Sporting spirit

The Olympics and sport in general give countries a way to engage with the world, says Grant Jarvie, a sports studies expert

August 7, 2008

The run-up to the Beijing Olympics has been marked by widespread anti-China protests, but Grant Jarvie believes that the event will have a positive effect on the country.

The professor of sports studies at the University of Stirling noted that Amnesty International had helped vet the bid and had approved it in the hope that the Olympic spirit of fair play and respect for universal ethical principles would extend throughout China.

"As the Beijing Olympics is followed by football's World Cup in South Africa (in 2010) and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi (in 2010) and in Scotland (Glasgow in 2014), it is worth remembering that while there is no single agent or group that can carry the hopes of humanity alone, there are many points of engagement through sport that offer good cause for optimism that things can get better."

Professor Jarvie is co-author of the recently published Sport, Revolution and the Beijing Olympics (Berg Publishing). In it, he challenges many Western assumptions. These include the notion that drug use is prevalent among China's female athletes: Professor Jarvie says there is no substantial evidence for this and at worst it would merit the Scottish verdict of "not proven".

He comes from an international sporting family: his mother represented Scotland at swimming, and his father represented Scotland at water polo. He took up the Stirling chair in 1997, having previously been professor of sport and leisure research at Heriot-Watt University. He is also an honorary professor of the University of Warsaw and a past president of the British Society of Sports History. He was appointed Stirling's deputy principal in 2006.

In May this year, Alex Salmond, the First Minister, announced that Stirling would be designated Scotland's "University for Sporting Excellence". It will be a focal point for training Scottish athletes, and Professor Jarvie, an architect of the scheme, has been described by a national paper as "having a reputation as a visionary".

Stirling is already home to the National Swimming Academy, the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland and the Scottish National Tennis Academy. Six past and present students will represent Britain in the Olympics.

Professor Jarvie said it was a combination of research, teaching, an international scholarship programme, work with the community and serious investment that gave Stirling its edge. "The international development work that the university is doing in areas such as HIV education and sport initiatives in Africa and India is a testament not only to sport and education but to a university that wants to make a difference to people's lives," he said.

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