Centre targets societal impact of Olympic Games

Paul Mayne//Western NewsWith six months until the start of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Kinesiology professor Angela Schneider is ready to light a cauldron of change at Western as the newly named Director for the International Centre for Olympic Studies (ICOS).

With six months until the start of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Kinesiology professor Angela Schneider is ready to light a cauldron of change at Western as the newly named Director for the International Centre for Olympic Studies (ICOS).

“Instead of just focusing on history – and, absolutely, our history in critical to maintain – I’m interested in the social impact of the Olympic Games,” explained Schneider, who succeeded Kinesiology professor Michael Heine as ICOS Director this past summer. “That means the focus of the research becomes about what the impact is and not just what happened. What about going forward? How should it be?”

Schneider brings a wealth of experience within the Olympic Movement to the role. She is the first former Olympian to lead ICOS having won a silver medal in women’s Coxed Fours in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Schneider also served as the first Director for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for Ethics and Education.

She knows well how The Games are at the centre of numerous topics relevant across society, from gender and doping, to community building and legacy.

For instance, she cites the failed Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The host of the 1988 Winter Olympics withdrew its bid more than 56 per cent of local voters rejected the idea of hosting the Games again.

“What’s happening here? There are a lot of social impact questions going on,” said Schneider, BA’82, MA’85, MA’87, PhD’93.

This past year, WADA banned Russia from international competition for four years – including the Summer Olympics in Tokyo – because of the cheating and doping scandal. Even something as seemingly simple as that, Schneider said questions remain around how things will get resolved.

“Why should athletes who were not involved previously take the penalty? They say, ‘I’ve given you all my tests and shown you I’m clean, so why shouldn’t I be allowed to compete?’ On the other hand, you want to be able to say, ‘You do something like this and you will get penalized. This is not acceptable behaviour as a country – and, if you set a culture that engendered and supported it, then why should you be able to show your flag and anthem at our Games.’ There is tension that is difficult to maneuver, which remains a big challenge.”

Yet another issue swirls around South African athlete Castor Semenya, who lost her appeal to halt the introduction of regulations to limit testosterone in female athletes.

“Previously, we didn’t have the focus on gender as we do now. I’m sure we had as many anomalies in the past. This debate about advantage is completely politically brought. That challenge is reflective of how society has changed in saying we no longer understand, or need a different understanding, of the gender category. At the same time we need fair play. That’s the clash.”

She continued, “These are critical reflective moments. Obviously, the public in Canada and elsewhere has taken a step back in looking at this whole Olympic Games movement. They are saying, ‘Do we really want this? What are the problems? What are we celebrating here? Do we need to continue like it has been or can we make a positive impact on humanity?’ There are so many social impact questions.

“But the Olympics are also something people want to celebrate. There are shining little beacons here and there. We have to talk about what good about it, but also recognize the social impact can be negative.”

Established in 1989 by Professor Emeritus Robert Barney, ICOS has become the longstanding home of Olympic-related studies conducted by undergraduate students, as well as graduate theses and dissertations. The centre maintains an expanding library of more than 4,000 volumes and research study space for scholars and students, both local and international. It also appears in media around the globe regarding developing Olympic news.

On campus, ICOS is moving from its current location in the Health Sciences Building to new home in the renovated Thames Hall this April/May. A grand opening is planned for Homecoming 2020.

An Olympic History PhD student is in the midst of archiving the centre’s collection with an emphasis to become more interactive for the general public, students and researchers. Along with the new space, Schneider plans to dedicate an entire wall to the more than 130 members of the Western community who have taken part in Olympic Games.

Schneider is also already planned the first ICOS International Symposium, around emerging technologies and sports, at Toyo University in Japan the week prior to the Olympic Games. At that event, Western will introduce the new Robert Barney Lecture Series.

Additionally, ICOS will update its bylaws and broaden representation on its board.

“It is a challenging time but tremendously exciting at the same time,” she said. “I want to respect and honour what Bob has created here and continue to take it forward to become a centre that is active in the community and making needed connections. We need more community involvement. I don’t want to be throwing stones at windows to get change I want to be sitting at the table with the players.”