Bonfire Talks: Jesper Konstantinov of Social Sports
Listening to Jesper Konstantinov speak about his latest project, you cannot help but smile. Not just because the idea itself is a reason to celebrate, but because the joy he feels towards his passions is undeniably contagious. But don’t take my word for it, in the upcoming episode of Bonfire Talks, you can hear it for yourself.
To explain what Jesper is working on, we have to talk about the sport that has taken his home country, Sweden, by storm. Padel combines elements from both tennis and squash (think, squash court with a tennis net) and it is usually played in doubles. Being less concerned with strength and serving competency, the sport has won the hearts of a nation because it is easy to learn and popular across ages and levels. It is this framework that has opened up for padel to be a social sport. And this is exactly what grabbed Jesper’s attention.
“Padel is a great equalizer,” he told Bolder-founder Eirik Skjærseth, when they sat down to discuss how his latest project is embracing the trendy racket sport. Jesper proceeded with a thought experiment, asking Eirik to reimagine what sport looks like: Would you want the sports stars to make 500 million dollars a year? Where would you want the money to go? What could it be? What should it be?
According to Jesper, it is the feeling of togetherness that should be at the heart of a sport, and he believes this is exactly what has made padel such a success. “The growth happened organically, not because of marketing or for gain, but because people loved the sport,” he pointed out. “It was all driven, more or less, by padel being not so much a sports phenomenon but a social one.”
So, what did he decide to do with this knowledge? “What I find most exciting is that it is an entirely new sector with loads of work opportunities. I want to harness that for good.” In fact, Jesper is on a mission to identify youth at risk and train them to coach one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. “They’re more or less guaranteed a job for life because this is the biggest sports boom the world’s ever seen. Their financial future secured, job security, becoming role models to kids in their areas, they can travel with it and work all over the world,” he listed.
Padel represents a burgeoning industry and Jesper is concerned about commercialization and exploitation in the name of personal gain. The beauty of padel, as it stands, is that the goal is to get everyone across the line, regardless of their background. In major sports, however, you tend to lose sight of that due to commercialization. Referring to grassroots football organizations, he pondered: “If all these sports organizations, non-profits, can do such amazing things in the communities around the world, then how come the sports companies, that make billions, do so little?”
Despite its popularity in countries such as Sweden, Spain and Argentina, padel is yet to gain the same popularity beyond those borders. Jesper believes that padel is still a clean slate which means that if the right people get involved now, it is possible to create a more equal structure and social context within sports. “My naive vision of padel is that we can potentially create the ultimate sport. By that I mean the sport that does the most amount of good in society and has the best effect on humanity.”
Want to learn more? You’re in luck! Soon, you can soon listen to the rest of Eirik and Jesper’s conversation and hear them talk about everything from Google’s contradictave motto to the supportive spirit found within climbing communities, and – of course – everything padel. In the Campfire Talks podcast series, Eirik Skjærseth invites you to join in on the contemplations and meetings his journey has brought him. The storytelling platform will soon launch, delivering inspiring stories, such as Jesper’s.