The 2019 World Congress of Sociology of Sport was hosted by the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Traveling all the way from (north of the arctic circle) northern Norway with 38 hours of traveling time, I was probably one of the conference participants who traveled the furthest to attend the conference. This is the first time in ISSA’s history that the congress was hosted in New Zealand. To match the exciting new host country this years congress theme was innovatively named ‘Sociology of Sport and Alternative Futures’. Leading the local organizing committee was Professor Steve Jackson, a long-time ISSA member, and past President, and the current ISSA General Secretary, Associate Professor Michael Sam.
Wednesday April 24th
Due to delayed flights and baggage stuck in Auckland, I sadly missed the opening panel discussion on “The power of sport as a tool to create positive social change for women and girls in society” and the official welcome. Luckily, I just made it to the congress venue in time for the keynote speech. This year’s keynote speaker was Professor Debrah Lupton from the University of New South Wales, Sydney – Australia. Her presentation “The More-than-Human Worlds of Self-Tracking for Health and Fitness” explored sociotechnical imaginaries and embodied experiences of self-tracking for health and fitness. Drawing on several empirical research projects Lupton identified relational connections, affective forces and agential capacities generated with and through people’s encounters with self-tracking. After Lupton’s innovatively themed keynote speech, the evening continued with a welcome reception for the participating delegates.
Thursday April 25th
With seven parallel sessions to choose from each day, it was challenging to pick what presentations to attend. Thursday’s session on “Sport policy and politics” had several Scandinavian presenters and was hosted by Cecilia Stenling from Umeå University. In this session, Josef Fahlén, Cecilia Stenling (Umeå University), Professor Eivind Skille (Norway Inland University of Applied Sciences) and Anna-Maria Strittmatter (Norwegian School of Sport Sciences) opened the session with their presentation “The introduction of gender quotas in sport governing bodies and the conceptualizations of ‘adequate’ representation”. Here, the Scandinavian quartet draws on data from interviews with representatives of 62 (out of 72) Swedish National Sport Organizations’ nomination committees and focuses on the relationship between views of representation and stances towards an impending introduction of a mandatory 40/60 board gender quota in all governing bodies in Swedish voluntary sport. The analysis illustrates how conceptualizations among the interviewees are categorized as either ‘standing for’ or ‘acting for’ views of representation.
The second presentation in this session, titled “Government policy for indigenous (Sámi) sport – A chain of legitimating acts?”, was authored by the same group of scholars, but this time Professor Skille lead the presentation. This paper highlighted how the ‘newcomer’ sport organization for indigenous Sami sport (SVL-N) struggles to set itself on the agenda of Norwegian sport policy as the Norwegian Confederation of Sports (NIF) maintains its dominant position in Norwegian organized sport.
The third presenter in the session was Lourdes Turconi from the University of Otago. Her work “Doing (socially constructive) critical sport management: My experience with New Zealand Rugby” uses Critical Performativity Theory (CPT), to explore New Zealand Rugby. The overall aim was to question, challenge, and re-imagine the study of sport management and its intersections with the sociology of sport in a changing and changeable world.
Finally, Chiao Chia Hung from the National Taiwan Sports University was the last presenter of the session with his contribution “The more highly democratic, the better? Analysis of 2017 Taiwan National Sports Law”. Hung raises interesting questions about law and democratization processes in Taiwanese sport, drawing on athlete activism to highlight injustices in the organized sport system.
This was also the day when I gave my presentation, “The Emergence of New Sports: digitalization, technology and sportification”, in a session on “Alternative Futures” that I also had the pleasure of chairing. While my presentation opened up to some of the ways technology changes sport by contributing to emerging new sports such as Race Running or E-sports, the final three researchers presented empirical works linked to possible alternative futures of sport. The first to follow my presentation in this session was Ph.D. candidate Damien Puddle from the University of Waikato presenting “The institutionalization of parkour: Protecting ‘something’ with ‘nothing’”. Puddle’s starting point is IOC’s Agenda 2020 and the interest in including action sports like parkour in the Olympic Games. Puddle shows how the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), a key player in the Olympic network, is making attempts to co-opt parkour as an Olympic sport for Paris 2024. Building on this, Puddle has conducted 30 interviews, participant observations, and digital ethnography of the New Zealand parkour community, which he uses to scrutinize the development of Parkour NZ, its involvement in forming the international organization Parkour Earth, and the attempted appropriation of parkour by FIG.
Third in the session was Shawn Forde, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia with his work titled “Sporting utopias – development, hope, and alternative futures”. In a very creative way, perfectly fitting for the session theme, Forde presented his research through a comic book he had created himself. He has kindly allowed me to share the cover of this comic book with the readers of the Nordic Sport Science Forum here:
Friday April 26th
On Friday another well-know Scandinavian ISSA-member presented her research. In a session titled “Race & indigenous culture”, Associate Professor Bente Ovedie Skogvang of Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences gave her presentation titled “Education at festivals – a tool for alternative future for indigenous people”. Skogvang’s unique material, consisting of 10 years of longitudinal fieldwork using participant observation and in-depth interviews at the Riddu Riđđu festival is used to contemplate how sports and physical activities included in the festival create indigenous people’s identities and cultural understanding. Her analysis indicates that participants often draw upon the richness of different cultures while rejecting the negative aspects they perceive within other cultures.
In the same session Bevan Erueti of Massey University, New Zealand presented a discourse analysis and critical study of the taonga (precious gift, treasures) of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) employed by the Super Rugby Team franchises during the 2017 British Lions Tour to Aotearoa New Zealand. In his work, Erueti argues that the demonstrations of pre-game rituals such as the Haka gave rise to indifferent media commentary that failed to acknowledge the importance of local pūrākau (historical stories) and tangata whenua (people of the land).
In the afternoon sessions, I attended Hsueh-hung (Tony) Cheng’s presentation of career decision making among Taiwanese canoe athletes. Cheng recently completed his master thesis at the National Taiwan Sport University. In his presentation, Cheng underlined the marginalization of canoe athletes in Taiwan, as they struggle to gain recognition and funding to develop their careers as professional athletes.
The last presentation from the Friday afternoon sessions I would like to highlight is this year’s Graduate Paper Award winner – Froukje Smits from Utrecht University of Applied Sciences. Smit’s paper, titled “Welfare and child rights of young commercially sponsored action sport athletes” draws on data from 11 commercially sponsored male kite surfers under 18 years. In her paper, Smit explores ways in which the rights and best interests of these athletes were neglected and show how sponsors and the digital media informed the experiences of these athletes and created practices that may not be in their best interest.
Friday’s scientific program ended with a panel discussion on “The Fake Article Hoax and the State of Play in Critical and Qualitative Sociology of Sport” organized by Professor Lawrence Wenner from Loyola Marymount University, USA. The panel participants were Dominic Malcolm (Loughborough University, UK), Kim Toffoletti (Deakin University, Australia), Richard Pringle (Monash University, Australia), Mary McDonald (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA) and Catherine Palmer (University of Tasmania, Australia). Together the panel discussed key issues raised by a recent renegade study that entailed a group of researchers submitting fake research for publication to respected academic journals across the critical social sciences and humanities. The “hoaxster” assault on many notable research outlets, including the IRSS and SSJ, was purportedly done to reveal problematic core deficiencies and political predilections seen in what was characterized as “grievance studies” rampant across critical, cultural, and postmodern identity-anchored scholarship. Panel discussion considered the ethos of submitting 20 fake articles to scholarly journals (seven of which were published in prestigious outlets), the legitimate and misguided concerns about critical and qualitative scholarship that may have driven this hoax, the handling of a fake submission to the IRSS, and the larger implications for critically-oriented scholarship in the sociology of sport.
Saturday April 27th
From the final day of the conference, I would like to highlight three presentations. The first two were both from the session Gender & Sport. Firstly, Sa Wu from Hunan Normal University, China and her presentation “Women’s football in China: Progress and problems”. Wu’s study examines the current state of women’s football in order to assess internal and external factors that advance or restrict women football development in China. The study involved 30 interviews with women’s football coaches, players, managers, and referees. In her analyses, Wu found that there was a lack of cooperation and integration between primary schools, middle schools, and universities that are important for the development of female footballers. Lack of educational development and lack of elite football training systems for female school students have contributed to the current declining status of women’s football in China. As a consequence, fewer Chinese women are choosing to play football. The second presenter in this session was Rutger de Kwaasteniet from Utrecht University. Kwaasteniet presented his Ph.D. research about the causes and consequences of the growth of women’s football in the Netherlands. His research reveals that the growth was particularly strong amongst girls during the period 2003–2016. During this period, the growth was also strong compared to other women’s sports in the Netherlands and women’s football in Europe.
Lastly, in a session on “Alternative sports”, Belinda Wheaton, Rebecca Olive & Jordan Waiti (University of Waikato) presented their paper “Surfing, identity and place in Aotearoa/New Zealand”. Their paper draws on a collaborative research project between the three authors, involving ethnographic and autoethnographic accounts. They use the lens of one surf town in New Zealand to understand the specificity of the local and localism in this context, and consider how different cultural locations (e.g. nationality, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, surf craft) and our local/non-local/outsider statuses inform social relations, inequalities, power and privilege in this cultural and geographical surfing space.
Finally, the conference ended with a wonderful gala dinner at the Otago Business School. Great food and drink, but the absolute highlight of the evening was the performance by the indigenous Māori youth singing group. A perfect way to end four amazing days in Dunedin.