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Release: May 20, 1999

UI to host international conference on sports and culture

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Scholars, sports writers, and sports commentators from all over the world will gather at the University of Iowa May 28-30 for an international conference on the role of sports in cultural development and exchange. Judy Polumbaum, associate professor of journalism, and Stephen Wieting, associate professor of sociology, have organized the conference, "Sports and Cultural Distinctiveness." Lectures and conference sessions May 28-29 are free and open to the public.

The keynote speaker will be Murray Sperber, a professor of English and American Studies at Indiana University. His presentation, "The Myths of Big-Time College Sports," will take place in 101 Becker Communication Studies Building at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 28. Sperber will also give a pre-conference reading from his book, "Onward to Victory: The Crisis that Shaped College Sports," at 8 p.m., Thursday, May 27 at Prairie Lights Bookstore.

Among the topics to be discussed at the conference are commercialism of sports, women in sports, sports writing, and sports as part of national identity.

Many countries use sports as a way of representing themselves to the world. For example, Kenya's government picks promising young athletes and trains them for competitive running, and Iceland is working to bring team handball–a sport in which it has world-class athletes–to world attention.

"Sport is a visible, successful, common coin," Wieting says. "Countries are looking for an international image for their sports."

Wieting and Polumbaum, along with scholars from around the world, will use the conference to explore the concept of globalization through the world of sports. "We're scholars seeking a common frame of reference," Polumbaum said. "As one scholar wrote, 'Sport isn't universal, but it's ubiquitous.'"

Conference participants from the UI include faculty, staff, and students from anthropology, the College of Dentistry, International Programs, journalism and mass communications, sociology, and sport, health, leisure, and physical studies. Other participants include: Jill Agostino, sports editor for The New York Times; Ian Thomsen, senior sports writer for Sports Illustrated; Ray Kelly, a globe-trotting basketball player; Huang Jianxiang, sports anchor with China Central Television; and Korean-born Soon Hee Whang, a sociologist at Tsukuba University in Japan, whose research includes studies on sumo wrestling. They'll be joined by scholars from Britain, Canada, Iceland, Norway, and the United States.

In the course of preparing for the conference, Polumbaum discovered that Huang, a popular soccer commentator for China Central Television, had a connection to the UI that he was not aware of. His grandfather attended the UI in the 1930s and received an M.A. from the College of Commerce in 1936. Polumbaum has retrieved the grandfather's thesis from the UI Main Library and will present Huang with a copy when he arrives in Iowa City.

The conference was made possible in large part by a grant from the UI Arts & Humanities Initiative. Co-sponsors include the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the University Lecture Committee, the Center for Asian and pacific Studies and UI International Programs.

A complete conference schedule along with biographic information on conference participants is available on the Web <http://www.uiowa.edu/~sportcul/>. For more information contact Wieting (319) 335-2364 or Polumbaum (319) 335-3389.

(Editors note: Reporters are welcome to attend any part of the conference that is of interest. Interviews with Huang Jianxiang or other conference participants can be arranged.)