Sport in Society hosts summit, hails Obama plan

On the heels of President Barack Obama’s formation of the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport, the mood was celebratory at the Power of Sport Summit 2009, hosted on campus Friday by Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

The center, which recently urged Obama to enhance the government’s role in making sport more accessible to youth, women and the disabled, focused the panel, “From Idea to Action: The Sport, Culture and Government Policy Project,” on the federal government’s role in helping to develop a fairer playing field for all seeking access to sport.

Sport in Society executive director Dan Lebowitz opened up the discussion, held at the African American Institute’s Cabral Center, by stating that those at his center, upon learning of Obama’s decision, were “ecstatic.”

Eli Wolff, manager of research and advocacy for Sport in Society, and a member of the U.S. National Soccer Team from 1995–2004 and the U.S. Olympic Team in the 1996 and 2004 Paralympic Games, noted the welcome timing of the White House decision with the conference. “Obama’s announcement presents a wonderful backdrop for our discussion here,” he said.

The panelists included Mary Hums, a Sport in Society research fellow and University of Louisville professor; Lindsay Glassco, vice president of policy and strategy initiatives for Right to Play, an international organization promoting sports for childhood development; Tom Farrey, a journalist with ESPN; Chris Lynch of Boston Youth Sports Network and Up2Us, a sports-based youth development organization; and Northeastern music professor Emmett Price, a Sport in Society fellow.

They discussed a wide array of topics affecting sport in America, including a lack of access among the poor, women, and the disabled. They hailed the White House decision to use the federal government to promote the values of the Olympic Movement and encourage increased youth participation as a step in the right direction.

“This is a great opportunity to promote sport and its role in social inclusion,” Hums said. “It’s not just about the elite sports, but sports at all levels that need greater opportunity in the United States.”

Glassco, an international policy expert, said the United States lags behind other nations in its commitment to sports. Yet, sport has been shown to have a positive influence on health promotion and disease prevention, she said.

Describing how uplifting it was to hear of Obama’s commitment to sport, Lynch said a national movement to increase opportunities in sport might now gain some traction. “We need to create more opportunity to get boys and girls involved in youth sports,” he said. “We need to look at what we are doing, how we can do better, and how we can advance the ball.”

Farrey said too many young people are being left out of sports by a flawed system. “A single mother can’t necessarily get her kid to all the practices,” he said, and the selection process for team sports at the youth level does not make room for late bloomers.

The power of sport should teach more than competition, Price added. “When will sports teach kids about hope and dreams and about contribution to mankind?” he asked. “Sport is about inclusion, not exclusion.”

Watch a video of the 13th Annual Red Auerbach Youth Foundation Invitational Double Dutch Tournament, recently held at Northeastern.