Why this matters
With the world shaken to its core by COVID-19 and a variety of threats, the future seems more unclear than ever. As a futurist, Brian David Johnson is empowering organizations in the sports world and beyond to take action today for a better tomorrow.
Brian David Johnson is a futurist.
He can’t predict the future with a crystal ball. He isn't a mad scientist who will tell you the world is ending.
But he will tell you that there is reason to remain optimistic.
Johnson has been working in the emerging field of threatcasting for over 25 years. Threatcasting is an interdisciplinary study that identifies possible and potential futures while developing strategies to disrupt, mitigate, and recover from accompanying threats.
He says, “It’s not my job not to be right, but to help people get it right and to either help people prepare for a future or for a threat.”
In these times, it seems like the future has accelerated and threats are more menacing than ever. COVID-19, systemic racism, climate change, and income disparities are all immediate threats that intrude every aspect of life. Solutions to these issues cannot rely on data and research alone. Johnson believes that change starts with people. It starts with culture.
“Culture is so incredibly important because that is the thing that regulates humans,” he says. “Culture is the water we’re all floating in. It’s the air that we breathe.”
Sport is a reflection of culture. It is a manifestation of values like perseverance, cooperation, confidence, and success. It is a communal experience that pushes conversations about threats and solutions. It inherently creates opportunities to discuss the future of human achievement.
In his recent article "A Lost Generation of Athletes," Johnson expresses his concern that the pandemic will prevent an entire generation from participating in sport. He says, “It’s a generation that is not going to have sports. And we know the importance of sport on the development of young minds.”
Youth sports are important to children’s cognitive, physical, emotional, and social growth. In a poll conducted by Global Sport Institute, 72% of parents said the inability to play sport was making their child stressed or anxious. The disparities in resources between professional teams and local and youth teams disproportionately disadvantages the latter group. Johnson is making a push for threatcasting this situation. By disseminating information to these organizations, he hopes to empower and enable them to disrupt, mitigate, and recover from current and future threats.
The absence of youth sports might be a harsh reality, but Johnson remains a self-declared optimist.
“I always tell people there’s nothing wrong with dystopias. There’s nothing wrong with threats and having these dark conversations, but you have to be responsible for your dystopias,” Johnson says. He emphasizes that urgency and action can prevent unfavorable futures.
“I’ve seen threat futures and the way they’ve been disrupted and mitigated. What I’ve learned is that the future is actually built by people. We have an incredible amount of control even when it comes to threats.”
The sports world is a testament to this phenomenon. Organizations across the world are designing sustainable venues and facilities to combat climate change. New training protocols are being employed to slow COVID-19. Athletes are using their platforms to advance racial justice movements and create an anti-racist society.
Sport may be a staple of society, but its future - like the rest of the world - relies on the decisions and actions of today. Johnson reminds us that the pandemic must be prioritized before the full-fledged return of sport. “Sports gives us a way to see how awesome humanity can be,” he says. “In the long term it’s very rosy.”
Right now, it may seem like the world is a whirlwind of threats and uncertainty. That doesn’t mean that this is forever. Everyone has the ability and responsibility to create a better, brighter future. As Johnson says, “We really do have the power to shape the future. And that makes me excited.”
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COVID-19 is the rival no one in sport could game plan for. As many live events remain at a standstill and the world keeps adapting, how is sport resetting upon its staggered returns?