Conference report: IAPESGW 17th World Congress, Havana, Cuba

Torun Mattsson
Department of Sport Sciences, Malmö University

iapesgw-cuba2013The 17th World Congress of The International Association of Physical Education and Sport for Girls and Women (IAPESGW), and its partner the Instituto Nacional de Deportes, Educación Física y Recreación (INDER; National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation) took place in Havana, Cuba. 200 delegates from 32 countries participated this time. The purpose is to bring together interested scholars and practitioners from many countries in the fields of physical education, sports, dance and physical activity, working to improve the position of girls and women.

This report is not a complete summary of the scientific program, but rather a reflection on some interesting research studies out of the large amount of studies presented during the conference.

The main topics at the conference were Pedagogy; Physical Education; School Sport and Dance in Education; Leadership and Coaching from Grassroots to High Performance; Education and Development Through Sport; and Embracing Diversity: Opportunities For All. The official languages were English and Spanish.

Before the conference started delegates were invited to visit a community project, “Por la Vida” (for life). This took place in a park in Havana where three groups had different sorts of physical activities: mothers and their babies, school children, and older people. The core value was physical activity for all. Another visit was to a day care center, “Pequeños Microbrigadistas”, where we could watch small children’s physical activity with hula-hoops and an exercise program with flags to music.


Another visit was to a compulsory school in Havana, and a further visit was to an elite Sport School for gymnastics. The goal was very clear in the Sport School: to win medals at the Olympics. The children, most of them girls, were selected from all over Cuba at the age of nine. They live at the school, get their education, and they are allowed to visit their families twice a year. Selection is done from the pyramid model.

The conference started on the 10th of April with a large number of poster presentations. Some of the topics from this section were: “A practical study of the effectiveness of creative movement in early childhood” (Makiko Tanako, Japan); “Pedagogical implications: students and physical activity” (Jane Meckbach and Suzanne Lundvall, Sweden); “Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport for a culturally diverse female student population” (Nancy Melnychuk, Canada); “I feel we can do it. Empowering older women through physical activity” (Paula Sillva, Portugal); “Prevailing gender stereotypes against women sport practice” (Caridad Fresneda Gálvez, Cuba); etc., etc.

The official opening took place in the Theater in Havana and the audience had a fantastic evening with lots of music and dance performances.

Dr. Gladys Bequer, Cuba, National Director of Physical Education and Health Promotion within INDER, opened the paper section on April 11th by presenting “Physical Education and Sports for All in Cuba”. She highlighted the importance of physical education (PE) to teach the benefits of physical activity and to counteract obesity, and thus contribute to positive behavior for better health. PE seems to be equal to physical activity in terms of promoting an active and healthy lifestyle and to select future talents in sports. Different programs from the Cuban state are established in order to avoid obesity.


Begoña Arellano from the UNICEF presented different UNICEF initiatives in Latin America of Sports for development. There are 195 million teenagers in Latin America and many programs focus on the right to play and use sports in order to give new opportunities for all ages to learn about rights, tolerance, values and self-esteem. One UNICEF project is “Vamos Jogar, Rio de Janeiro” (2013-2016), where local decision makers promote this initiative. The Barça footballer Lionel Messi is promoting this project.

Rosa López D’Amico, new president of IAPESGW, presented “Embracing Diversity: How close or how far are we?” She talked about accepting and respecting each other according to race, ethnicity, age, gender, political and sexual orientations, nationality and thinking styles. She highlighted the importance of promoting gender issues and women’s participation in school. But she finished her presentation with “we talk about diversity but we don’t do it”. There seems to be much more to do in this area.

Prof. Doune MacDonald, Head of the School of Human Movement Studies, Queensland University, Australia, focused on “Pedagogical work on/for girls. Global to local”. She discussed what “pedagogical work” is and why it is a useful concept, and she also highlighted the importance of focusing on gendered pedagogical work. There is a change in the nature of pedagogical work to more extreme and life sports, sport as personal health and globalization of sports. From global to local? MacDonald emphasized the importance of the needs and interests of girls in their cultural context. In Australia there is a shift from why you are inactive to why you are active. PE in Australia is for learning, not for measuring physical performance, and not for Olympic medals.

Prof. Darlene Kluka, Dean of the School of Human Performance and Leisure Sciences, Barry University, Florida, USA, presented “Coaching Leadership: Where are we going?” She talked about International Sport Leadership Development and that sport matters. According to Kluka, these are powerful activities: individual support through coaching and mentoring, and action learning. Less powerful are academic classroom training, generic models and one-way dialogue.

There was a large amount of oral presentations in four parallel sessions during the conference. Participants from Sweden included Jane Meckbach (“Teacher’s talk about girls and boys in PE and Health in a Swedish context”), Anna Tidén (“Movement skills assessment tools – still gendered biased?”), Karin Redelius (“Making grade in Physical Education – a gendered issue?”), Suzanne Lundvall (“Learning experiences in physical education and health – a longitudinal study”), and me, with my own presentation “The position of physical education”. My study examines the position of dance as pedagogical discourse in the Swedish steering documents over time. Three different areas of knowledge related to dance come forward in the written material: ‘dance as cultural preserver’, ‘dance as bodily exercise’ and ‘dance as expression’. Three pedagogical discourses emerge: an identity formation discourse, a public health discourse and an aesthetic discourse. Over time, an underpinning rationale in the steering documents excluded a competence code in favor of a performance code. This positions dance in PE as a mainly physical activity with little artistic and aesthetic value.

There were several presentations of dance in education from Japan. Directly after my presentation, Toshiko Shimauchi presented “Development of dance education in Physical Education. Characteristics of Japan’s dance education”. It was interesting to note the influence that Swedish gymnastics had on dance within PE in Japan and the similarities to Sweden in relation to the development of dance in PE here.


I listened to several interesting oral presentations, for example Margaret Whitehead with “The challenges of promoting physical literacy across the world”; Peter Hastie’s “Re-engaging girls in Physical Education through student designed games”; Annette R. Hoffmann with “Mirror, Mirror on the wall… Culture, Breast Cancer and the Body”; Francine E. Darroch, Cindy Gaudet and Jenny Davey with “Shamed and blamed to hell-th: dominant physical activity and health discourses and marginalized women”; Gabriele Sobiech’s “The complexity of spatial practice and the incompatibility of expectations between coach and students”; and Rosa Diketmueller’s “School yards, physical activity and gender relations”.

To sum up my experiences of the IAPESGW 17th World Congress, it was well above expectations. Cuba is a fascinating country with a fantastic climate, full of energy with music and dance, but also a country with tough challenges today and in the future. The average salary in Cuba is between 10 and 15 US dollars/month, and the tourist trade revenues amount to 50% of the national income. This, among other things, has led to increasing class distinctions.

Besides the opportunity to discover an interesting culture on Cuba it is also gratifying to learn that so many qualified research projects are going on, involving so many devoted researchers. One important effect of presenting at an international conference is a chance to measure the importance of your own research project in an international perspective and review the national context from another point of view.  Tansin Benn, former president of IAPESGW, said on the conference: “If you do not have at least ten new friends from ten different countries after this conference you have failed in networking”. I can only agree with this statement. It is really an opportunity to exchange knowledge, and to network, discuss and create new possibilities for the benefit of girls and women in physical education, sport, dance and physical activity globally.

Copyright © Torun Mattsson 2013

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