York’s 50th: Conference kicks in with a broad look at soccer

Every four years, the majority of sports fans on the planet work themselves into a frenzy over the World Cup of football, or soccer as it’s known in North America. Fans the world over take part in a celebration that lasts for a month – a true world championship in a sport played by almost every nation on earth.

Left: Children in Africa play football, the game North Americans know as soccer

Starting Thursday and running through Saturday, York will host one of its final U50 events of the year, an international conference titled Global Football: History, Gender, Nation. It’s a look at "the beautiful game" that seeks to bridge popular interest in the sport with a rich world of scholarly analysis of the game.

With the qualifying round for the upcoming 2010 World Cup having just concluded, all eyes are now fixed on next summer, June 11 to July 11, when the championship will be held in South Africa – the first time the tournament will be played on the African continent.

The idea for the conference was first raised during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Kathryn McPherson, a history and women’s studies professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and a few colleagues who were also football fans made a mental note to plan something for the next event in 2010. When they realized the host would be South Africa, McPherson and company knew it would present a unique opportunity.

Right: Players hoist the distinctive World Cup trophy

“We thought it would be a great time to think about globalization and sport,” says McPherson, who is organizing the conference along with her History Department colleagues Stephen Brooke and Marcel Martel, the Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian History, and Pablo Idahosa, professor in York’s African Studies Program. “We thought this would be a good event to reflect on a number of trends in sport,” Brooke adds.

The conference is being billed as an opportunity for critical and scholarly reflection on global football, a game played around the world by males and females of all ages and a multi-million dollar business. The program, which includes both journalists and scholars from around the world, is designed to appeal to both soccer enthusiasts and scholars working in a range of interdisciplinary contexts, who offer critical appraisal of how football shapes and has shaped social, political and economic relations, in Canada and globally.


Left: Keynote speaker Simon Kuper

The keynote speaker will be Simon Kuper, a reporter with the Financial Times and author of Football Against the Enemy and Soccernomics, whose presentation will take place Friday at 4:30pm. All sessions are being held in W132 Seymour Schulich Building and registration is free.

McPherson said one of the aims of the conference is to support the goals of the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada by making scholarly work accessible to the public, both through free admission and by bringing sports journalists, who have such an influence on the public’s perception of the game, together with scholars interested in how football reflects society.

Right: York Lions’ Gerard Ladiyou was the MVP at the 2008 national university championship

The conference kicks off on Thursday at 7:30pm at the Robet R. McEwen Auditorium in the Schulich School of Business at York University, with the Historica Chair Event in Canadian History. This panel discussion will feature Paul James, master coach of York’s soccer program, which saw the men’s team win the national university championship in 2008 (see YFile, Nov. 11, 2008) and the provincial women’s championship in October (see YFile, Nov. 10). With James, in the panel titled Football North of 49: Canada and the Global Game, will be Jason Zorbas, history professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Jay Scherer, professor in the Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation at the University of Alberta, and Idahosa. McPherson will moderate.

On Friday, the South-North morning session looks at soccer in South America, Australia, Sweden and Africa. The topics include discussions of the transnational phenomenon of South American soccer and The Australian Aboriginal Soccer Tribe. In the midday session, panellists will look at Gender and the Global Game with presentations on football in the Caribbean and Latin America, football for girls in West Africa and a historical look at football in Italy under Mussolini. The afternoon session will be devoted to Encounters Local and Global, with discussions about ethnic and national identity, the Israeli-Palestinian encounter through football and spectator-related violence. A paper by Jorge Uría will look at football in Spain from 1917 to 1936.

Left: York’s provincial women’s soccer championship team

Saturday’s panels begin with a discussion of Football Cultures, chaired by Martel. The talks will look at different aspects of the game in Russia, France and Italy, as well as foreign ownership of teams in the UK. The afternoon session, Toward the World Cup: Football & Africa, will include presentations on the history of African football, the role of television in globalizing the game and football’s impact on the democratization of Africa. The final session, State of Play: Football Journalists and the Global Game, features reporters Sid Lowe, a Madrid-based writer and television commentator who contributes to the Guardian, FourFourTwo.com, World Soccer and the Telegraph; David Goldblatt  the author of the acclaimed The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football; John Doyle, columnist for The Globe and Mail and author of the forthcoming book The World is a Ball: The Joy, Madness and Meaning of Soccer; and Kuper.

Global Football:History, Gender, Nation is sponsored by the Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian History, York University, Founders College and York’s Centre for Feminist Research.

For more information on the conference and a complete program, visit the Global Football Web site.