This month we met with Dr Popi Sotiriadou to find out more about her research and experience as a high performance sports consultant.
Dr Sotiriadou is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at Griffith and a foundational member of the Sport and Gender Equity @ Griffith research hub. Along with this, Popi is also a Senior Fellow with the Higher Education Academy and winner of Australian and Griffith Awards of Excellence in Learning & Teaching. To add to this impressive resume, Popi is co-editor of the Journal of Sport Policy and Politics and leads research grants with several partners and institutions across Australia and internationally.
At the core of all this work is Popi’s research—research that aims to foster the benefits of sports on community health and economic and social stability. Popi’s focus is on improving the ways sport organisations and providers can advance sport development. Advances that allow organisations to successfully attract, retain and nurture participants; from their athletes and coaches to their volunteers and supporters through policy development that informs their programs, events, competitions and practices.
What path led you to your area of research?
I started my career in sport as an elite athlete in yachting. I was with the national yachting team in Greece from the age of 13 and continued racing and representing Greece and Australia until 2000. During this period, I completed a double degree in Exercise Science and Physical Education with Honours and in 1993 I went to the UK to continue my studies with a Masters in Sport Management at Loughborough University.
These studies and my elite athletic career drove my interest to fulfill a doctorate on sport management and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, examining ‘The sport participation legacies and impact of elite athlete success at the Olympics on sport participation’. The expertise I developed over time on sport development processes, systems, athlete management and marketing has resulted in invitations to act as a consultant to the International Olympic Committee, Sports Australia, Sarawak in Malaysia and the Queensland Academy of Sport.
‘I heartily recommend this field of research or study for anyone who has an interest in the ways sport is managed, planned, organised and delivered for any group in society.’
What do you believe has been your greatest impact as a consultant?
One of my greatest career achievements was editing the first—and still the only—textbook available on ‘Managing high performance sport’. As I am currently preparing the second edition of the book, it has been a great educational source for both students as well as practitioners in the field.
Another highlight in my career has been my consultancy for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with numerous international sport federation and Olympic committees, which resulted in significant advocacy in sport gender equality. The impact of the IOC grant that I led is present in the governance theme of the IOC’s Gender Equality Review Project, which provides a solutions-based approach to achieving gender equality.
What advice do you have for upcoming researchers who are interested in this area of research?
Sport management is a relatively new and multidisciplinary field that integrates the principles of management to the sport industry. It is a growing and exhilarating area of research and one that is always topical, exciting, relevant and useful to communities, society and globally. People like to read and talk about it, play it or watch it. The sport industry is fast-paced, exciting and full of diverse opportunities. As we draw closer to the Brisbane Olympic Games, sport management and event legacies will provide rich insights into preparing and hosting the Games in 2032.
I heartily recommend this field of research or study for anyone who has an interest in the ways sport is managed, planned, organised and delivered for any group in society, including:
- young participants learning the ropes
- people with physical or intellectual disabilities
- women in sport overcoming barriers
- elite athletes and their managers or coaches, who are working on perfecting their form and successes
- volunteers offering their time and skills to sport events or to the administration of sport organisations.
However, becoming a researcher in this vast area of managing sport comes with the challenge of distinguishing yourself from all other researchers in this area. The best way to ‘be known’ is to create a research profile that is driven by a strong disciplinary foundation in the field. For instance, you can be known as the governance guru or the human resources expert. This way, the links between your research profile and the vast area of sport management are clear and your contribution in the field is consistent, indisputable and broadly recognised. Even though my research profile commenced as sport development and the Olympics, my research pathway led me to be labelled as the ‘Managing high performance sport’ expert in sport management.
‘Even though the list of people that I admire is long, I tend to find personal inspiration from within, in who I am, and the goals I set are based upon my core values and beliefs.’
Who has inspired you?
My journey into academia and in life has been largely self-inspired and intrinsically motivated. Even though the list of people that I admire is long, I tend to find personal inspiration from within, in who I am, and the goals I set are based upon my core values and beliefs. Growing up, I admired my coach, and my parents have always been my biggest fans and supported me in everything I did. Having people that believed in me from a young age gave me tremendous confidence to aim high and never give up.
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, I am working on three significant projects.
Firstly, in collaboration with the Logan City Council my research offers reforms that improve women’s human and social capital through sport participation, education and leadership roles. The changes we have observed include improved women’s access to sport venues across the area, increased female sport participation and improved health and happiness. Women also expressed feeling empowered to inspire others close to them, including their children. This research showed that equipping women with leadership skills and guiding women leaders into sport organisations helps to not only close the gender representation gap in sport, but also boost organisational capacity and human resources. Social capital is a highly valuable organisational commodity and source of knowledge, resources and networks. It has been demonstrated a more gender-balanced approach is an important asset for creating and maintaining healthy communities, robust organisations and vibrant civil societies. It can be seen as the key to creating equality for women in the workplace, their career advancement, levels of compensation and achieved status.
Secondly, in another exciting project I collaborate with the Gold Coast Titans on Leagueability, a program designed to improve the lives of people with disability and empower them to fulfil their dreams through sport. Since its establishment in 2018, we have been investigating ways to promote the expansion of the program, as well as create pathways for people with disability to advance their wellbeing and collective identity. This project shows how exercise and involvement in sport can promote inclusiveness throughout the community. Importantly this study contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of equity, health and wellbeing, economic participation and justice.
Thirdly, the Olympic Games is also in my research agenda! The announcement by the IOC in July 2021 that Brisbane will host the 2032 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games revitalised my research passion for the Olympics. I’m now working on a couple of initiatives to attract partners interested in collaboration.
The first initiative is on event volunteers. Volunteers have long been regarded as an essential part of staging hallmark events as they perform a variety of key tasks. The process of managers providing information to volunteers about the tasks to be done as well as the skills, knowledge and credentials needed to perform the job more effectively is referred to as the Bottom-Up Process (i.e. Job crafting). Research on event volunteer recruitment, satisfaction and job design has advanced managers’ knowledge in this area. However, documented challenges around attracting and retaining volunteers suggest that the Top-Down Process (i.e. Job characteristics), a much lesser researched aspect of job design, is necessary to complement our understanding of volunteer engagement, performance and satisfaction.
The second initiative is on inclusive participation. Specifically, the goal is to provide strategic direction for Queensland sport providers on practical ways to optimise opportunities for inclusive sport participation, engagement, satisfaction, retention in the sport system and personal success. The goal is to grow in capability to meet Queenslanders’ needs.
I am also excited about an international study that I’m engaged in, about Olympic Legacies—we are looking at mapping the potential social and community impacts triggered by the Olympics and the trickle-down legacies of the Games.
All this research activity can collectively contribute to advancing a strong sport development industry in Queensland and optimise Queensland’s chances of delivering the best Games ever for generations to come.