The Inno4Sports project brings together five regions that all aim to improve the performance of innovation clusters around sport and vitality, that have emerged in various regions in the EU. In a new series we interview all the partners in the project about their goals, learnings and efforts to put sports on the map in their region. In the fourth episode we talk with Pirkko Sivonen from the Regional Council of Lapland.

Why did you decide to join the Inno4Sports project?

"We are co-leaders in ClusSports together with Cluster Sports & Technology, which is the project leader of the Inno4Sports project. We liked the idea of Inno4Sports because we would like to develop sport as a whole more in Lapland. Sport already plays quite a big role in the region. For example, the Lapland University of Applied Science is only one of five organisations in Finland providing higher education in sports and an important factor in sports development. Also, tourism is one of the biggest drivers for sports and Lapland has really good conditions for winter sports, but also outdoor sports. In order to develop this better, there’s a need for more coordination and collaboration. Interregional collaboration also plays a big role, instead of doing it on our own we can work together to tackle shared challenges, especially now when Covid-19 is posing a challenge to sports business around Europe."

How do you try to put sports on the map in Lapland?

"Together with other regional partners we have established the Arctic Sports Network. It combines Lappish sports actors from different sectors including private sector, civil society, government and education and research institutions. The network works as an innovation ecosystem, and it aims in developing business opportunities as well as well-being of the Lappish people. Arctic Sport Network is still in the beginning and with the help of Inno4Sports we can find new ways to bring together local actors in the field of sport. The network also plays an important role later, when we start to implement the actions learnt from partners."

What did you learn so far in the Inno4Sports project?

"There are two main learnings that we are going to implement in the action plan. The first one is to combine data and technology for research purposes. The University of Applied Sciences plans to start a project with business to develop existing sports routes in Rovaniemi. Technology will be important in this project. And data can help us activate local people and tourists to exercise more."

"The other learning is that we’re looking at how we could include sports clubs and other actors in the development of sports tourism. This is inspired by the co-creation activities we learnt from Eindhoven and Valencia. For example, if tourists would like to visit an ice hockey match, we could offer them to do that with a local guide. That makes the experience more fun and you will get to know more about the sport and the local team. With Lapland Sports Federation we are thinking how these kinds of activities could bring added value to the sports clubs as well."

"Something else we learned during the Inno4Sports project, is what we ourselves are good at. During the study trip to Lapland the other partners were impressed by the role sustainability plays in Lapland. We didn’t really think about that before, but it was a good reminder that we have our own expertise in the Lappish region, and we could help others in this field."

How can Inno4Sports help in reaching your goals?

"Compared to the other regions we are quite small. So, we can learn a lot from the other partners, and especially the bigger regions like Valencia and Eindhoven. With the help of the other partners we can try to bring some innovative approaches to Lapland and implement them in the context of a scarcely populated area. After the study trip we got feedback from one the partners that technology and digital services could have much more potential for the region than currently used. That encourages us to do more with technology and digital solutions."

What is the ultimate goal for the Regional Council of Lapland?

"There is still a need to appropriately include sport in the regional development priorities to release its full potential when it comes to well-being of residents and new ways of doing business. And we definitely want to use the full potential of sport. That’s a big goal. Another goal is to use sports to support other businesses. One way to tackle lack of workforce in Lapland is to promote sport and leisure activities in order to attract new residents. We have the perfect conditions for winter sports and outdoor sports, so we would like to attract people to not only visit Lapland, but also live here."

Read the other interviews:

S&T: "We want to help shape the future of sports & vitality"

"Inno4Sports brought Verde cluster to life"

"Importance of sport is on the rise in Valencia"

"improve foundation of sport in Hungary"

Photo: Heikki Kiiskinen