New ICOS director gets in ‘The Games’

Jason Winders // Western News

Western Kinesiology professor Michael Heine recently assumed the role of Director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies (ICOS). Starting a three-year term, he is only the fifth director in the centre’s nearly three decades of operation within Health Sciences.

Michael Heine will be the first call a lot of reporters make this summer.

“Oh yes, we are on the international media Rolodex – that is for sure,” he laughed.

Heine, a Western Kinesiology professor, recently assumed the role of Director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies (ICOS). Starting a three-year term, he is only the fifth director in the centre’s nearly three decades of operation within Health Sciences.

As his core academic work, the German-born researcher explores the traditional physical activities and games of northern Aboriginal Peoples, specifically in the Mackenzie Delta region of the Arctic. That interest goes back to his youthful days working on a fishing boat in Alaska as he watched the games his Aboriginal shipmates played during downtime.

Since then, Heine has published frequently in the area, including helping chronicle the history of the Arctic Winter Games, an international biennial celebration of circumpolar sports and culture. When it comes to the Olympic Games, his research interest shifts to the tension between public and private spaces when “the Olympics come rolling into town.”

But one might guess much of that will be on hold during Heine’s first Olympic Year.

Opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are slightly more than four months away. In the days before the games, the centre will co-host its 13th International Symposium for Olympic Research along with the Federal University of Espírito Santo, Vitória, Brazil.

And then there are the calls, Heine warned.

As spring turns to summer, the centre, and its membership, will be in high demand. During an Olympic year, the centre fields between 300-400 media appearance requests – from local sports radio to international sports media.

“We contribute significantly to the university’s visibility in the media space – especially in an Olympic year,” said Heine, who looks to establish a group of media ‘go-tos’ for certain specialties in the Olympics.

He attributes the widespread interest to the centre’s independent status outside the official Olympic hierarchy, especially the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“What makes us interesting to the international media is our broad editorial position,” he explained. “There are other Olympic study centres in the world. But many of them don’t have the same distance from the editorial concerns of the IOC. That was a position Bob (Kinesiology professor emeritus Robert Barney) instituted when he developed the shop. It is one every director since has reinforced.

“We are not hostile to the IOC. But we are pretty critical of some of the things that happen in the Olympics.”

Founded in 1989, ICOS has moved into its second quarter-century of existence. Since 1992, the centre has published its annual peer-reviewed journal, Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies. The most recent edition was completed published earlier this year. ICOS also maintains a library of more than 4,000 volumes.

Heine credits his predecessor, Kinesiology professor Janice Forsyth, who headed the centre since 2010, with broadening the research scope to include Paralympic and sport management research. Upon that foundation, he hopes to build on that expansion of disciplines, as well as bolster the centre’s digital footprint.

“We are in good shape. Janice did an excellent job,” Heine said. “I am trying to broaden what she started. I want to make our media presence, as well as our Internet one, my major contribution to the centre.”