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New national office ‘huge victory’ for youth, says Sport in Society director

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced the formation of a White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport. According to a White House press release, the new office will promote the Olympic Movement’s values and encourage young people to participate in athletics.

Dan Lebowitz is the director of Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, which uses the power and appeal of sport to foster diversity, prevent men’s violence against women, eradicate youth violence, and improve the health of disenfranchised urban youth. Below, Lebowitz discusses the impact the newly created federal office may have on sports in the United States and beyond.

How big of a win is this for sport and social justice?

This is a huge victory for kids in the city of Boston and across the country. Sport in Society has always championed the importance of play in the development of youth. The creation of this office sends a message that sports is a right available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic background, race, gender or disability.

President Obama has said, “It is an important goal of my administration to give our nation’s children every possible tool they need to grow, learn and succeed in life.” How will this new permanent office help accomplish that mission?

Sport offers kids an opportunity to develop confidence, learn about teamwork and cooperative spirit, and improve their individual health. These lessons can be carried throughout life as a framework for success.

If you were a member of the Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport, what would be the top items on your agenda?

The overriding item on the agenda would be to underscore the message that sport is inclusive. We’d look to expand sports opportunity in our cities and schools, and to address the uneven landscape between urban and suburban access to sports, safe havens and quality facilities.

What background should the administration look for when selecting the leadership for this office?

I think there are a couple of qualities appropriate for administrators to possess. President Obama has shown a unique ability to organize communities; the person he selects for this office should share that experience, as well as a demonstrated commitment to the health and well-being of our young people.

Last month, Sport in Society issued a call-to-action recommendation to President Obama that the United States formally promote sport and culture in government. You officially introduced the proposal on May 6 at the annual Human Rights Leadership Forum at Northeasern. How does this proposal compare to the objectives of the Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport?

The language of the proposal is incredibly congruent with the language of President Obama’s announcement, particularly the emphasis on inclusion, city kids and sport as a means to learn and embrace leadership.

Past U.S. presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower were concerned about the role of sport in society. Eisenhower even created the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which endorsed physical fitness at an early age. What is the historical significance of Obama’s decision to push sports and its social and economic impact into the limelight?

This announcement highlights President Obama’s understanding of the power of sport to create social change. Sport is paramount to the successful future of our kids, particularly their ability to create a more inclusive, diverse, healthy and productive society.

How will the newly formed office help in Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics?

This office speaks to the power of sport to leave an Olympics legacy that isn’t defined by empty buildings but rather by programs that impact the needs of city kids.

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