Japan is Calling: A Trip and a Fellowship

The past month my white, female, able-bodied and English perspective on life has been well and truly ruptured. I have spent time in Canada, Australia and Japan talking to many different people about how their communities engage with sport. As a result, this blog should write easily. Yet, I am little overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings. Instead of writing some Frantz Fanon esq. account of my current brain activity, I will write about two experiences I’ve had in Japan this past week or so.

The first experience comes from when I was invited to watch a wheelchair basketball tournament with colleagues and friends from Toin University of Yokohama. The tournament took place at the Yokohama Rapport Sports and Cultural Centre for the Disabled, the facility is part of Yokohama city adjacent to the Nissan Sports Stadium. The venue (the first of its kind in Japan) was built in 1992 as an initiative to increase access to and participation in physical activities for people with disabilities. I was struck by the established nature of the centre and the ethos behind it. Rather than being for elite athletes or medical purposes it was a centre for the community, for example, it had a bowling alley, fitness gym, young people’s area and swimming pool, all open to anyone. It is not something I have come across before in England. It has sparked my interest in why these facilities came about in Japan, and since the 1990’s how the facilities have evolved. (Also, the wheelchair basketball was brilliant to watch live!)

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The second experience was a lecture I attended at Toin University of Yokohama. The lecture was led by Prof. Nobuko and she had invited Shinya Ohta to speak. Shinya works for a commercial Japanese TV station (WOWOW) and is currently a chief producer for the documentary series ‘Who I Am’ (the series has clips on YouTube). It is a 5 year project based on hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and capitalising/galvanising interest on the International Paralympic Movement through the athletes themselves. Instead of focusing on Japanese athletes and their pursuit for medals, the series (currently 16 episodes) documents Paralympic athletes from around the world and allows them to describe and discuss their identity, community and connection to sport. In contrast to the inclusive facility in Yokohama this lecture showed me a glimpse of a more recently established and progressive use of media to forge relationships between:

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Shinya spoke of the aim of the series to be a catalyst for greater inclusion in Japanese society, achieved in this project through more television coverage and growing the awareness of the Paralympic Movement in Japan.

The Yokohama facility and the ‘Who I Am’ series represent (different) opportunities for Japan to use the thrust of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics to further conversations around inclusivity and disability. From my short stay, I could see a number of individuals and networks putting a lot of effort into contributing to such conversations. And. Importantly, considering the question of: what about after Tokyo 2020?

I am pleased to confirm that I have the opportunity to return to Japan next year for four months to pursue this research further. It is a fellowship funded through the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Pre/Postdoctoral scheme. I will receive support from Dr Gyozo Molnar at the University of Worcester in the UK, and then from my host Japanese partner Professor Nobuko Tanaka at Toin University of Yokohama. My fellowship is part of a broader official partnership between Toin and Worcester (since 2016) and this situation made it possible for me to come to Japan. Toin is like Worcester in that it is driving an agenda for inclusive practice. In Japan, such situation has not been seen a lot yet and that is why Worcester colleagues were invited to Japan.

The trip this past two weeks has been to scope out, manage the culture shock and get thinking about what we can achieve through the fellowship. Many thanks to Prof. Nobuko for all her time and introducing me to an amazing group of people.

Exciting times…

If anyone reading this has insight/recommendations for research/living in Japan, please, message me. Equally, anyone with insight/recommendations for research on the Paralympics and/or disability, please, message me or prepare to be messaged by me in the coming months.

VPos

Disability, Sport and Research

The past couple of months I have considered the aspect of disability in my PhD thesis. Largely because the Paralympic Games featured significantly in the educational programme connected to London 2012, with the Paralympic values of inspiration, determination, courage and equality a central feature alongside the Olympic values. I am discussing this topic at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference this week, exploring whether through London 2012 there was perception change that has influenced UK education based sport policy beyond 2012.

The area of disability and disability sport is not something I have considered extensively before and it has raised some interesting issues. The two points that I have pondered more broadly are:

  • the dominance of the Paralympics and International Paralympic Committee in my own research around disability sport. In March this year, the organisation continued their direction of alignment with the International Olympic Committee and building a brand around international elite disability sport. I am continuing to ponder whether this global elite sport movement productively represents disability sport?
  • beyond elite and competitive disability sport, the relationship between everyday physical activity and sport and disability communities. The Activity Alliance released a research report recently around ‘The Activity Trap: Disabled people’s fear of being active’ and the issues around physical activity in everyday lived experiences of the disability community. In my own Paralympic-centric understanding of disability, have I missed the relationship between disability and everyday sporting issues?

The above bullet points are a couple of sentences of academic chatter to highlight how my own research has challenged my own understandings of disability, and what London 2012 did for particular disability communities. I am not going to be able to answer all of this by the end of my PhD. Nevertheless, it is an area that I want to delve into further, especially, with the upcoming ‘inclusive’ sport mega events of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in the North of England. As ever, plenty to ponder!

VPos

The End of the Summer… Hello World 2.0

Back in September 2015 I blogged for the first time. Around 1095 days, 156 weeks, 36 months and 3 years later I decided to write this milestone blog, and ponder where I am up to?

Quantifiably, WordPress tells me that in the past 3 years I have published 38 blogs, 19,429 words and it has been read by over 1600 people around the world. Cool! Qualitatively, the topics have ranged from American football to lad culture; pondering the art of networking and how to interpret varying forms of media and sporting events.

At the end of September 2018 and in writing this blog I drafted several paragraphs: 1) reminiscing about my blog, 2) wondering what I should write about next, 3) evaluating my experience of writing a blog, 4) considering whether I am still a sports researcher and enthusiast… none have been particularly interesting!

So where next?

I need to finish my PhD. And on the 29th October I leave the country for 6 weeks.

It is the end of the summer and the end of the first era of my blog. In the coming month or so I want to think through where next, what next, and how to communicate such.

Thankfully sport continues to be interesting and pose a number of questions…

VPos

Tennis, Gender and Cats: On and Off Court Body Politics

Nike posted a powerful advert on the 25th August 2018. It caught my eye as it is another striking image and loaded caption from the multi-billion dollar sports empire.

Plus, it involved one of my favourite sport stars – Serena Williams – heralded as the current queen of tennis and an activist for black, female and now mothers rights (amongst others).

Yet, the powerful advert was a response to the potential banning of this outfit, the catsuit. Last week the President of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, when speaking about outfits at Roland Garros this year singled out the suit as being disrespectful and “it will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place”.

Responses from the media, other players and fans have been mixed:

What is playing out in this situation is quite fascinating for a student of sport and society, because distinctive parties are passing comment: fans, athletes, sport federations, media platforms, sponsors, activists etc.

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This blog is not intending to take sides but demonstrate that in such a debate there are a variety of voices and opinions. Depending on what philosophical, pragmatic or theoretical standpoint you have will influence which voice/opinion you may find the most persuasive.

Interestingly, I find the role of the sponsor the most interesting in this debate. Nike and another of Serena’s sponsors Beats by Dre (as shown above) construct a powerful and empowering narrative. Meaning for me, Serena, will have leverage to disagree and battle practices she views as discriminatory, as she has done and hopefully will continue to do.

What will, also, be fascinating is the next move from the French Tennis Federation because if they do officially codify a dress code that discriminates against certain body types it could (and should) cause further opinion and debate.

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Studio portrait 1907 – State Library of Queensland, Australia – https://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryqueensland/6894080272/

The world of women’s sport is rife with historical and contemporary clothing debates, for example:

The five examples, plus the catsuit debate connect to a myriad of: cultural, religious, racial, physiological or health, sexuality, etiquette, tradition, and gender based governance issues in sport. A who’s who of the UK 2010 Equality Act’s protected characteristics which applies to all legal parties within the UK. Yet, sports governing bodies, tournaments and athletes are not necessarily covered by national or international legal norms. Consequently, if the French Tennis Association does decide to ban and/or heavily regulate the dress code for next year we may never hear about it.

A glimpse of the odd, but wonderful world of body politics in sport.

VPos

Switzerland Vlog: A PhD Student on Her Travels

On the 4th June I headed out to the 2018 World Congress of Sociology of Sport hosted this year in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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The academic conference had over 300 participants and had activities across four days. The well-established international academic community brings together a diverse range of presentations and sessions; attached here is the program and abstract booklet.

I did not present this year, instead, I headed out to soak up the environment, meet old and new friends, and try to write up a journal article (under review) and non-academic research report (now published)!

To document my time I decided to Vlog. The following 8 minutes represents a real snap shot into my experience. It features thoughts:

It is my first time doing a Vlog and I learnt a lot from trying to create this, for example, trying to get consistency of audio is very tricky. Plus, a lot of footage did not make the cut, including, a tipsy walk and talk I made post the conference dinner! I am happy to have feedback on my Vlogging attempt…

Finally, I am pleased to confirm a series of future Vlogs as I head to Canada, Australia, Japan and Vietnam in the Autumn/Winter this year. A huge public thank you to: SOAS University of London, the University of Worcester and the Sport and Recreation Alliance – who have all contributed to funding these opportunities (for those of you wondering how I am affording all of this).

VPos

Love Cup: What Do You Watch at 21:00 (BST)?

I was amused the other day when a good pal smirked and remarked “are you watching Love Island?” … to her surprise, I was! On a separate occasion, last week, I was (stereotypically) sat in the pub watching a Football World Cup game, when a very burly fellow stated “I cannot stand that Love Island rubbish, I go out of the room when it is on!”

On the one hand I respect people’s tastes and viewpoints on popular culture, especially, the divisive coverage featuring either football or reality TV stars. Alas, it got me pondering. And I am going to argue, briefly, that the Football World Cup and Love Island are actually very similar forms of popular culture.

Love Cup

If you consider the mass appeal of both – Love Island and the Football World Cup – the strengths are reasonably similar, as shown in the diagram above. For example both are based on high levels of drama. Moreover, the alleged non-scripted drama in both events is boosted by a variety of factors, such as: regulated games, press coverage and TV production value.

Of course, there are some significant differences, such as, Love Island does not have elite athletic competitions or a club based system that produces the contestants; moreover, the Football World Cup relies on single gender competitions to produce an experience that will appeal to people of all gender identities.

 

 

But, I think, that both are in essence a competition between a constructed set of celebrities that induce conformity and norms through the mediums of sport and romance. Illustrated vividly by the similar perception that if you lose or get voted out – it is ‘failure.’ And the ideal contestant is of a particular build, age and make up (as seen in the images above of footballers and a current Love Island male contestant).

From this, in a deeper thinking state, I would also, contend that Love Island and the Football World Cup raise similar ethical issues, such as, the reliance on a ‘perfect’ specimen, outcome or drive to not be a failure. I am currently reading Prof. Heather Widdows (2018) book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal. In regards to this blog, the book has made me consider, firstly, how the link between the Football World Cup and Love Island speaks to a wider UK societal shared value framework. Secondly, how this shared value framework can be used as a formula to boost forms of popular culture.

Now, I am no expert philosopher, so the paragraph above is a very trifle like thought (i.e. lots of layers to it, but all very gooey; rather than fixed). But, as I work through Widdows’ book, and continue to watch both the Football World Cup/Love Island, I shall be thinking:

To what extent I personally conform to ideals (as Widdows notes around beauty, p. 4) dominant in the sport and romance based popular culture programmes (as noted in the diagram above).

And conforming, pragmatically (rather than philosophically), is not necessarily negative. But, for me, awareness is key. So, we do not all end up valuing the same ideals without understanding why.

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I would highly recommend Heather Widdows’ book, blogs or videos if you want to continue pondering this. I, definitely, need/want to keep thinking this through. In the meantime, happy Love Island and/or Football World Cup viewing!

VPos

Gender and Publishing: Guest Blog

My blog this month is self promotion (shock for an academic). The guest blog piece:

https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/gender-and-publishing-a-phd-students-perspective/

came about after I met the Mark from Taylor and Francis at a CREST event back in September 2017. We had a debate about gender in academic publishing and whether it was equitable or balanced. In January this year Mark contacted me and asked to write a companion piece for their theme around gender and publishing, available here: https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/category/insights/research-stories/

It has been a good experience in two ways. Firstly, writing a guest blog for another website as the regulations and style were more structured than my own personal blog here. I have learnt a lot about focusing a blog post and writing in a more succinct manner. Secondly, the topic, I am not too sure I have fully developed my stance on gender (or other protected characteristics) in the workplace; but this short guest blog has really helped me hone my experiences and what I am actually looking to debate/change.

Watch this space!

VPos