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Ball set rolling on sports study field

The day after Anju Bobby George brought home India’s first World Athletic Championship medal, another sporting milestone was achieved in Calcutta, indoors, and with far less fanfare. The country’s first sports studies centre, in collaboration with De Montfort University, UK, was inaugurated at Calcutta University (CU). The centre is the first affiliate of the International Research Centre for Sport, Socialisation and Society (IRCSSS), headed by Prof. J.A. Mangan, a pioneering figure in the field.

Before taking the stage at CU’s Alipore campus, Mangan told Metro that he welcomed the “forging of new Anglo-Indian relations that will bring sport to the fore as an academic discipline”. CU, added the editor of International Journal of the History of Sport, is joining the top three in the area, De Montfort, Chicago and Beijing universities.

Though sports studies in its modern form emerged around 25 years ago, it has made rapid strides in mainland Europe and the US. Asia has been lagging, though south Asia is catching up fast with China and Japan doing a lot of work, observed Mangan. “Sport is a hugely important element of national identity on the global stage. China and Japan have recognised that; India is also waking up to that aspect,” he added.

Mangan’s research outfit is now engaged in a major project on child abuse in sports. “In athletics especially, children are noticed and trained in a highly specialised way. But there is the problem of over-stressing young bodies. Even if children endure the training regimen in their enthusiasm, this burns them off.”

Calling for a sensible training of young body and mind to ensure they function well during and after their career, researchers are working out practicable training guidelines to be forwarded to sports organisations across the globe.

For societies like India where a career in sport is not yet considered viable and children are forced to spend hours with books away from the playing field, Mangan sounded an obesity alert. “Obesity is a modern scandal. Due to changes in leisure styles, children are becoming sedentary. This is a by-product of prosperity in middle-class families that must be curtailed,” he said, adding how surveys have shown children in the US and the UK spending as much as 12 hours a day in front of the TV.

While admitting that corporate support was inevitable for promotion of sport, Mangan felt it was time to take a moral stand against, and bring to book, rogue companies taking the sporting element away from the games. “If events take place in the heat of the day just to make the time coincide with the waking hour of the TV audience, it is no longer a game.”

De Monfort University was also represented by vice-chancellor John Coyen, who welcomed opportunities to work with scholars from Calcutta and also host them at his institution. “These centres, we hope, will link up to form a global centre and facilitate exchange of ideas,” said Coyen, before walking out in the rain to visit Victoria Memorial with Mangan.

With ESPN STAR Sports promising two annual scholarships to the centre, the exchange programme looks set to be a winner.

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