They came from all over the world. Researchers from Austria, Brazil, Japan and the U.K., among other international institutions, converged on Western for a two-week program with one fundamental goal in common: Make big sporting events safer for everyone.
Researchers that attended the Event Rights conference hope to tackle growing issues like human and sex trafficking, labour violations and environmental damage that can stem from national and international competitions. Human rights must be better prioritized, they said.
“Major events can potentially create a space for just and safe sporting opportunities, but what is continuing to happen is there are real problems with the way they’re structured. This creates a space for us to have dialogue and then offer solutions to those who are going to organize these events,” said Western kinesiology professor Laura Misener, who led the two-week program.
“We’ve seen such great debates and discussions opening up.”
Professors and PhD candidates shared knowledge across a wide range of subjects, such as the use of large sporting events for community development and social integration, their impact on public spaces, and how to prioritize sustainable urban development while preparing for major competitions.
Misener, the director of Western’s School of Kinesiology and a former elite gymnast-turned-judge, studies the use of sport and events as instruments of social change. She’s also been outspoken about the need for better athlete protection to prevent abuse.
It’s become a pressing priority around the world as abuse in sport is more widely recognized.
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicking off in August, and the 2024 Summer Olympic Games just a year away, the meeting at Western is timely. The group will produce a white paper on how to drive progress with safer sport, as well as an edited collection book and special edition of a journal.
“The impact we can have through cooperation is substantial and real. But mainly this is about inspiration,” said Niclas Hell, a Swedish researcher pursuing a PhD at the University of the West of Scotland, who studies the social and economic implications of major sporting events.
The Event Rights program, also called a “PhD training school,” is about supporting early-career academics to strengthen their research and a host of other skills, such as communicating their findings.
The initiative included a chance for each PhD candidate to present their research, network with other experts and receive feedback. Roughly 30 attended.
“Already I’m hearing some of these students are starting to connect with potential research opportunities,” Misener said.
Georgia Gidney, a PhD candidate at the Technical University of Munich, studies what motivates physical activity at an individual level. Though her research is in the early stages, she shared personal experience from living near the site of the 2012 Summer Games in London, U.K.
“I now cycle to the Olympic Park with my brother and cycle other routes through the city to get to the park. It’s a really nice place for skateboarders and rollerblades, too.”
Gidney said the event at Western provided her with a “massive networking opportunity” that’s especially valuable as she expands her research.
“Now I have some incredible connections with people who can give me input, and I can talk to and go to. Even if we don’t have related research content, there are methodological contributions, just learning from other academics,” Gidney said.
That relationship building is a key outcome for the event, which wrapped up May 26, Misener said.
“It’s really about giving early-career researchers the chance to collaborate with others in different disciplines, but talking about the same types of issues around human rights in the context of sporting events and how we develop a better system to create more just and fair events.”