Reflecting back on Western getting serious about Games


By Robert K. Barney
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Commensurate with the opening of the 10th International Symposium for Olympic Research, I have been asked to comment on the nature and mission of The University of Western Ontario’s International Centre for Olympic Studies (ICOS).
This request prompted me to consider the bottom line impact of the ICOS, something usually lost in the maelstrom of daily activities over the past 20-plus years.
To begin with some brief history, The Games of the 23rd Olympiad were celebrated in 1984 in Los Angeles. They were compromised by the boycott of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies (except for Romania). The absence of some of the top sporting nations in the world played well for Canada. In a moment, Canada became one of the favourites to rank near the top of competing nations.
Olympic matters in Canada reached feverish levels, rising from the ashes of the financial disaster of Montreal’s hosting the Games in  1976 and the devastating boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games by Western-aligned cohort nations, including Canada.
Prompted by this feverish climate, Western’s Summer School and Extension officials asked me to teach a course on the Olympic Games. It was in the preparation of reading materials for the course that it became obvious this high-profile international sporting institution, nearing 100 years old, reflected a severe shortcoming. The body of knowledge surrounding the socio-cultural study of the Modern Olympic Movement was practically devoid of serious scholarly examination.
True, journalists, statisticians, freelance writers and avocationists had written about The Games, but the Olympic phenomenon itself had escaped the attention of all but a miniscule body of academics. 
So in late 1984, the Faculty of Kinesiology established an International Centre for Olympic Studies, the mission of which was “to encourage, generate, and disseminate serious scholarship on the Modern Olympic Movement from a socio-cultural point of view.” In March 1989, after support from 17 different academic units across Western, and the approbation of the university Senate, the Board of Governors approved the initiative.
Thus, the first such centre in the world came to be.
ICOS’s menu of initiatives for carrying out its stated mission was rapidly developed:
(1) An annually published internationally refereed journal called Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies;
(2) A biennial international Olympic research symposium;
(3) An annual lecture series (the Ioannides, Crocker, Zeigler lectures) featuring international scholars on Olympic matters;
(4) The establishment of a physical resource centre/library;
(5) The implementation of graduate/undergraduate courses on Olympic history and issues, as well as graduate thesis/dissertation opportunities; and
(6) A flourishing interaction with world media outlets.  

What has been the result of the result of these initiatives, indeed the effect of ICOS and its mission? A few statistics suffice.
Regarding the flagship journal Olympika, 75 articles, 30 research notes, 70 reviews/review essays and 170 journal article reviews have appeared in the 19 issues published to date.
Further, under special arrangement, Olympika and ICOS’s Symposia Proceedings content is published on the website of the Los Angeles Amateur Athletic Foundation (LA84). To date, more than a half million downloads of Olympika materials have been carried out by students and scholars worldwide.
With regard to ICOS’s biennial Olympic Research Symposia, 10 Proceedings editions have produced 350 essays, translating into some 450,000 LA84 downloads.
Sixty-five Ioannides/Crocker/Zeigler Lectures have occurred.
The ICOS resource centre now contains close to 4,000 volumes and two large special collections (the Avery Brundage and James Worrall Papers). More than 4,000 individuals from Western, across Canada and abroad have visited and/or researched in ICOS since its establishment.
The undergraduate Olympic history course enrolment has grown from the original 16 to more than 100 annually.  Ten master’s theses and six doctorate dissertations have thus far been produced. 
The world’s media have found ICOS officials to be a rich source of informed comment on Olympic matters. This relationship is prompted largely by the fact that ICOS is known for its independent, arms-length reach from Olympic authorities (International Olympic Committee, Canadian Olympic Committee and other sports and Olympic federations and committees).
ICOS scholars have logged more than 1,000 radio, television and print media interventions, including such noted outlets as the Times of London, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, Lehrer News Hour, CBC, CTV and other news outlets worldwide.
Of noted influence, too, has been the impact of ICOS and its associated faculty and graduate students in helping to nurture the number of Olympic research theme presentations at international symposia, the outstanding example of which has been the annual conference of the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH). In contrast to one or two Olympic research presentations at annual NASSH conferences in the 1970s and 1980s, in each of the past 15 years more than 20 Olympic-related research papers have been presented annually. In this regard, the Olympics have replaced baseball as the largest single genre of research presentations at NASSH.
ICOS has been a fundamental agent in this phenomenon.
The ICOS is doing precisely what it was created and designed to do – “encourage, generate and disseminate.” The mission continues.

Robert K. Barney, professor emeritus, serves as founding director of The University of Western Ontario International Centre for Olympic Studies. The group’s 10th International Olympic Research Symposium opens today.


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