2018 World Congress of Sociology of Sport


Lausanne, Switzerland – the Olympic capital of the word and the region that is home to more than fifty international sport federations was the host of the 2018 World Congress of Sociology of Sport, June 5-8th. The University of Lausanne with Professor Fabien Ohl as head chief made up the local organizing committee of this year’s ISSA conference. The conference in Lausanne had participants from over forty countries, with more than 300 attending delegates.  This year, the conference theme was ‘Sports Organizations and Organizing Sports: Critical Reflections’, a fitting theme for the city of Lausanne. After all, Lausanne might just be the best place in the world to speak about sport organizations and sport governance.

This conference report is a highly personal ‘diary-esque’ account of the 2018 ISSA congress, meaning that the sessions and presentations presented here only represent a small part of the scientific and social program in Lausanne.  With as many as seven parallel sessions, covering the entire scientific program is an impossible feat for any congress participant. However, this text will highlight some of the research topics and papers presented in Lausanne, as well as some of the activities of the conference social program.


Tuesday and Wednesday, June 5-6th

Opening the conference Tuesday afternoon was the keynote speaker – Professor Annelies Knoppers from the University of Utrecht. Knoppers’s presentation was titled “Thinking about the box and thinking outside the box: sociology of sport takes an organizational turn”. By ‘thinking outside the box’, Professor Knoppers referred to new theoretical lenses to study sport. In her lecture, Professor Knoppers called for a critical embodied intersectional queer perspective on sport organizations, arguing that studies of sport organizations should look closer at the people who work in these organizations and how their ideologies shape how we think about sport, and furthermore, critically question why the people who make up these organizations think the way they do.


The keynote lecture by Professor Annelies Knoppers from the University of Utrech


Following the keynote lecture was the ISSA Award Ceremony. Here, Emeritus Professor John Sugden from the University of Brighton was awarded the ISSA Honorary Award for his long commitment and outstanding contribution to the field of sociology of sport. Sugden has researched on, taught and written extensively in the area of sport and peacebuilding in divided societies and is widely considered to be one of the subject area’s founding figures and leading authorities.

Wednesday morning I attended a session on “Sport & Media” chaired by Agnes Elling-Machartzki. This session consisted of four presentations:

  • Ilse Hartmann-Tews (German Sport University Cologne, DE): “Gendered visual media coverage of the Olympic Games? A longitudinal content analysis of two newspapers in Germany from 2000 to 2016”
  • Cheryl Cooky (Purdue University, US): “The women’s Olympics” or “sexism at the Olympics”: An interrogation of narratives of progress and gender equality in U.S. media coverage.
  • Rebekah Mitchell (Georgia Southern University, US): “How do the women of CrossFit use social media? An exploratory study to examine influences and impacts”
  • Michael Ward (QUT, AU): “ABC Television and Women’s Sport: Public Broadcasting, Innovation and Audience Development”


In this session, the presentation of Rebekah Mitchell, Christina Gibson, Hannah Bennett, Caitlyn Hauff and Nancy Malcom on women in CrossFit caught my eye. Their study investigates how women are viewed in CrossFit, highlighting that CrossFit is a sport where women are encouraged to work alongside men, as well as encouraged to be strong. Through focus group interviews with 47 women between the age of 18 to 54, the analysis of Mitchell and colleagues argues that women in CrossFit use social media as an empowering tool where they can share their personal success. Additionally, their study indicates that women in CrossFit actively filter out unwanted content that does not fit their views and perceptions of body image.

Later that afternoon I visited the session on “Sport, Health and Drugs” chaired by Lucie Schoch, to listen to Dominic Malcolm (Loughborough University, GB) presentation on “Football, Concussion and the cultural representation of dementia”. In his paper, Malcolm de-constructs narratives of football, concussion, and dementia to illustrate how this social issue is framed and recreated in the contemporary media.  In his presentation, Malcolm examines some of the peculiarities of the narratives surrounding footballers and dementia which explain why this group has risen to such prominence in public debates about dementia.

Parallel to this session was a session on “Sport and Gender” chaired by Professor Kari Fasting. In this session, I caught the presentation of Dr. Verena Lenneis (Aalborg University, DK) on women-only swimming programs in Denmark. This paper (co-authored by Stine Agergaard, Aarhus University) focuses on the debates in the city council of Aarhus surrounding gender-segregated swimming sessions in ‘Gellerupbadet’, that was banned in 2017. Drawing on a postcolonial feminist perspective, Lenneis discussed the debates in the city council, showing how western, normative perceptions of gender equality become central arguments in these debates that justify the governance of leisure time physical activity, which points in particular to the intersections between gender, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality.

For the final sessions Wednesday afternoon I attended the session on “Leisure and Sport” chaired by Tomohiro Ishioka. Eric Boutroy (Université Claude Bernard Lyon, FR) was the first presenter, with his paper titled “Minimalism, user’s creativity and innovation through withdrawal: “Marche Ultra-Légère” (Ultra-Light Backpacking) in France. Following him, Fred Mason from the University of New Brunswick (Canada) gave an interesting presentation titled “The Rise of the Dirtbag Runner and the Shifting Terrain of Trail Running in North America”. Mason discussed the emergence of the ‘Dirtbag Runner’, a person who adopts a lifestyle within trail running.  As Mason describes it: “Dirtbags live to run, working enough to survive and support their running habit. Dirtbags often live out of vans or campers, chasing the seasons and migrating across parts of the Sunbelt in the winter months to run in parks and scenic local trials. They often eschew racing, preferring to run free or test themselves against “Fastest Known Times” on challenging trails. However, in his presentation, Mason also argued that “Dirtbag running” also quickly tied into commercial and social media impulses in the trail running community.

The third presenter was Ali Zarei from the Islamic Azad University (Iran) with his paper on “The Relationship Self-efficacy and some of the Demographic Characteristics with Leisure Time Physical Activities of Iranian Workers”. Zarei’s study highlights that there are substantial gendered differences in terms of participation in physical activity and sport among Iranian workers and points to some cultural barriers for increased participation among female Iranian workers. Lastly in this session was Sanjana Tewari (St Petersburg State University, Russia) with her paper titled “Dance and Sports: A dialogue between the body and the spirit”. Using Bourdieu as a theoretical point of departure, Tewari explores how both dancers and athletes focus on creativity and imagination in their leisure activities.


Poster session

Thirteen posters were presented at this year’s congress in Lausanne. Among the poster presenters was Dr. Anna Hafsteinsson Östenberg from the Department of Sport Science at the Linnaeus University in Sweden. With the catchy title “Thank God for Stretchy Jeans!”. Hafsteinsson Östenberg’s study investigates female thrower’s relationship with their bodies, distinguishing between the ‘performance body’ and the ‘appearance body’. The study demonstrates that while the female athletes had made the choice of putting the performance body first, they still felt as ‘anomalies’ compared to dominating ideals of the female body in society, and the ideals of the female athletic body. See Hafsteinsson Östenberg’s poster here: A Hafsteinsson Östenberg Poster ISSA 20180606 Thank God for Stretch Jeans postermall_A01

Dr. Anna Hafsteinsson Östenberg with her poster at the 2018 ISSA conference


Thursday and Friday, June 7-8th

When Thursday came around, I was mainly focused on my own presentation. Presenting research in English at international conferences is always a bit scary for those of us who do not have English as our native language. The session I presented in was titled “Sport, Social Inclusion & Exclusion”, chaired by Cora Burnett-Louw. First out in this session was Roger LeBlanc (Université de Moncton, Canada) with his project “The 30-30-30 Model: The Inclusion of Seniors in Community Based Physical Activity Initiatives”. LeBlanc presented the new and innovative 30-30-30 Model implemented in the province of New Brunswick, Canada, to engage seniors in physical and social activities in their local communities. Following LeBlanc, it was my turn to present my recently published paper on “Emergence of new sports and social inclusion: The development of Mixed Martial Arts in Norway”. This paper was published in Scandinavian Sport Studies Forum (SSSF) earlier this year. SSSF is an open access journal and the paper can be read here.

After my presentation, Pınar Yaprak Kemaloğlu from Gazi University in Turkey presented her paper titled “Health-promoting lifestyle dispositions of women in terms of their participation in local recreational activities: a study in Ankara”. Finally, Nicholas Hookway from the University of Tasmania, Australia, presented a paper titled “Volunteering at the Australian Masters Games: Motivations and Outcomes”.  Hookway’s paper examines sports volunteering at the 2017 Australian Masters Games. Using survey and interview methods, the paper outlines motivations, experiences, and outcomes of volunteering at the Masters Games. In his presentation, Hookway argued that the Masters Games, held on the north-west of Tasmania – an area marked by social, cultural and economic disadvantage – provides important lessons about how we can grow and sustain sport volunteering but also how volunteering can be employed as a health ‘intervention’ to improve wellbeing and social capital within disadvantaged communities.

Finished with my own presentation, I attended a session Thursday afternoon on “Sport and New Technologies”, chaired by John Horne. The session consisted of four presentations: 1) Conghui Fang from Nanjing Sport Institute (China) with his paper “Blockchain + Sport = ?”, 2) Stephen Sheps (Ryerson University, CA) – “Corsi, Fenwick and Gramsci: How Bloggers and Advanced Analytics Are Changing the NHL”, 3) Ellen MacPherson (University of Toronto, CA) – “Public shaming of professional athletes on social media: Social identities matter” and 4) Nicolas Besombes (Paris Descartes University, FR) – “The institutionalization of electronic sports: The example of France”. An interesting session altogether, it was Besombes’s presentation that especially caught my attention. In his project, Besombes studies the increasing institutionalizing of e-sports in France, following the emergence and development of e-sports competitions and athletes.


Social Program: A visit to the Olympic Museum and Dinner at Chalet Sussie

This year, the local organizing committee provided the participating delegates with a wide variety of social activities in addition to the rich scientific program of the world congress. The activity I appreciated the most in Lausanne was the visit to the Olympic Museum Wednesday evening. The Olympic Museum in Lausanne houses exhibits relating to sport and the Olympic movement. With more than 10 000 artifacts, the museum is the largest archive of Olympic Games in the world, and one of Lausanne’s prime tourist sites, attracting more than 250 000 visitors each year. This evening, the museum exhibits were open only to the ISSA congress participants, and after seeing all the museum has to offer of Olympic history, the evening ended with a cocktail reception on the top floor, with views of beautiful Lake Geneva.


Exhibit of Medals at the Olympic Museum, Lausanne


As is traditional for ISSA conferences, Friday (the last evening of the conference) ended with a dinner party. In Lausanne, this dinner was held at Chalet Suisse, a local restaurant in an authentic Swiss chalet on the hillside above the city, with stunning views of Lausanne, Lake Geneva, and the Alps. A perfect ending to a great conference in Lausanne!


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