Conference Report | EASS 2019, Bø, Norway: Sports and the Environment | June 2019

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Anne Tjønndal & Mads Skauge
Faculty of Social Science, Nord university, Bodø, Norway.


The University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) is the youngest university in Norway, established in May 2018. This June, USN’s campus Bø hosted the 16th conference of the European Association for Sociology of Sport (EASS). This is the first time an EASS conference has been held in Norway.

Bø, a small village in Telemark with little over 6,500 inhabitants, welcomed 177 conference participants from Europe, Asia, Oceania, and North America to the conference themed ‘Sports and the Environment: Policies, Values, and Sustainability’. During the four days of the conference, Monday to Thursday June 3–6,143 papers were presented in twelve parallel sessions and four special sessions:

Well aware that we’d need a wholeteam of conference bloggers to cover all the wonderful content of the conference, in this article two conference participants retell their highlights from EASS 2019 in Bø.

Left: the EASS 2019 book of abstracts. Right: Professor Nils Asle Bergsgard (USN) at the opening ceremony.

Left: the entrance of the conference site. Right: coffee break/mingling between sessions.

Sport, Sustainability and Extreme Environments: The Keynote Speeches

Monday afternoon, Professor Jan Ove Tangen (USN) opened the conference with his keynote speech titled ‘Is Sport Sustainable? A Simple Question and a Knotty Answer’. Starting off his speech, Jan Ove Tangen cleverly illustrated the large potential sport has for impact on society using Google. He showed how searching for ‘Sport’ yields 19.4 billion hits, while ‘Sustainability’ gives 0.3 billion hits (by comparison, searching for ‘Sex’ gives 3.8 billion hits). In his presentation, Tangen demonstrates the many paradoxes and contradictions between modern sport and sustainability. He particularly highlighted the inconsistency of elite sport being ‘sustainable’ and the discrepancy of organizations like the IOC promoting sustainability goals, while at the same time organizing the Olympic Games which have individual carbon footprints comparable to a small country’s yearly emissions, or elite athletes being sponsored by climate friendly companies like CHOOOSE.

In his talk, Jan Ove Tangen drew a rather gloomy future for sport, at least for sport as we know it today. As he put it: ‘I find it very hard to acknowledge that the phenomenon I love so much is doomed’, arguing that in order for sport to survive as sustainable, elite sport needs to be demolished and sport must ‘go back to basics’ where participation is only local, between competitors that can reach other by foot, bike or electric car.

Jan Ove Tangen on the sustainability of modern sports.

The local organizing committee at USN has done a great job of putting together a set of keynote speakers that build on each other’s topics in their talks. The second keynote speech, on Tuesday the 4th, was given by Professor Holly Thorpe (University of Waikato, New Zealand), who brought Tangen’s philosophical questions of sport and sustainability down to the individual’s experiences of sport and outdoor leisure. Holly Thorpe’s talk, titled ‘Sport in Extreme Environments: Reimagining Spaces of Pleasure, Hope, and Despair’, had three underlying themes: (1) extreme sports and the environment, (2) sport in extreme environments, and (3) sport in extreme futures. In the first section, Thorpe explored how extreme (outdoor sport) athletes are affected by climate change. Here, she illustrated how many of these athletes feel that being involved in extreme sports such as surfing, rock climbing or snowboarding is consistent with being a climate activist, as their sport participation is dependent on local weather and climate conditions. From this topic, she moved into the second part of her speech where she gace voice to youths who engage in sport in extreme environments using findings from her research on parkour in Gaza and skateboarding in post-earthquake Christchurch. In the final part of her speech, Thorpe (like Tangen before her) pointed to some possible futures for sport, exploring the possibility that sport in the future will become like what we know as ‘sport in extreme environments’ today.

Holly Thorpe on sport in extreme environments.

The third keynote speaker (was the famous Norwegian anthropologist, Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen (University of Oslo, Norway). In his talk on Wednesday, ‘The Treadmill Paradox: Sports in an Overheated World’, Hylland Eriksen explored how sports is a celebration of modernity where athletes constantly have to improve to keep their position in the hierarchy of elite sport performance. Hence, he argued that modern athletes have to ‘run as fast as they can’ simply to keep their position in the hierarchy of elite sport. Hylland Eriksen exemplified this by saying that because everyone is almost constantly improving (running faster, lifting heavier, etc.), the ranking between athletes remains fairly similar over time. Thus, even if you push hard (exercise), you are practically at a standstill (hierarchy-wise) rather than moving from a to b (hence the analogy of the treadmill). Hylland Eriksen also drew attention to the sports technology and gear industry, describing how the development of new gadgets (such as carbon-fiber soles in running shoes or polyurethane swimsuits) aimed at improving sport performance, is part of the ideals of modernity that everything must constantly improve and accelerate.

Professor Hylland Eriksen having an inspiring keynote discussing the ‘overheating’ world’s influence on sports.

On Thursday, the fourth keynote speaker was Dr. Liv Yoon, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City (US), and a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. In her speech ‘Forest through the Trees: The Politics of Sport Mega-Event-related Environmental Issues’, Dr. Yoon showed her documentary, Mount Gariwang: An Olympic Casualty, informed by her doctoral dissertation about the controversial development of Mount Gariwang in South Korea for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games. The documentary grapples with questions that transcend sport mega-events and geographical boundaries, such as: what inequalities are perpetuated in environmental controversies?; how are environment-related decisions made and whose voices are featured or marginalized in the process?; what assumptions underline dominant approaches to ‘sustainability’ and how do they influence our ability to imagine alternative and preferred ecological and socio-political futures?

Dr. Yoon on environmental issues and the politics of sport mega-events.

PhD special: beer tasting at local Lindheim brewery

On the first day of the conference, there was a PhD special at Lindheim local microbrewery, beautifully located among fruit trees and the mountains. About 30 PhD candidates took off together in minibusses in the direction of Lindheim, a 20 minutes trip in idyllic surroundings. At Lindheim, we were kindly welcomed by the host Ingeborg, who together with her husband Eivind Eilertsen and a few hired helpers, runs the brewery which is actually ranked as one of the world’s best. Ever since the Viking Age, there have been farming at Lindheim, and fruit has been the main industry, Ingeborg said. Her grandfather Kittil Lindheim started packing fruit on the farm in the 1950s. Now, both apples, cherries, plums, and raspberries are grown on Lindheim. In 2013, Ingeborg and Eivind started producing beer on the farm. The PhD candidates were offered beer tasting of five different beers. Ingeborg told the story of every beer, it’s local roots, and how it was produced. The Lindheim brewery bases their beer mainly on own fruit, as well as malt and hops from places where these are best grown, inspired by the Belgian and the American brewing culture. After the beer-tasting we were offered a brewery tour, going through the brewing process step by step. Finally, the PhD candidates got to taste the (non-finished) beer poured directly from the barrels.

My experience (Mads) of the visit to Lindheim was very positive and a good initiative for social networking as only a few of the PhD candidates knew each other prior to the conference. Who knows, maybe the new ties from this evening will result in new and exciting research collaborations?

Upper left: there was a good atmosphere during the PhD beer tasting. Upper right: the tasteful beers offered for tasting. Lower left: Ingeborg Lindheim (in front) on beer storaging. Lower right: a wooden cabin at the Lindheim farm built in the early 1800s.

Sport and gender

At EASS 2019 in Bø, there were 3 sessions on the topic of sport and gender. We attended two of these sessions and will highlight some of the research that was presented within this theme. Taking the readers of idrottsforum.org into consideration, we have the Scandinavian research presenters in focus.

In Tuesday’s afternoon session ‘Sport and Gender #1, chaired by Bieke Gils(USN, Norway), several Scandinavian-based researchers presented their work. Associate Professor Adam B. Evans (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) opened the session with his presentation ‘Reflexivity in Practice: Managing gendered and cultural researcher perspectives in politically polarized times’ – work co-authored with Sine Agergaard and Verena Lenneis (Aalborg University, Denmark). Their starting point is an ongoing multi-methods research project on ‘women only’ swimming in Denmark. With this basis, Evans discussed how they as a mixed-gender research team are managing their own political preconceptions and expectations, their biographical and embodied experiences of gender, religion, and ethnicity, and their degrees of insider and outsider perspectives. This engagement with reflexive practice is according to Evans, crucial to determine how such factors influence the research process and the research findings and to move beyond the notion that research is a ‘view from nowhere’.

The next Scandinavian presenters in this session were Associate Professor Arve Hjelseth and Professor Jorid Hovden (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) with their paper ‘The dynamics between social recognition and market value. A study of the process towards gender-equal sponsor support for the Norwegian national teams in football’. In their study, Hjelseth and Hovden have interviewed informants who represent the institutions that were involved in the decision-making process of equal sponsor funding for the men’s and women’s national teams (from the Norwegian Football Federation’s sponsors). Their analysis reveals that discourses linked to social recognition and market value were the most influential and that these discourses were interrelated in the decision-making process. In other words, the increasing social recognition of women’s football both nationally and internationally is something that in turn influences the market value and results in more gender-equal sponsor funding between the teams.

The last Scandinavian presenter in this session was PhD candidate Marlene Persson (Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway). Persson presented parts of her PhD project on how gender inequality in elite sport can affect young girls’ experiences and motives to stay in organized sport. Her research project is based on fieldwork in two football clubs with girl teams, and interviews with the girls who play football and the coaches who coach them. Persson’s findings indicate that perceived natural differences between boys and girls affect both the perceptions of girls’ skills and opportunities in football, as well as the treatment they receive within their respective clubs. We are excited to follow Persson’s PhD project to its completion!

Marlene Persson presenting findings from her PhD project

In the session ‘Sport and Gender # 3’ on Wednesday, chaired by Adam B. Evans, four Norwegian speakers presented their research. First up was Professor emerita Gerd von der Lippe (USN, Norway). Her presentation ‘Female Football Friendship in Ramallah and Bø: Same Game – Different Context’ explored the complex friendships between girls playing football for Ramallah Football Club in the Occupied West Bank, and Norwegian girls playing for Skarphedin in Bø. Using quotes from 17 interviews with Ramallah and Skarphedin players, von der Lippe’s study illustrates how friendships are built through a common love of sport, despite extreme differences in everyday life situations and geographical contexts.

This was also the session where Anne presented her current work with Professor Jorid Hovden (NTNU, Norway) with a paper titled “Will God Condemn me because I Love Boxing?” – Exploring the lives of young female immigrant Muslim boxers in Norway. This paper is a work in progress and is based on a life story interview approach with two informants. Using intersectionality and processes of majoritising and minoritizing as its theoretical lens, this paper illustrates the many contradictory identity discourses these young female athletes must manage in their everyday lives. The findings also demonstrates how passion for sport holds an important place in the lives of the informants.

Professor Jorid Hovden and Associate Professor Anne Tjønndal (to the right) on female boxing, steadily chaired by Associate Professor Adam Evans.

 Another Norwegian, Professor Mari Kristin Sisjord (NIH) presented collaborative work with her colleagues Kari Fasting and Trond Svela Sand on perceptions of coaching male and female athletes among elite coaches. Their study is based on in-depth interviews with 24 female coaches and 12 male coaches from 25 different sports. Sisjord explained how their analyses indicated gendered differences between the male and female coaches from their experiences of coaching. Here, the female coaches appeared to be more aware and reflexive with respect to their own communication style with the athletes, while the male coaches were more likely to relate their coaching approach to athletic performance and sport-specific requirements.

The final presenter of the session was Professor emerita Kari Fasting (NIH). Fasting’s longstanding work is well-known to any researcher in the field of sport and gender. At this conference, Fasting presented a paper titled ‘The role of the coach in reducing non-acceptable behavior’, co-authored with her colleagues Mari Kristin Sisjord and Trond Svela Sand. The data material behind this paper is the same as Sisjord presented earlier in the same session. Both papers are a result of a larger research project on “The elite level coaching role and gender”.  Fasting and colleagues’ analyses in this paper reveal that coaches observe verbal bullying primarily among their athletes and that the coaches found it most effective to deal with these types of unwanted behavior instantly, as they take place during training sessions, travels, and competitions.

Youth sport

There were two sessions on youth sports, including six Scandinavian presentations. The session ‘Youth Sport #1’ on Tuesday morning, chaired by Associate Professor Hans Hognestad (USN), started out with Researcher Patrick Lie Andersen, Senior Researcher Anders Bakken, and Research Professor Kari Stefansen’s (Oslo Metropolitan University) presentation ‘Social inequality in organized sport participation: The importance of class origin and “family sport culture”. Thepaper deals with a set of quantitative regression analyses of Norwegian youths club sports participation including both economic and family culture variables, controlling for potentially confounding factors (neighborhood context, school affiliation, and immigrant status). The preliminary results, based on two surveys (The Oslo Youth Study from 2015 and 2018, the upper secondary school selection), show that the indicators of ‘family sport culture’ are highly relevant factors to consider when social class differences in sport participation are analyzed.

Next up was Karin Redelius (The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences) with her paper ‘Having a Voice in Youth Sport – A Conditional Right’. Redelius’ starting point is the growing interest in children’s rights issues in sport. She argued that while research acknowledges the role of overtraining, sexual abuse, dropout, and exploitation of child athletes, one important factor that may prevent these violations from occurring is to secure that young athletes have a voice in the sporting context. According to Redelius, prevailing coaching practices in youth sport do not appear to encourage or make much room for young athletes to have a voice. Instead, sports practices are underpinned by hierarchical power structures in which time, space, bodies, and activities, are controlled by adults. The aim of the study is to critically scrutinize different movement cultures in order to examine and analyze youth’s participation rights. Redelius’ preliminary results show how the right to have a voice for young people and to get the chance to take part in decisions that concern them, is a conditional right in youth sport.

Lars Erik Espedalen, a PhD candidate at The Norwegian School of Sports Sciences was the third Scandinavian presenter in the session. His paper ‘The meaning of sports throughout adolescence: Age-related and social differences in the answers to an open-ended question’, digs into age and social background variations in sporting motives and meanings of organized sports engagement. Espedalen’s research is based on the Oslo Youth Study from 2018, with respondents ranging from grade 8 (first class of secondary school) to grade 13 (third class in high school) (N=25,287, response rate = 74%), where a random third of sport-active teenagers were given the sports motive questions (N=2,578). Espedalen is now working on his analyses, and we are looking forward to reading the final results of Espedalen’s analysis in future publications.

The last presentation in the first session of youth sports was held by Anders Bakken (Oslo Metropolitan University), presenting his paper ‘Understanding the temporal aspect of social inequalities in club organized sports participation among Norwegian youth’. While research has highlighted the mechanisms contributing to social differences in youth sport, there is less knowledge on temporal aspects of when in their lives these mechanisms appear. To explore such mechanisms, Bakken uses data from a nationally representative survey of Norwegian youth aged 13–18 (N=120,000). His preliminary analyses indicate that both non-participation and dropout seem to explain social inequalities in sport participation. However, dropout in early adolescence seems more important than dropout in late teens, Bakken explains.

Later the same day, the second session on youth sports was chaired by Associate Professor Solfrid Bratland-Sanda (USN). It started with Mads’ presentation of his paper ‘Social inequality in organized youth sports and in commercial gyms among Scandinavian youth: Previous research, knowledge gaps, and research agenda’. In his paper, Mads combines a broad literature search with a ‘snowball sampling approach’ focusing on large (N<1000) quantitative studies from the 2000s using a multiple regression analysis approach. Analyzing 13 studies, the findings indicate that socioeconomic differences are about twice as great for sport participation as for fitness participation. Another main finding in the literature is the underrepresentation of minority girls in organized sport and the overrepresentation of minority boys in fitness. The main conclusion is a need for more research on social inequality in youth’s fitness participation, and more studies with an intersectionality approach to social inequality in Scandinavian youth sport.

Left: PhD candidate Mads Skauge presenting on social inequalities in youth sports and fitness participation in the Scandinavian context. Right: the ‘Youth Sport’ session sign.

The last Scandinavian contributor to the second session of youth sport was Inger Eliasson (Umeå University, Sweden), presenting on the paper ‘Emotional abuse in Swedish children’s sport – the perspective of children and coaches’. The point of depature for Eliasson’s paper research findings suggesting that children – despite the fact that both the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child and children’s rights in general is highlighted in national sports policies – are not sufficienly protected from being abused in sport. Eliasson’s aim is to study the existence, experiences, and effects of emotional abuse among 13-18-year-old Swedish athletes and coaches. Data was gathered through semi-structured interviews with 15 children and 5 coaches. Her results show that emotional abuse occurs both between athletes and between coaches and athletes. The most common forms of emotional abuse are verbal abuse, non-verbal abuse, neglect, and lack of attention. However, the abuse reported was often linked to children’s sports performance. More research is needed as there is a great lack of research on this topic, Eliasson explained in her presentation.

Morning runs, garden party and canoeing in local rivers: the social program

EASS 2019 had a truly great social program. In the mornings before the sessions started, delegates could get their morning exercise in by participating in yoga, morning runs or skateboarding! While Anne overslept, Mads managed to join the morning running group with 6 other early birds for a 5 km run before breakfast. A great way of getting to know Bø and its surroundings, as well as other conference participants!

The conference program was cleared on Wednesday afternoon for outdoor social activities. Delegates could then choose between activities like hiking, cycling, rock climbing and canoeing on the Bø river. Mads chose the latter alternative and spent the afternoon going down the slow waters of the river through the cultivated landscape west of Bø. There were great views of the farmland, forest, hills, and mountains surrounding Bø. 15 participants joined the canoeing alternative, as both canoes, paddles, and lifejackets were provided by the arrangement committee.

Upper left: 30 delegates on a bike ride to a local lake for a swim. Upper right: from the canoe trip. Lower row: some preferred a walk in nature (middle picture), and others kayaking (left picture). The rock climbing group seemed excited (right picture).

On the final evening of the conference, the local organizing committee arranged a garden party on campus. Friendly atmosphere, great drinks and music made for a relaxed evening to make new academic connections and friends. The food was provided by a local food truck, the Burnout BBQ Bus – cool chefs and arguably the best food truck in Telemark!

From the garden party in the campus backyard.

Summing up the whole conference, we really enjoyed both the academic and the social program put together by the local organizing committee. We are eternally thankful, and would like to give our highest praise to conference manager Jo Grønlund, his right-hand man Associate Professor Tommy Langseth, Professor Nils Asle Bergsgard, Associate Professor Hans Kristian Hognestad, Professor Richard Giulianotti and the rest of the local organizing committee at The University of South-Eastern Norway. Their efforts created a memorable conference and showed the rest of us that it is possible to host large international academic events outside of the Scandinavian capitals.

We look very much forward to next year’s EASS conference (May 18–21, 2020) at Solent University, Southampton, UK, themed ‘Sport, Diversity and Social Change’.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal & Mads Skauge 2019

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