in a relevant and high quality sporting environment. A network of high quality national and regional facilities, specifically for elite sport purposes, should be established, enabling a close link with sports medics, sports scientists, innovation and technologies and cooperation with universities.

Pillar 7: Coaching and coach development

The quality and quantity of coaches is important at each level of the sport development continuum. Particularly important in Pillar 7 are the quality and organisation of training certification systems, training provisions for coaches and the level of time and resource commitment that (elite) coaches can give to achieve excellence with their athletes.

Pillar 8: (Inter)national competition

The organisation of international events in the home country has a positive effect on international success. In addition, a well-developed and high-level national competition structure and frequent exposure to sporting competition are necessary factors in athlete development.

Pillar 9: Scientific research, innovation and technologies

Pillar 9 examines the extent to which nations take a coordinated approach to the development, organisation and dissemination of scientific research and knowledge, whether they use the latest technologies and develop innovative elite sport projects.





SPLISS methods

SPLISS is characterised by it’s unique methods to assess and optimise elite sport policies of countries.
The SPLISS methods are characterised by four elements:

1.    Pillar model & approximately 100 critical success factors 
2.    Scoring system: composite indicators to evaluate elite sport policies
3.    Elite Sport Climate Survey: involvement of elite athletes, coaches and performance directors
4.    Collaboration with local national researchers


More information: scientific papers about the SPLISS-methods


SPLISS uses mixed methods research to compare and assess elite sport policies of nations. Qualitative data help to gain a deeper understanding of the nine pillars in it’s broader national context. Quantitative data scores are calculated using composite indicators (CIs).
The figure below shows an example of the final evaluation of elite sport policies in three nations from the SPLISS 2.0 study : Australia, Japan and Brazil. Using the nine Pillar model, data were collected through a research inventory and surveys completed by 3,142 elite athletes, 1,376 coaches and 241 performance directors. 96 critical success factors and 750 sub-factors were aggregated into a Composit Indicator score. It illustrates how complex and large amounts of data in 15 nations have been objectified into easily understood formats, CIs.

website fig
More information about the results of 15 nations?

Book SPLISS 2.0 
Free downloads of factsheets 

Interested in a project with SPLISS to assess your nation and optimise it’s elite sport policy?

Download infographic








MESSI model




A MESSI study complements the SPLISS input-throughput-output studies as it addresses the question ‘What positive and negative outcomes does elite sport lead to for society and for your nation?’ and therefore provides insights on why your nation should (not) invest in elite sport.

Key questions are:
Does elite sport success increase our population’s national pride, happiness, national bonding, well-being… or not? Are your national athletes, as role models, inspiring youngsters to participate in sport?

spliss model


Mapping the societal impact of elite sport


In a first phase, a systematic mapping literature review was conducted as the research field was described as a “chaotic brickyard” (Weed, 2005, p. 83). This resulted in the so-called ‘Mapping Elite Sports’ potential Societal Impact’ (MESSI) framework, categorizing all positive and negative societal impacts from elite sport (De Rycke & De Bosscher, 2019). To this end, electronic databases were used to detect over 300 empirical studies that investigated one or more societal impacts that can flow from elite sport. The resulting framework includes ten dimensions representing 79 sub-categories:

1. Social equality & inclusion 2. Collective identity, connection & pride  3. Ethics & Fair play 4. Happiness & experiences 5. Fans & media 6. International image & political power 7. Athletes quality of life & competences 8. Sports participation & inspiration 9. Economic development & partnerships 10. Local & environmental

Measuring the societal impact of elite sport
The main objective of the second phase was to develop en test an instrument that measures the perceived societal impact of elite sport. Therefore, this phase intended to validate and refine the conceptual MESSI framework build in phase 1 and develop and test a measurement scale. One key point was the use of bipolar items, a combination of a semantic differential scale and a Likert-type five-point scale whereby people rated possible positive as well as negative impacts. Further than a simple examination of scale properties, we also considered proper testing and validation of the instrument. This, standardized, quantifiable and systematic measurement (in both long form and as a short set of items) would be useful to effectively communicate the perceived societal impact of elite sport with stakeholders.

Measure populations’ perceptions about the societal impact of elite sport
Most outcomes of elite sport cannot be quantified, but can only be felt subjectively, such as the increase of social bondig or resident satisfaction. Thus, the approach adopted is that of the measurement of community perceptions. The MESSI scale enables elite sport stakeholders to study public opinion about the various ways elite sport potentially impacts society. As policies require public support, this scale can help policy makers see and know how to best address residents’ concerns and design country or culture specific policies. Public perceptions about the possible societal impacts of elite sport could also provide a baseline for elite sport stakeholders to determine whether or not marketing, policy, or program objectives are being met.

  • see projects for a range of (inter)national studies that aim to gain better insights in the perceived positive and negative impacts of elite sport.

  • Contact SPLISS when Interested in a MESSI project to assess public opinion and support for your nations’ elite sport policies.

  • Contact SPLISS if you want to use the MESSI framework and/or scale in your research.