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Systematic Review

Systematic Review for Knowledge Transfer at International Sport Mega-Events

Department for Life Quality Studies, University of Bologna, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Sustainability 2023, 15(6), 4902;
Submission received: 4 February 2023 / Revised: 1 March 2023 / Accepted: 6 March 2023 / Published: 9 March 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Physical Activity and Sustainable Healthy Lifestyles)


Sport mega-events are characterized by a high degree of organizational complexity and are where games organizers take opportunities to strengthen their competencies and forge network connections via knowledge transfer. However, there is scarce evidence that the knowledge generated is transmitted between former and future host cities. This investigation aimed at examining the state of research on knowledge transfer at international sport mega-events. It followed the PRISMA protocol to identify critical research gaps and shed light on the barriers and enablers within this subject. Applying the quality and eligibility criteria yielded a final corpus of 11 academic and 6 non-academic works. The results demonstrate that a small group of scholars conducted empirical studies applying mixed research in this area. The three significant barriers were identified as the following: the Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge; the Lack of Absorptive Capacity; and the Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection. Three crucial enablers were diagnosed as per the following: Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, the Local Context, and Culture; Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities; and Communication, Cooperation, and Strategic Approach. The controversies among different studies also revealed the possible bias and insufficient knowledge transfer related to language, database, technology, geographic location, and priority setting, etc. We suggest further research focusing on specific cases between previous and future hosts.

1. Introduction

The belief in a knowledge-based economy has grown since the late 1990s [1]. Knowledge drives the behavior of humans and shapes the activities that are contributing significantly to the competitive advantages between nations, companies, and societies through the holding of events or the operation of organizations. Sporting mega-events are characterized by a high degree of organizational complexity and are where a plethora of multifaceted ‘know-how’ is produced [2]. Know-how has been the essential mediator of knowledge transfer. The ability to transfer knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, is one of the determinants of organizational competencies [3,4,5,6].
Traditionally, sporting mega-events’ organizing committees (OCs) put great weight on national pride, business prosperity, and infrastructure stimulus. However, these historical concepts have led to negative consequences, such as direct environmental damage and significant financial deficits, which may overshadow the positive effects. For example, the strategy of the Atlanta 1996 OC could not increase downtown Atlanta’s primacy in the long term [7]. The Beijing 2008 OC succeeded in the delivery of games, but still came across operational problems after the games before applying new strategies and plans [8].
The changes took place when the concept of organizations and individuals shifted. Sustainability has been gradually penetrating into the agenda/strategy of various types of organizations [9], as well as transforming individual behaviors since the late 1970s. The setting of the 17 universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (17 SDGs) has been regarded as a cornerstone of sustainability [10]. With respect to the 17 SDGs, various governments and non-governmental organizations have been working together to improve sustainability in every field.
Sports play an essential role in supporting the realization of the 17 SDGs [10]. Sport mega-events—such as the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, FIFA World Cup, World Championship, and Commonwealth Games—are known for their power to engage large amounts of people and to aid with leveraging economies. The hosting of sport mega-events has been engaged in political propaganda and is regarded as an enabler of sustainability. Among all the sport mega-events, the Olympic Games receives the most attention across research and practices for reducing costs and conflicts in order to realize sustainable development [11].
The Knowledge and Games Learning (IKL) program was first introduced to the public during preparations for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games [12]. It is a remarkable example of this integration, emphasizing the importance of sustainable development. Written into the host cities’ contracts, the IKL gradually integrated into the games from the games planning stage to the after games legacy stage [12]. At the same time, IKL has been used as an essential instrument by international sports governing bodies and games organizers to strengthen their competencies and to forge network connections [2,13,14,15,16,17].
The core of the IKL program is knowledge management and transfer. Knowledge management has been identified as a conscious strategy to help event organizations stay innovative and competitive in the long term [2,13,14,15,16,17]. It is essential to transfer the proper knowledge to the right people at the right time and to put the learning into practice [15]. The significant impact of knowledge management and transfer resulted in the rapid growth of related academic investigations in numerous fields, such as information management, organization management, and education sciences. Among the knowledge management literature, knowledge transfer, or knowledge sharing, frequently appeared as a component of the knowledge management process. However, to date, there has been a common shortcoming in the previous investigations: limited attempts to distinguish knowledge management and knowledge transfer—which are the two fundamental intersectional conceptions. One of the crucial reasons for these shortcomings is that the mainstream research of knowledge management remains in the natural science and engineering disciplines, which can be attributed to the rapid development of technology and artificial intelligence [18]. In the social sciences and humanities (SSH) area, especially with the context of sporting mega-events, there is a scarcity of preceding studies regarding knowledge management—as the systematic review on knowledge management from Qin et al. demonstrated [19]. The knowledge transfer literature is a great deal smaller than the knowledge management literature that possesses a sport mega-events context, despite knowledge sharing/transfer being a popular topic in physical education, organization theory, and business management. Moreover, prior studies have demonstrated that knowledge transfer is an emerging field lacking in form and structure.
However, it has been proven, based on certain facts and evidence that were revealed at preceding sporting mega-events, that knowledge transfer will likely benefit future organizing committees (OC) and applicant cities to reduce cost risks. In addition, knowledge transfer is an interactive process and could empower the former hosts by leveraging a long-term legacy [20]. The two advantages mentioned in the text above highlight that knowledge transfer deserves more research attention and examination in the SSH area, especially in regard to the more unpopular fields, such as sports mega-events.

2. Methods

2.1. Research Goals and Questions

The goal of this paper was to examine the state of research on knowledge transfer at international sport mega-events, to identify critical research gaps, and to synchronize crucial findings. To realize these goals, we established the following research questions:
RQ1: Who has conducted knowledge transfer research at international sport mega-events, which types, with which methods, when, and where?
RQ2: What are the focuses, limitations, and gaps in knowledge transfer investigations?
RQ3: Against the critical findings of previous research, what are the enablers and barriers of knowledge transfer?

2.2. Research Methods

2.2.1. Defining and Classifying the Sample of Literature

Defining key concepts has been essential in scientific research, as well as in practices that could foster more knowledge-sharing businesses and enable knowledge transfers in/among organizations [21]. The more consistent employment of terminology and clearness in definitions could contribute to the eligibility and quality of investigations [21,22].
Since knowledge transfer (KT)/transfer of knowledge (TOK), knowledge sharing (KS), knowledge management (KM), and knowledge management and transfer (OGKM/TOK) were applied as interchangeable or different terms in different contexts, we investigated the differences and similarities of the frequently used terms during the conceptualization process of this study.
It was easy to distinguish learning, KM, and KT, despite the tendency that many scholars treated knowledge management and knowledge transfer as a unity in the context of sports events. The main discussions attended to the application of knowledge transfer/transfer of knowledge and knowledge sharing, which have common traits and overlapping content but differentiate themselves with purpose, value, context, and the direction of the knowledge flow [23]. However, certain researchers have regarded the two terms as interchangeable [1]. In addition, tacit knowledge, usually embedded in the organizational culture or transferred through know-how, plays an important role in sports. KT/TOK was translated as “知识转让” or “知识转移” in Chinese. Despite there being a certain degree of ambiguity in the terminology, “知识转让” has three distinguishing features: (1) Combining knowledge capitalization; (2) the transfer focuses on the process or value assessment; and (3) the transfer is targeted.
Appropriately, knowledge transfer/transfer of knowledge, knowledge management, and know-how were all selected for our literature search, specifically in the context of international sport mega-events.
Accordingly, our search of electronic journal databases required (“world cup” OR paralympic* OR olympic* OR “sport* mega event*” OR “mega sport* event*” OR “commonwealth games” OR “world championship*”) AND (“knowledge transfer” OR “transfer of knowledge” OR “know-how” OR “knowledge manag*”) to be presented in the key fields of the title, abstract, or keywords. The truncation symbol * (asterisk) was used to search for multiple word variants simultaneously.

2.2.2. Search Strategy and Literature Sample

This study followed PRISMA, which is a rigorous, transparent, and reproducible process with the least bias in order to synthesize research evidence and to accumulate the best available knowledge on the specific research topic [24,25,26,27]. As summarized visually in Figure 1, the final sample included 17 documents, which were arrived at after a comprehensive literature search and rigorous quality assessment of the 302 works. This search and assessment were conducted with the paradigm of PRISMA and transparent criteria.
We primarily searched Scopus, a high-quality database of scholarly literature providing expertly categorized abstracts and citations to support the systematic review of research across numerous topics and disciplines, as well as eight other high-quality international/Chinese databases. The exact keywords were used for each database but adapted to the specific search engine of each database. The secondary search was conducted in correspondence with the official reports, information, and documents from the IOC’s website and other related providers. Then, we imported all the reference lists into RefWorks and applied a four-staged strategy to locate the relevant academic works and gray literature. The parameters for inclusion were the following: (1) non-duplicated documents; (2) having access to the full text and being able to be read; (3) in the social sciences area and highly relevant to the knowledge transfer of sport mega-events; and (4) published in peer-reviewed journals/core journals of a nation or from high-quality databanks/official websites.
Referring to the PRISMA protocols, the data involved in the homogeneous systematic review of knowledge management at sports mega-events were investigated specifically and compared with the research findings based on the analysis of the rest of the 11 academic works engaged in this review.
In the session on research perspectives, enablers, and barriers, thematic analysis and open coding methods were applied with the oversight of two supervisors in order to deduce the texts based on prior studies, frameworks, and induction.

3. Results

3.1. Authors, Growth and Methodology of Research

The final sample consisted of 11 academic works and 6 non-academic works/gray literature, which were all published between 2011 and 2022.
The earliest study was published in 2011 and the latest literature review was issued in 2022. There was a growing tendency of academic publication from 2012 to 2013, from 2014 to 2017, and from 2020 to 2022. In contrast, there was a downfall in publication from 2013 to 2014, and from 2017 to 2020 (see Figure 2). The publication tendencies of the two types of literature were identical and inconsistent.
Among the academic works, 90.91% were published in peer-viewed journals, while one thesis was published by the Olympic World Library. Most publications were one-off papers in English, written by 2–3 authors from either Europe and America (in countries where English is the default academic language or is one of the official languages). Meanwhile, the journal outlets were mainly published in sport management branches, which concentrated on the topics of business and administration. Furthermore, the non-academic works were from the Olympic World Library and the official website of the IOC, with 83.33% of them being official reports of past Olympic Games, thus providing confidential evidence and facts (see Table 1).
When referring to the PRISMA framework, as well as the sizeable overlapping area of knowledge management and knowledge transfer in theory, the 16 samples of the prior systematic review from Qin et al. were carefully examined. The engagement of distinguishing databases, especially the World Olympic Library and Chinese databases, created the initial gap between the two sets of samples, whereby there were only three references in common. Moreover, most of the previous scholars focused on the whole process of knowledge management, rather than on one of the components of knowledge transfer in this process.
The two other factors that contributed to the variation were diverse research goals and selection criteria (see Appendix A). However, the massive results of the initial study were in line with this review in terms of methodology and frameworks.
The methodology is always coherent with respect to shaping how the respective researchers think and ways in which the results could be compared [27]. The methodology included academic papers that rarely engaged primary sources. This may be in tandem with the general design and choice of the research method, where we identified 54.55% of the studies only applied qualitative research methods. The most frequently presented methods involve document analysis, interview, and case study (see Figure 3). Aided by the manually handled transcripts, previous authors frequently applied NVivo and for data analysis.
Another dimension reflecting the research methods used is the theoretical approaches or the selection of research frameworks. In our samples, we diagnosed the diversity of the theoretical approaches. A total of 72.73% of the investigations involved in our literature review adopted or adapted frameworks from organizational theory, operations research, and management information systems [41].
Among the 11 frameworks, 6 inspected knowledge management in general. Meanwhile, when knowledge transfer was not emphasized, they were instead regarding the following:
The comprehensive framework from Weidenfeld et al. consisted of six channels (involving labor mobility, knowledge brokers, imitation/demonstration/observation, and inter-firm exchanges) and four systems (including trade, technology, infrastructure, and regulation) [23,42];
The integrated framework of the SECI model (involving socialization, externalization, combination, and internalization) and the KVC (including KM infrastructure and KM process) [29];
The knowledge management framework from Schenk et al., i.e., knowledge identification, acquisition, application, creation, storage, learning, tailoring, and transfer [28,43];
The KT process from Schenk et al., consisting of information and knowledge sharing, passing on personal knowledge, as well as transferring best practices and recommendations [43];
The TOK process from UNESCO, involving knowledge acquirement, storage, participation (transfer/sharing), utilization, and innovation [33];
The IOC’s OGKM 3-element framework, including information, services, and personal experience [12,37,38,39,40,44].
Besides these, there were two investigations that applied frameworks focusing on the game hosting process. The rest of the frameworks were explicitly developed for knowledge transfer, including the following:
The Nonaka and Takeuchi SECI model, including socialization, externalization, combination, and internalization for the decisive processing of information in an organization [45];
The three knowledge transfer mechanisms from Söderlund et al., including relating different competences, reflecting upon experiences, and routinizing lessons learned [32];
The framework developed by Parent et al. [30], consisting of degree centrality, betweenness centrality, and eigenvector centrality.
In general, we diagnosed that previous researchers had not reached an agreement in terms of using a common framework. Regarding the current situation, we identified a need to develop specific theoretical models or conceptual frameworks that enable academic researchers to switch the concentration from the mechanism or whole process of knowledge management to knowledge transfer within the context of sport mega-events specifically.

3.2. Focus of Studies and Research Gaps

It is essential to consider different research lenses/perspectives in order to identify the limitations and research gaps. Although primary studies demonstrated that there is no golden-standard typology internationally, this review referred to the frequently used categories in knowledge management [46], as well as to the Chinese outline of academic disciplines [47].
Most works contained 2–3 research perspectives. Event management, knowledge management, and organizational learning were the three main areas (see Appendix B: Table A2).
For a better orientation, our review also probed the research objectives, questions, results, and discussion of each academic work. The studies were diverse but most of them analyzed knowledge management and transfer from political, organizational management, or economic dimensions. The studies mainly focused on identifying the mechanism/process of knowledge management or in evaluating past events based on existing theories and frameworks.
Compared with the literature review on knowledge management, the rest of our samples excluded any literature that placed a light emphasis on knowledge transfer, while including documents exploring knowledge transfer from the perspective of organizational learning. In addition, this systematic review also covered a range of non-academic works, while the other systematic review only engaged journal articles. Despite the significant differences, the two systematic reviews demonstrate many corresponding results, such as the limited number of preceding investigations.
In this way, the scarcity of studies examining the knowledge transfer from the dimension of social impacts has been diagnosed. Besides the aforementioned gaps, the approach to external knowledge transfer remains briefly addressed (see Appendix B).

3.3. Enablers and Barriers of Knowledge Transfer

Knowledge transfer is a complex phenomenon, and a successful transfer is difficult to achieve [48]. The variables exist at different levels, ranging from macro to micro level. This paper has identified and epitomized three significant barriers as the Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge, the Lack of Absorptive Capacity, and the Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection. Meanwhile, three crucial enablers were diagnosed as Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context, and Culture; Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities; and Communication, Cooperation, and Strategic Approach (see Appendix C).
The first barrier, the Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge, refers to both the physical and intellectual accessibility of knowledge [24,49]. Organizing committees must understand what needs to be done and why, as per the requirements for the pedagogical and negotiation approach for successful knowledge transfer, according to Parent et al. [28]. Hence, Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context, and Culture indicates an interactive process between the knowledge providers and the knowledge recipients [33], and thus serves as the corresponding enabler. In addition, it determines what to transfer and at which cost.
In practice, we witnessed the problem that new OC failed to thrive on the experience of past OCs and thus repeated their mistakes [50]. For various reasons, the Lack of the Absorptive Capacity was regarded as the main barrier that resulted in failure in terms of bidding [51], or for the unsustainable development of local society. The Absorptive Capacity, defined as the ability to absorb external knowledge and diffuse it within its boundary [48], is interrelated to the organizational culture and power. Former studies identified the organizations that promote and support learning new knowledge, encourage the creation of knowledge [16,52], and increase their competencies. This enabler is thus summarized as Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities.
The Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection was found to be the biggest challenge at all levels. It is rooted in the dialectical relationship between the knowledge providers and knowledge recipients in the transfer, including the legislative concerns, the significant expenses of knowledge transfer, and the common concerns around creating an intimidating competitor [53]. The solution was highlighted as Communication, Cooperation, and Strategic Approach. Communication is defined as the depth of understanding that transpires through two-way communications among individuals, organizations, or between individuals and organizations. Cooperation enables both sides of the knowledge transfer to transport collaborative knowledge to adjacent or overlapping business performances [54]. Strategic Approach suggests systematic transfer and adaptation based on the demands and plan of the knowledge recipient.

4. Discussion

4.1. Factors Influence the Distribution of Literature

Our sample of academic papers revealed an irregular and after events pattern of academic publication on knowledge transfer in the sport mega-events area. This centralization and geographic feature disclosed rare research interests and a relatively opportunistic or reactive research pattern. Most researchers publishing one-off papers on the topic may have been interested in knowledge transfer when an event was hosted in their local context. With respect to this, we observed a slight growth of publications in the 2010s, when Canada, China, and New Zealand became the one-time or multi-timed hosts of certain sport mega-events.
Meanwhile, a small group of authors whose research project was, in some way, connected to the Olympic movement, persisted in exploring the topic with an extended research scope—covering knowledge management, political science, and social science. This phenomenon may be evidence that knowledge management and transfer has penetrated into the sustainable development strategy of international sports governing bodies, within the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the advancement of big data technology, and socio-economic transformations.
Other factors leading to this distribution and the enlarging research scope likely involve the following: (1) The ambiguity of terminology related to language and culture differences among events hosts. In addition, besides the application of controversial terms in English literature, the involvement of Chinese literature added complexity to the definition of KT; (2) the historical and cross-disciplinary origins of knowledge management and transfer; and (3) the possible language barriers, selection bias, and the small size of our samples.
From the perspective of a research paradigm, more author engagement in the sports events or in accessing the empirical data are required, given that most investigations only applied qualitative research methods and secondary sources. Meanwhile, diverse frameworks were applied in the sampled documents. A total of 54.55% of the studies selected the theoretical frameworks for knowledge management. The frameworks focusing on the game hosting process provided less reference for knowledge transfer at sport mega-events.
The rest of the three frameworks analyzed knowledge transfer from different perspectives. The Nonaka and Takeuchi SECI model explained the creation of knowledge with the context of volunteering. The framework from Söderlund et al. provided general guidelines for internal knowledge transfer concerning organizational learning. The framework developed by Parent et al. focused on the knowledge transfer among Olympic marketing stakeholders. However, this still needs to address the knowledge transfer between prior and future hosts. In conclusion, the previous researchers have yet to agree on a standard framework [16] or to develop a specific model for the external knowledge transfer between OCs at international sport mega-events.
Since any method could lead to the construction of epistemological blind spots [55,56], we suggest employing an innovative research design and mixed research methods in order to reduce bias in external knowledge transfer research.

4.2. Behind the Scarcity of Literature on Knowledge Transfer at Olympic Games

In line with the literature review on knowledge management in sport mega-events, this review also diagnosed a scarcity of knowledge transfer literature in the social sciences and humanities area. In assuming that knowledge has been regarded as the most valuable resource to gain or to maintain lasting competitive advantage [31,57,58], numerous entrepreneurs, policymakers, and event organizers have invested various resources into organizational and system-context-based knowledge management research [59]. However, corporate intelligence, software engineering, and the advancement of information systems have leveraged big-data-based cross-disciplinary studies. Additionally, it has also led to a scaling down of qualitative research on knowledge management and transfer.
Within the limited body of the final corpus, most of the studies highlighted the whole process of knowledge management, featuring competitive advantages and the commercial/political value of knowledge transfer. Compared with the research from an economic perspective, it was only rarely that investigations were conducted from a social perspective, which was, in turn, labeled by ambiguous definitions and benchmarks. Only a few scholars chose the dimension of organizational learning [36] and volunteer legacies [60].
Another issue for knowledge transfer research in the context of sport mega-events has been the controversy of whether knowledge could be shared or transferred under the circumstances of different contexts and cultures. Certain investigations have concluded that organizations could learn from each other [3] to create a win–win scenario and to achieve organizational sustainability [61]. However, there is another theory, whereby crucial knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, cannot be shared [22].
In contrast to the above argument, we also observed that internal knowledge transfer drew more research interest than external knowledge transfer, since internal factors play a prominent role in regard to change. Conversely, external factors accelerate or decelerate the change [62]. According to preceding investigations, internal knowledge transfer was often applied to create best practices within the organization and to train members. Correspondingly, external knowledge transfer was diagnosed as a fast and particular process to equip upcoming event hosts with efficient knowledge [63], experience, and the past history of the event.
Based on the discussion above, we can see great potential in this area for further research creating opportunities in terms of innovation and sustainability, even though the current body of external knowledge transfer is small.

4.3. Beyond the Enablers and Barriers of Knowledge Transfer

Regarding our research purpose, we scrutinized the three enablers and barriers within the specific context of external knowledge transfer between former and future organizing committees.
The Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge, which highlighted both the physical and intellectual accessibility [24,49] related to the value assessment, was found to be the first obstacle. In most cases, different local contexts and political systems, the cost of the transfer, or the timing form the barrier were all relevant issues. For example, Huang [64] and Listiani [65] revealed difficulties in adapting the previous experience and expertise in a particular territory due to the different language, cultural, and political systems. Stewart [50] announced that over 95 percent of the OC was disbanded within three weeks after the games are completed, wherein valuable knowledge thus becomes lost. In order to transfer the proper expertise on time at a fair price, we combined the solution as Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context, and Culture.
The Lack of Absorptive Capacity was the second barrier related to the learning capacity of organizing committees, the effectiveness of the mediator, as well as the rapport between the knowledge holder and receiver. Many preceding OCs focus on their own games and uniqueness instead of cooperating and working for common goals, which is partially attributed to the need for more learning culture, trust, and bilateral/multilateral agreement on knowledge assessment. In addition, the lack of absorptive capacity could be an issue created by both the knowledge holder and receiver, where technology plays a role, but human intervention has a high impact. Knowledge hoarding or hiding is likely a consequence of such a negative interaction. As a result of this, the appropriate facilitator is Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities, which may yield significant returns on investment, increase organizational performance, and create a competitive advantage in the marketplace [66,67,68]. Collectively, learning organizations with solid learning cultures tend to invest more in human development, where internal and external knowledge transfer interact with each other [69] and could contribute to social sustainability.
The most significant barrier was found to be the Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection, which originated from the concept that knowledge is competence and domination [36]. A typical doubt is found in external knowledge transfer, which can result in losing the competitive advantages of the knowledge providers [70], especially in the business context. The competitive positioning induced tension between cooperation and competition (also referred to as “coopetition”) and significantly affected the knowledge transfer processes, primarily when inter-organizational relations were engaged in the effort [31,48]. However, a group of researchers discovered that studying common barriers and antecedents across different cultures, contexts, and disciplines could benefit both the knowledge holder and receiver [71,72,73,74]. One of the keys turned out to be Communication and Cooperation that interact with each other and inaugurate Strategic Access [75].
Regarding the current status of the literature, whereby the corpus demonstrates a significant social value of inspecting the international/cross-border knowledge transfer [76], the academic works still lack an in-depth analysis of the external knowledge transfer between prior and future sport mega-events’ hosts, as based on specific case and facts.

5. Conclusions

This review demonstrated that the body of literature on knowledge transfer at international sport mega-events is at a nestling stage where the mainstream research focus has been on knowledge management. Although a growing number of practitioners and scholars have recognized the crucial value of knowledge transfer, the rapport between knowledge management and knowledge transfer, as well as in their overlapping concepts, contribute to the scarcity of knowledge transfer research at sport mega-events, in general. Within the limited and focused research interest on knowledge transfer at the Olympic Games, we identified a pattern of addressing internal knowledge transfer, which was tied up with organizational learning, political propaganda, and commercial interests. Given the emergent need for realizing sustainable development through international collaboration, we perceived a great potential to conduct a series of investigations on external knowledge transfer between previous and future event organizers, where tacit knowledge and know-how from various organizations and nations play essential roles.
Moreover, this systematic review revealed certain gaps in previous research approaches. Besides the ambiguity of terminology, certain gaps were created by different research objectives, language barriers, and constancy. Many studies borrow theories and models from business management and knowledge management, rather than developing a specific framework for knowledge transfer. Despite an increasing number of investigations involving interviews and case studies, where first-hand data were collected, there is still a requirement for more authors to apply mixed research methods to conduct empirical research, especially with respect to interventional studies. Furthermore, this review summarized the enablers and barriers of knowledge transfer in terms of building a rigid base for further investigation.
Since knowledge transfer is an interactive process, where knowledge tailoring and adaptation could benefit both the preceding and future hosts in sustainable development, this topic is worthy of receiving more attention. We suggest inspecting the external knowledge transfer between the prior and future sport mega-events’ organizers.


This work was partially supported by State Scholarship Fund from China Scholarship Council: (#202109110054) for the PhD program “Science and culture of wellness and lifestyle”.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

The data presented in this study are available on request from the corresponding author.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Comparing the Samples with the Similar Prior Literature Review.
Table A1. Comparing the Samples with the Similar Prior Literature Review.
Review of Knowledge Transfer
(The Rest of 16 Samples of Current Review)
Review of Knowledge Management
(Prior Review)
Resemblance and Differences
Number of RecordsThis review started with 301 records and the final sample of 16 documents consisted of 10 academic works and 6 non-academic works.This review started with 1751 records and the final sample included 16 academic journal articles.The prior review included more records.
Engaged DatabasesNine high-quality international/Chinese databases, involving two high-quality Chinese databases, including the following: CNKI and Wanfang Data; seven specialized international databases, including Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed, ERIC, EBSCO, ScienceDirect, and DOAJ, as well as the IOC’s website and the Olympic World Library.Focus was on the social sciences and humanities databases, and on academic works. The seven international databases included the following: Web of Science, Scopus, Sport Discus, ProQuest, SocIndex, Public Affairs Index, and Political Science Complete.The commonly applied databases were Scopus and EBSCO (including Sport Discus, SocIndex Public Affairs Index, and Political Science Complete).
The two reviews were built on different databases.
Searching MethodsSearched for the terms in the title, abstract, or keywords by using the search term (“world cup” OR paralympic* OR olympic* OR “sport* mega event*” OR “mega sport* event*” OR “commonwealth games” OR “world championship*”) AND (“knowledge transfer” OR “transfer of knowledge” OR “know-how” OR “knowledge manag*”).
The search in each database was slightly adapted and adjusted through regarding the diversity of the searching engine.
Searched for the terms in the title (TI), abstract (AB), keywords (KW), and subject (SU) by using the search terms of the following: [TI (knowledge management OR knowledge transfer OR knowledge creation OR knowledge application OR knowledge storage OR knowledge identification OR knowledge acquisition OR knowledge adoption OR knowledge tailoring OR knowledge dynamics OR tacit knowledge OR explicit knowledge) OR AB (“same terms as in TI”) OR KW (“same terms as in TI”) OR SU (“same terms as in TI”)].Both literature reviews covered knowledge transfer and knowledge management, but had different focuses and scopes.
Chronological periodFrom 2011 to 2022From 2008 to 2021The current literature review covered a wider time range.
Inclusion and exclusion criteriaThe parameters for inclusion were (1) non-duplicated documents; (2) having access to the full-text and being able to read it; (3) the studies were in the social sciences area and were highly relevant to the knowledge transfer of sport mega-events; and (4) published in peer-reviewed journals/core journals of a nation or from high-quality databanks/official websites.The inclusion criteria were as per the following: (1) The terms in the title, abstract, keywords, or subject were in English; (2) the study were published in either journal articles, academic books, academic book chapters, theses, gray literature, and empirical studies.
The exclusion criteria were as per the following: conceptual papers; conference abstracts; works that discuss KM but are not related to sport events; and works that associate sport mega-events with education or learning but are not related to KM.
The inclusion and exclusion criteria of the two reviews were diverse.
The current review contains gray literature, especially the official game reports, which contribute greatly to knowledge transfer both in theory and in practice. Moreover, the inclusion criteria, which were related to organizational learning, were the exclusion criteria of the prior review.

Appendix B

Table A2. Mapping the Research Methods of the Academic Works.
Table A2. Mapping the Research Methods of the Academic Works.
Authors (Year)TermQualitative/Mixed Research MethodResearch FrameworkResearch Methods
Parent, Kristainsen, and Houlihan (2017) [28]Knowledge Management and TransferQualitative Research MethodSchenk et al. (2015): Knowledge identification, Acquisition, Application, Creation, Storage, Learning, and Tailoring and transfer.
KT process: Information and knowledge sharing, Passing on personal knowledge, and Transferring best practices and recommendations.
Case Study, Interview, and Document Analysis
Blackman, Benson, and Dickson (2017) [29]Knowledge Transfer, Transfer of KnowledgeMixed Research MethodIntegrated model of Nonaka and Tacheuchi’s SECI model, as well as Lee and Yang’s knowledge value chain (KVC).Case Study, Interview, Focus Group, and Document Analysis
Ellis, Parent, and Seguin (2016) [30]Knowledge TransferMixed Research MethodThe concept of trustworthiness (Guba, 1981): credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.
The degree centrality, betweenness centrality, and eigenvector centrality were measured to provide insight into stakeholder (actor) power and the potential for knowledge transfer within the Olympic ambush marketing network.
Document Analysis, Case Study, and Interview
Werner, Dickson, and Hyde (2015a) [31]Knowledge Transfer, Knowledge Management and Transfer, Transfer of KnowledgeMixed Research Method Interview, Survey, and Document Analysis
Andersen and Hanstad (2013) [32]Knowledge Development and Transfer, Knowledge TransferQualitative Research MethodSøderlund et al. (2008, p. 518): three main mechanisms, as per the following:
(1) Relating different competences;
(2) Reflecting upon experiences;
(3) Routinizing lessons learned.
Document Analysis and Interview
Werner, Dickson, and Hyde (2015b) [23]Knowledge Transfer/KT, Transfer of KnowledgeQualitative Research MethodWeidenfeld et al.’s model (2010): Six channels (Labor mobility, Knowledge brokers, Imitation/demonstration/observation, Inter-firm exchanges) and four systems (Trade, Technological, Infrastructural, and Regulation).Interview, Document Analysis, and Case Study
Yang and Qiu (2013) [33]OGKM/TOK (知识管理/转让)Qualitative Research MethodOGKM with three main elements: Services, Personal experiences, and Information
TOK process (UNESCO): Knowledge acquirement, Storage, Participation (transfer/sharing), Utilization, and Innovation
Document Analysis, Logic Analysis, Case Study, and Field Research
Browne (2016) [34]Knowledge Transfer, Transfer of KnowledgeMixed Research MethodTacit and explicit knowledge interaction:
1. From tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge (Socialization);
2. From tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge (Externalization);
3. From explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge (Combination);
4. From explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge (Internalization).
Document Analysis, Literature Review, Observation, Case Study, and Survey
Liu, Liu, Wang, and Luo (2011) [35]VTOK (奥运影像知识转让)Qualitative Research MethodGame Organizing Key Elements:
1. Key milestones;
2. Torch relay;
3. Progress of construction of Venues;
4. Activities in City/China;
5. Operation of the Olympic Games;
6. Volunteers Activities;
7. Olympic Education.
Document Analysis, Case Study, and Interview
Muskat and Deery (2017) [36]Knowledge Transfer, Transfer of KnowledgeQualitative Research Method(1) Pre-event;
(2) Event operations;
(3) Post-event.
Interview and Document Analysis
Qin, Rocha and Morrow (2022) [19]Knowledge management, Knowledge transfer, Transfer of KnowledgeMixed Research MethodPRISMALiterature Review

Appendix C

Table A3. The research Perspectives, Enablers, and Barriers of Knowledge Transfer.
Table A3. The research Perspectives, Enablers, and Barriers of Knowledge Transfer.
Authors (Year)Research PerspectivesBarriers of Knowledge TransferInduce the Barriers of Knowledge TransferEnablers of Knowledge TransferInduce the Enablers of Knowledge Transfer
Parent, Kristainsen, and Houlihan (2017) [28]Decision-Making and Management, Event Management, Knowledge ManagementPedagogical and negotiation approach, as such challenges demonstrated that the organizing committee understood what needed to be done and why.Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge,
Lack of the Absorptive Capacity.
1. Knowledge timing, types of knowledge;
2. Knowledge transfer processes were primarily affected by accountability (all forms), authority, and performance/cultural aspects of governance (democratic governance);
3. Communication, a type of knowledge tool.
Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context, and Culture,
Knowledge Transfer Timing and Suitable Methods,
Accountability (Democratic Governance),
Blackman, Benson, and Dickson (2017) [29]Volunteer Legacy, Knowledge Management1. Knowledge transfer sessions create some new knowledge, but this was not shared with volunteers;
2. There was no guidance to harness such human capital post-games. Knowledge thus may become lost.
Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge,
Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection.
1. The formal reports and more in-depth informal discussions;
2. Convert tacit knowledge into an understandable and interpretable form;
3. Debriefing sessions facilitate the transfer of knowledge from one OCOG to the next.
Convert Tacit Knowledge into Interpretable Form via Formal Reports,
In-depth Informal Discussion,
Ellis, Parent, and Seguin (2016) [30]Marketing Networks, Knowledge Transfer1. There still appears to be some challenges and issues to overcome, which are related to trust, coordination, international context, and the breadth of focus;
2. Some OCOGs appeared to be reluctant to take guidance and advice from a central body, such as the IOC. It was suggested this lack of trust may partially stem from differences and suspicions with regard to common purpose and goals. Other stakeholders were uninterested in voluntarily gathering and passing on knowledge;
3. Although the ability to pass on information did not seem to be in danger due to the international context, the usefulness of that knowledge could, at times, be questioned.
Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection (Issues related to Trust, Coordination, International Context, and Breadth of Focus);
Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge,
Lack of the Absorptive Capacity,
Difficult in Adapt Knowledge into Local Context, Culture, Specific Teams, etc.
1. This suggests that, given the context, knowledge transfer should be tempered with an understanding of the unique character of the host country and the games;
2. We also suggest that the discussed knowledge transfer tools are the practical vehicles through which the beliefs, knowledge, opinions, and practices of those actors with influence are transferred to the rest of the network. This facilitates their becoming institutional logics and their diffusion through the network, as well as their acceptance as norms.
Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context and Culture;
Cooperation & Strategic Approach (Set Norms inside the Knowledge Sharing Network Focusing on Common Beliefs, Knowledge, Opinions, and Practices of Those Actors).
Werner, Dickson, and Hyde (2015a) [31]Organization Management, TourismA high risk that knowledge shared for cooperation may also be used for competition.Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection.1. An essential element of successful knowledge transfer is communication. Additionally, knowledge may be transferred, but it is only successfully adopted if it generates new ideas;
2. Collaboration can positively enhance interorganizational learning and knowledge transfer.
Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context and Culture.
Parent, MacDonald, and Goulet (2013) [16]Knowledge Management and Transfer, Organizational Learning 1. Knowledge tailoring resulted in a higher likelihood of subsequent application;
2. We found that information technology and media were a significant part of the knowledge management and transfer process;
3. The individual is still, arguably, the most important piece of the process of knowledge management and transfer. Experience is important for knowledge creation and application;
4. Moreover, flexibility and openness were critical components for a successful knowledge management and transfer process.
Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context and Culture;
Engagement of Information Technology and Media,
Know-How and Experience,
Cooperation and Strategic Approach (Flexibility and Openness).
Andersen and Hanstad (2013) [32]Organizational Learning, Knowledge Development and Transfer, Risk Management1. Project organizations often fail to develop and transfer the knowledge necessary to bridge the gap between earlier short comings and new challenges. They do not take the time, or instead lack the capabilities, to systematically reflect upon experiences, draw lessons, identify gaps, as well as do not develop knowledge and new ways to more efficiently transfer and thus use it in preparations and operations;
2. Practical problems related to logistics and living conditions may also, to a certain extent, be corrected there and then;
3. Competitions take place in new settings, introducing new and unique challenges.
Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge,
Lack of the Absorptive Capacity,
Time Stress,
Problems in Relation to the Vehicle of Knowledge Transfer (Logistics, Living Conditions),
Dilemma of Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Protection.
1. Creation and transfer of knowledge in projects is often discussed in relation to companies operating complex technological systems, involving a variety of specialized knowledge domains;
2. The reliable experience-based knowledge is critical for the organization’s success;
3. In both businesses and in elite sport actors, we have to develop organizational capabilities to manage complexities and uncertainties relating to problems, especially regarding the ability to relating different competences of the organizations and to routinize the lessons learned as critical capabilities in knowledge creation and transfer.
Engagement of Technological System,
Know-How and Experience,
Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities (Especially the organizational capabilities to manage complexities and uncertainties).
Werner, Dickson, and Hyde (2015b) [23]Knowledge Management and Transfer, Event Management, Organizational Learning1. KT can be informal, spontaneous and unstructured;
2. Small and medium-sized organizations, which are characterized by activity fragmentation and poor human resource practices, and which also act as a barrier to knowledge transfer and acquisition;
3. Difficulties to deliver projects involving complex, stakeholder relationships under considerable time pressures.
Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge (Informal, Spontaneous and Unstructured Knowledge Transfer),
Lack of the Absorptive Capacity,
Time Stress.
1. For an effective transfer to occur within a network, all partners must participate, as each partner controls access to certain types of knowledge;
2. Knowledge may be transferred but it is not successfully adopted unless it leads to the generation of new ideas and concepts. Network analysis, documents from previous events, the infrastructural system and the regulation system were the most important KT systems;
3. Receivers must apply thought or reasoning to it and incorporate it into their individual knowledge networks;
4. The degree to which it has been transferred largely depends on the communication processes;
5. Effective coordination between the organizing committee (a temporary organization) and the destination marketing organization (that are not of a temporary nature) is essential.
Involvement of All Stakeholders,

Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context and Culture;

Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities,
Communication, Cooperation, and Strategic Approach,
Effective Coordination between the Sender and the Receiver.
Yang and Qiu (2013) [33]Organizational Learning, Event Management, Knowledge Transfer and Decision-Making and ManagementCommunication problems among different departments; lack of strategic decision-making ability due to cooperation problems among companies; change in functions and responsibilities (i.e., repeated work); software outsourcing; the right to use new knowledge, which has been redeveloped, as well as related questions regarding cost-sharing, pricing, contracts, etc.Problems in Communication, Coordination and Cooperation;
Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge,
Lack of the Absorptive Capacity (Related to the Nature of OC, Change and the Game Pattern).
1. Transfers the most useful knowledge at the most correct time to the entities in the greatest need for future OCOGs and candidate cities, as well as assists them to make the best decision;
2. The transformation of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge is essential.
Transfers the Most Useful Knowledge at the Rightest Time to the Entities in Greatest Need;
Transfer of Explicit Knowledge.
Browne (2016) [34]Decision-Making and Management, Event Management, Knowledge Management & Transfer 1. Adapt the program according to the needs and culture of the participants. Organize the guided visits outside of the peak time;
2. Try to influence as much as possible on who will be the participants, as well as what operational roles they will have in terms of being related to the program offered. Promote more the transfer of knowledge, avoiding a focus on networking.
Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context and Culture;
Extend the Scope and Influence of Knowledge Transfer.
Liu, Liu, Wang, and Luo (2011) [35]Decision-making and Management, Knowledge Management and Transfer, Event ManagementAlthough Beijing won the bidding on 13 July 2001, the news and media sector were only established by Beijing Sports University’s publishing house in 2017 due to the domestic bidding.Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge (Late Start of Knowledge Storage).1. Learn from Beijing VTOK program: start preparation earlier, learn the related requirements and standards from IOC; Obtain support, focus on the most important issues.
2. Be active to coordinate various things based on reality and local context.
Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities,
Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context and Culture.
Muskat and Deery (2017) [36]Event Management, Knowledge Transfer and Organizational Learning(1) Issues around the transferred knowledge: Ongoing staff may be more competitive and less willing to share knowledge;
(2) Issues around the source of knowledge: Making tacit and experience-based knowledge mobile and accessible;
(3) Issues around the recipient of knowledge: A heterogeneous team structure may pose challenges;
(4) Issues related to the context: Event organizations are different in terms of the external and internal environment they are operating in, the dynamics of knowledge, and capabilities, as well as in team composition.
Accessibility and Availability of Knowledge,
Lack of the Absorptive Capacity,
Difficult in Adapt Knowledge into Local Context, Culture, Specific Teams, etc.
1. Event staff would have preferred the inclusion of face-to-face briefings on “how to do things.”;
2. Event managers need to consider different levels of learning. Establish organizational memory. At the same time, they should be held accountable in terms of providing evidence of the establishment and management of an organizational memory;
3. Event operation: Firstly, the pairing of the inexperienced with more experienced event staff. Communication tools, usage of electronic data, shallow hierarchies, self-management, decision making, and an overall innovative culture.
Apply Face-to-Face Briefings,
Improving the Learning Culture and Capacities,
Knowledge Identifying and Tailoring Based on Needs, Local Context and Culture,
Communication, Cooperation, and Strategic Approach.
Qin, Rocha and Morrow (2022) [19]Knowledge Management and Mega-sports eventsTrust and coordination between stakeholders; an imbalanced distribution of knowledge; and the context differences between host destinations.Trust and Coordination between Stakeholders,
An Imbalanced Distribution of Knowledge,
The Context Differences.


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Figure 1. Systematic Review Flow Diagram.
Figure 1. Systematic Review Flow Diagram.
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Figure 2. Mapping of Publication Trend.
Figure 2. Mapping of Publication Trend.
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Figure 3. Mapping the Research Methods of the Academic Works.
Figure 3. Mapping the Research Methods of the Academic Works.
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Table 1. Basic Publication Information of the Final Sample, Involving 17 Documents.
Table 1. Basic Publication Information of the Final Sample, Involving 17 Documents.
Type of ReferenceSourceAuthors (Year)Research GoalsGeographic Distribution (Based on the Location of Authors’ Organizations)
Journal ArticleInternational Journal of Sport Management and MarketingParent, Kristainsen, and Houlihan (2017) [28]To identify the relationship between good governance principles and the knowledge management/transfer process through a comparison between YOG and the Olympic Games process.America and Europe
Journal ArticleEvent ManagementBlackman, Benson, and Dickson (2017) [29]To identify what were expected of volunteers and organizations in terms of legacy and knowledge transfer.Europe and Oceania
Journal ArticleJournal of Sport ManagementEllis, Parent, and Seguin (2016) [30]To examine how Olympic ambush marketing stakeholder power and the transfer of sponsorship/knowledge interact with governance.America
Journal ArticleEvent ManagementWerner, Dickson, and Hyde [31]To determine the impact of coopetition on knowledge transfer dynamics in a destination marketing and mega-events context.Oceania
Journal ArticleInternational Journal of Managing Projects in BusinessAndersen and Hanstad (2013) [32]To investigate the mechanisms of knowledge development and transfer in relation to risk management in a mindful organization.Europe
Journal ArticleTourism ManagementWerner, Dickson, and Hyde (2015b) [23]To find out the impact of the World Cup on the knowledge transfer process among organizations.Oceania
Journal ArticleJournal of Capital University of Physical Education and SportsYang and Qiu (2013) [33]To analyze the basic content, operational model, significant value, and practical application of TOK.Asia
ThesisOlympic World LibraryBrowne (2016) [34]To propose a pilot program of an observers’ program for the FIVB events, as well as to create the best practices for the events.Europe
Journal ArticleShandong Sports Science & TechnologyLiu, Liu, Wang, and Luo (2011) [35]To adapt the Beijing Olympics’ experience to the Nanjing Youth Olympics.Asia
Journal ArticleEvent ManagementMuskat and Deery (2017) [36]To determine how event organizations transfer knowledge, as well as to identify the characteristics that foster knowledge transfer.Europe
Journal ArticleFrontiers in sports and active livingQin, Rocha and Morrow (2022) [19]To review the current state-of the-art position of sport mega-event knowledge management research.Europe
ReportOlympic World LibraryRio 2016 OCOG (2013) [37]To provide information and data in support of knowledge management and transfer.America
ReportOlympic World LibraryBOCWOG (2022) [38]To provide information and data in support of knowledge management and transfer.Asia
ReportOlympic World LibrarySochi 2014 OCOG (2014) [39]To provide information and data in support of knowledge management and transfer.Asia and Europe
ReportOlympic World LibraryLondon 2012 OCOG (2012) [40]To provide information and data in support of knowledge management and transfer.Europe
ReportOlympic World LibraryRio 2016 OCOG (2016) [37]To provide information and data in support of knowledge management and transfer.America
Web pageOlympics WebsiteIOC [12]To provide information and data in support of knowledge management and transfer.Europe
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Zhou, J. Systematic Review for Knowledge Transfer at International Sport Mega-Events. Sustainability 2023, 15, 4902.

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Zhou J. Systematic Review for Knowledge Transfer at International Sport Mega-Events. Sustainability. 2023; 15(6):4902.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Zhou, Jingfan. 2023. "Systematic Review for Knowledge Transfer at International Sport Mega-Events" Sustainability 15, no. 6: 4902.

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