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New academy probes social impact of sport

Extreme sports will be the subject of an AISTS conference in June

(Keystone Archive)

A new academy of sports science involving six Swiss higher education institutes and the International Olympic Committee has been unveiling a series of projects it hopes will further our understanding of sport's impact on society.

The International Academy of Sports Science and Techniques (AISTS) is a tangible sign of how sport has encroached into a whole range of other fields, from commerce to medicine, from psychology to law, and aroused the interest of disciplines which until recently were not associated with it.

"This academy is an integrated response to a real demand," says Jean-Marc Rapp, Rector of Lausanne University and president of the academy.

"It will pool the competences of the partner institutions and be a common tool for them," Rapp said.

The new institution was set up almost a year ago, but waited until now to hold its first press conference so that it could present some of the projects in which it will be involved. Chief among these will be an exhaustive study into the global impact of the Olympic Games on the host city.

"Until now we have had no way of measuring what the Games bring to a city," says Christophe Dubi, who is in charge of coordinating Olympic Games for the IOC.

"It's our duty to have a wider approach that takes into account all fields that will be impacted by the Games. It's more than just a sporting event. All levels of society are affected," he told swissinfo.

The IOC has been enthusiastic in its support of the AISTS, as it provides a more efficient way of managing its relations with academia.

"It's a new model for our dealings with the university world. Now we can have one point of contact. One person will coordinate all the studies," Dubi explains.

This pooling of resources also allows academics researching a particular field of sports science to have access to data at one of the other partner universities.

It also facilitates the holding of conferences on sports themes. The first of these will be devoted to extreme sports and will be hosted by the University of Geneva in June.

"After participating in a number of conferences on organised sport, I thought it would be interesting to look at this growing area where people don't want to enter a sports federation, or who want to make their sport more dangerous," says Margareta Baddeley, Professor of Law at Geneva University and a member of the academy's council.

Among the topics expected to be discussed at the conference are the psychology of extreme sports, their importance in advertising and tourism, and the legal implications when things go wrong.

Professor Baddeley has been organising informal inter-disciplinary conferences on sport-related subjects for many years, but she says it is only in recent times that universities have become interested in the social impact of sport.

"Universities used to give sport the cold shoulder. Sport was not considered to be something serious. It was simply leisure," she told swissinfo.

"But with the growing commercialisation of sports, the legal problems and the rise in doping, universities finally noticed the importance of sport."

The Academy will also provide postgraduate courses and introduce a masters degree in sports administration, in the hope of grooming the men and women who will one day lead national and international sports federations.

The partner organisations of the AISTS are the Universities of Lausanne, Geneva and Neuchatel, the Federal Polytechnic Scool in Lausanne, the Federal Sports School at Macolin, the Institute of Public Administration, the IOC, the city of Lausanne and the canton of Vaud.

by Roy Probert


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