Academics and innovators are joining athletes for a series of Olympic events at the University of British Columbia that will contribute to a forum for national dialogue on issues surrounding the 2010 Winter Games.
At the forefront is UBC’s Sport and Society series, beginning in February at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. The five events present discussions led by high-profile Olympic and Paralympic athletes including such heavyweights as Rick Hansen, Richard Pound and Johann Koss.
“We wanted to choose athletes, both Olympic and Paralympic, who have used their celebrity to make a difference,” says Sid Katz, executive director of UBC Community Affairs. “This series is meant to inspire and engage Canadians through an open dialogue about sport and the social impacts of the Olympic Games.”
Pound, a former Olympic swimmer and chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency, will lead off the seminar series on Feb. 8 by exploring the intersection of sport, ethics and technology. What advances in science, equipment and technology will change the competitive playing field, and what impact do these have on ethics and fairness?
“The Olympics provide a unique opportunity to talk more in depth about issues related not only to sports and athletics, but provocative topics like doping and ability,” says Robert Sparks, director of UBC’s School of Human Kinetics.
“We’re proud to help host a forum that will give the people of this country a chance to take part in a discussion with such high-calibre athletes, activists and educators.”
Johann Olav Koss, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in speed skating and the CEO and president of Right to Play, will lead a discussion on the opening day of the Games, Feb. 12, on how sport can contribute to positive social change.
Right to Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play to improve the lives of disadvantaged children in 23 countries around the world. Koss will be joined by Stephen Lewis, Canada’s former special envoy to the UN on HIV and AIDS for Africa, and Wilfried Lemke, an advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace.
One participant, however, will help bring the topic home for audiences: Benjamin Nzobonankira is a former child refugee from Burundi who was first introduced to UN Sport for Development and Peace programs while living in a refugee camp in Northern Tanzania. When he steps in front of the microphone at the Chan, it will be as a Right to Play coach trainer.
“This gets to one of the most important topics: whether sport has been a mechanism for peace and development around the world,” Katz explains. “Are we deluding ourselves, or is it really happening?
“These are very key issues I feel the university should be exploring, especially since they’re the questions on people’s minds. We want to help spur a global dialogue on the usefulness of the Games and the myriad issues that surround this event,” he says.
Waneek Horn Miller will lend an Aboriginal perspective as she relates her story of being inspired by seeing fellow Mohawk Alwyin Morris compete in the 1984 Games. As a former Olympic athlete (water polo), activist and television personality, Miller will kick off a discussion about sports and inclusion (March 5).
The talks will close with discussions of challenge and legacy with former Paralympian and Man in Motion Rick Hansen (March 5), as well as Bruce Kidd, a former track and field athlete (March 13).
Sport and Society will be the feature Games-time program on Intellectual Muscle: University Dialogues for Vancouver 2010. Developed by Vancouver 2010 and UBC, in collaboration with universities across Canada and the Globe and Mail, Intellectual Muscle already includes more than 20 podcasts by prominent and up-and-coming Canadians, including podcasts by UBC professors Judy Illes and Jim Rupert.
UBC’s Sport and Society podcasts will be loaded on to Intellectual Muscle, along with polls, starting on Feb. 11, 2010. An online discussion forum will be added at the end of the Games in April 2010.
UBC is also throwing open the door to further online participation beyond the talks through the use of social media. The university will announce a special “hashtag” — a keyword that identifies a topic of discussion on the Internet — for Twitter users to discuss topics raised by the Sport and Society series, while schools can take advantage of a special Intellectual Muscle/Sport and Society teachers’ guide developed by Vancouver 2010 in partnership with UBC.
The UBC Winter Games Event Series, meanwhile, brings 13 existing UBC speaker series under one umbrella. They include the relationship between sport, art and politics; technology and the body; symbolism in sport; ethics of the Olympic Games; and the historical context of the Games.
The annual Ziegler Visiting Speaker Series returns with a focus on sport, culture and body politics, culminating with a Jan. 14 talk on Poland and the 1936 Winter Olympics. The School of Human Kinetics’ annual seminar series includes “Genetics in Sport: Detection, Correction, Perfection” and the influence of globalization and new social movements on the Games.
The Joan Carlisle-Irving Lecture Series focuses on art history, with upcoming talks that include “The Aesthetics of Performance” and “Bodies on Display: Gender Ambiguities and Riefenstahl’s Olympia.”
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