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Ex-Olympian and top academic Bruce Kidd on sport studies

Dr. Kidd highlights the need to understand discrimination in sport, discusses the main areas of sport studies, and offers advice for high school students interested in this field.
BY Uma Asher |   27-04-2017

Dr. Bruce Kidd

Apart from being an Olympic athlete (track and field, 1964), Professor Bruce Kidd is Vice-President, University of Toronto, and Principal of the university’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC). He is also a community activist and respected scholar. He has a BA in Political Economy from the University of Toronto, a master’s degree in Education from the University of Chicago, and an MA and PhD in History from York University. He also holds an honorary doctor of laws from Dalhousie University. His involvement in the Olympics goes far beyond athletics: he has covered them as a journalist and social scientist, has served on the board of Toronto’s Olympic bids, has served as founding chairperson of the Olympic Academy of Canada, lectures at the International Olympic Academy, and is an honorary member of the Canadian Olympic Committee. In an email interview with BrainGain Magazine, he discussed sport studies and his special connection with India.

You have supported the Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who was abruptly dropped from the 2014 Commonwealth Games team on the grounds that her natural hormones disqualified her from competing as a female athlete. How did you get involved in the case?

I have been involved in the struggle for athletes’ rights and women’s rights in sport for many years. So when I heard about the plight of Dutee Chand from Dr. Payoshni Mitra of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, I immediately offered my support. As it happened, I was in Glasgow at a meeting of the Commonwealth Sports Ministers (in my capacity as a former chair of the Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport) at the time I heard about Ms. Chand’s suspension, and I was able to talk to representatives of the Sport Authority of India about financing an appeal of her suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. They agreed, and although it took several more steps to put it all together, the historic appeal was launched. I am very proud to have been associated with this precedent-making case.

Why should the case of Dutee Chand, and the broader issue of gender inequality, matter to someone who studies sport?

As a former Commonwealth champion and Olympic athlete, I have always believed that international sport should live up to the highest ideals of fairness and equality. Excellence without fairness and gender equality is simply not excellence. The IAAF and IOC hyperandrogenism regulations which led to the suspension of Dutee Chand affected all women in sport, and targeted women from the Global South, so it was essential for the good name of fair sport that they be overturned.

You hold a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a master’s degree in education, and a PhD in history. How do they feed your expertise in sport, in addition to your own career as an athlete?

I have been very lucky in my career, in that I have been able to combine my academic interest in political science and history with my love of sport. While I taught straight political science in the first years of my academic career, by the early 1970s the public policy issues surrounding sport – the staging of major games, gender equality, the struggle against racism and apartheid, good governance, and so on – were becoming so complicated that governments sought expert help. I was at the right place at the right time. For the last 40 years or so, most of my teaching and writing has been about sport policy issues.

Dr. Bruce Kidd with Indian sprinter Dutee Chand (center) and Dr. Payashni Mitra of Jadavpur University, Kolkata

What is your advice to a young person interested in higher studies in some aspect of sport – what are some of the different paths they could consider for their studies and career?

There are now two well-established routes for academic study and careers in sport – study in mainstream disciplines in the biophysical sciences, social sciences and humanities with application to sport, or study in programs like sport management, sport sociology, exercise sciences, and so on. There are good programs available in many universities, and both pathways offer promising careers.

How does one prepare for higher studies in sport – what would an ideal applicant have done through high school, according to you?

Given that sport today is so complex, and requires an understanding of both the workings of the human body and our complex societies, I would advise a well-rounded program in high school, with a solid grounding in the sciences and mathematics and a social science like sociology or history.

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