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Dr Emma Sherry - Internationalising sports management

Emma Sherry

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Meghan Lodwick
Welcome to a La Trobe University podcast.    I'm Meghan Lodwick and today I'm interviewing Dr Emma Sherry.  Emma is a Senior Lecturer within La Trobe University's Centre for Sport and Social Impact, specialising in the area of sport management and sport development.  Recently she conducted a joint study with Donna De Haan from the University of Worchester in the UK on internationalising sport management curriculum.  In the study, students from both universities collaborated on projects that focussed on the development of the 2000 Sydney and 2012 London Olympics, so they could gain a more global perspective on sport management.
 
Emma Sherry
We are a sporting capital here in Melbourne so we are very lucky that we have major events such as the Grand Slams for tennis and we regularly host international events, but Australia is still a very long way away from the rest of the world as far as events and sport is concerned, so if our students really want to branch out in their careers, there are infinitely more opportunities internationally.  They don't have to go to Europe or America any more, they can go to South America or the Asian region is growing extraordinarily quickly in its sports management professionalisation.  If you look at India and China, the next two Olympics and World Cup are being held in Brazil, there's a lot of scope for really interesting roles.  One of Australia's biggest exports for sport is sport event expertise, so a lot of Australians now we see following major events from country to country, so I'd like our students to be part of that experience and know that it's an opportunity for them.  Very few of them ever thought of it as a global industry or thought of working outside of their own country, let alone their own city.
 
Meghan Lodwick
If curriculum does become more internationalised, what sort of job opportunities are out there for students?
 
Emma Sherry
When we designed this project, we focussed specifically on what's called in the theory, internationalisation at home.  So we're not talking about study tours, or sending students off to get an international experience – what we're talking about in this study is how do we bring the international experience to the students in their home country and in their home university.  The reason that we did that is because it's very easy to be insular, and particularly in a country like Australia, where we're quite parochial, and I mean that in a good way.  We are a very strong sporting nation but it often can mean that our students, particularly at the undergraduate level where they really are just learning about the world, that we do it the best way and there really isn't another way.  And what this project really demonstrated to us is that both sets of students were thinking that and they'd never thought to look to other countries' experiences of how they do things, and the reason we chose … apart from the fact that we worked at those universities is that the Olympic sports was common and both Sydney 2000 Olympics wasn't that too far away, and far of our memory and the 2012 Olympics for the UK students was coming up.  So it gave it some real relevance for them and I think helped them make that connection – that different countries do it quite differently for similar results.
 
Meghan Lodwick
And in what ways do they do it differently?  Is it policy, is it culture?
 
Emma Sherry
A lot of it is based in culture.  On paper the UK should be dominating sport better than Australia just on population numbers and finances alone, and we've always punched above our weight, to use a sporting term, in Australia.  But what we found is that it really is driven by policy.  So, during the Blair era in the UK, there was a very strong focus on sport development which is the subject that Donna and I were teaching, which looks at how do we bring sport into the community, and the focus on sport development in the UK was using the sport to develop the communities, at the community level.  So, lots of programs about social inclusion and building stronger communities.  That was happening at the same time as the Sydney Olympics was being held or that we had a very strong elite focus in Australia.  So we still have sport development at grass roots, but the focus was more on that elite, let's win medals and World Championships.  What we've found since then with changes in government and obviously the handing of the baton from Sydney through to now London, is that when you are the country that's hosting the Olympics the winning becomes more important.  You want to win your home Olympics.  So, what we've found is that the pendulum has switched, and that a Labor government came into Australia, so the focus came back more to community development.  What we've found in describing it for the students and the students reflections is that there is a pendulum, so when elite goes to UK, it seems that grass roots comes to Australia.  And vice versa.  So the students really noticed that.  The UK was following our models of improving their sports science and their sport delivery because they were focussing on medals now for their home Olympics.
 
Meghan Lodwick
You mean the support programs for athletes, like people that are on the ground, the people that are organising …
 
Emma Sherry
Right down to … sport development is from cradle to grave.  What we found at the moment is that in the UK that focus is more on the elite athlete, so that the support of how to get them there, how do we train them, how do we turn our twelve-year-old national champion,  into a sixteen-year-old Olympic champion – those sorts of things.  It also means, how do we get my fourteen-month-old baby into a sport?  What sort of a program and activities do I put babies in and what's there for older adults – all different populations, so that's why sports development was the perfect subject to do this internationalisation work in, because it really is very different from country to country.  But the UK and Australia weren't so different that it would terrify our students.  It was different enough, but not too different.  We didn't try and compare Australia and China's sport systems, for example.
Meghan Lodwick
It also sounds like it would be kind of a multi-disciplinary sort of approach to teaching, if you're going to internationalise it, so what sort of components would you think would make that up?
 
Emma Sherry
The theoretical content of sport development was the same, so we're still talking about sport delivery models.  It was really contextualising that in the different cultures, so we had to touch on the  history of sport in both those countries, so the fact that the UK sport system was effectively transplanted here in Australia, but then how the two countries have dealt with that very differently.  The main other discipline that influenced this subject or this particular work, was policy.  Very strongly, where the government focuses the policy, the funding generally follows and that has a  huge influence on how the sport development and sport delivery changed in each country, so if the focus of the government was on inclusion, the money goes down to those programs.  If the focus is on winning medals, the money shifts and the policies shift up to elite programs.
 
Meghan Lodwick
It sound almost as if there isn't like a clear objective, in a way.  Do we look for the medals, or do we look to kind of appease our community?
 
Emma Sherry
This is one of the biggest areas of contention in Australian sport, well actually, sport policy for most countries that have this model of federally-funded sport.  And I'm not sure if you recall, but a few years ago, the Crawford Report came out in Australian sport, which looked at – how do we best fund and structure sport federally?  And the Crawford Report basically came out and said, it doesn't matter if we win at the Olympics.  It doesn't have a trickle down effect, so winning medals in shooting at the Olympics doesn't make more people play sport.  That was one of the premises of this report.  John Coates, who is the Australian head of the Australian Olympic Committee, came out completely against that, saying, of course it does, if we watch people winning at the Olympics, it makes us want to participate more.  So there really is this argument, because they're fighting over scarce resources, post global financial crisis, we don't have a lot of money to spend on the fun stuff, millions of dollars going to an Olympic team versus hospitals, education – there's those sorts of arguments that get brought in, but there really is this tension between how much do we give our athletes competing on the world stage, compared to the tens of millions of us who aren't but need to be active for other social health reasons.  There's no easy answer.
 
Meghan Lodwick
No, it sounds like quite a conundrum, actually.
 
Emma Sherry
Yes, it really is.
 
Meghan Lodwick
So, did you touch on some of that with the students, at all?
 
Emma Sherry
We do, definitely with this, and particularly going with that policy shift because sport is often seen as a really useful tool for other community policies, so health policy is often tied with sport, social inclusion is often tied with sport, community-building – those sorts of things can really clearly be tied with sport.  And where that sports department sits within a government so it has moved around in the federal government in the last ten years, Arts and Communication, it moved to Health and Ageing – it moves around, so that also gives you a hint of what the focus of the government is on sport, of which department it's sitting in.  So if it's with Health and Ageing, it's very much a health policy focus, if it's with Communication and the Arts, it's very much a performance focus.  So we really do see that shifting around and the students kind of trying to get their heads around the fact, because everyone assumes, and these are guys that are you know, 18, 19 year old students, of course if I watch the Olympics, more people are going to play sport, is the general lay person's understanding of it, and we're trying to unpick that a bit and see that it's much more complicated.  That lots of people watching the Australian Open means that lots of people are watching the Australian Open.  It doesn't necessarily mean that more people are playing tennis.
 
Meghan Lodwick
Yes, I just heard a statistic that more journalists were going to the London Olympics than actually Australian athletes, which I found to be a very interesting sort of balance.
 
Emma Sherry
A really interesting stat is that there are three times more journalists looking at the AFL than there are at federal politics.
 
Meghan Lodwick
That is a scary stat.
 
Emma Sherry
And that's just one sport.  Our focus is a  bit skewed at times but I think getting our students to unpick those and realising that link between policy and why governments are involved in sport.  It's not just because of the shiny medals, although governments do like the shiny medals, that's part of the reason that they funded it, it's very good for nation building and flag waving, but also that they want to get health and social outcomes as well.  So, that's why this subject was perfect to unpick that, and particularly in an international context – that you could see how different countries have different areas of focus and how that impacted on the delivery of sport in those countries.
 
Meghan Lodwick
Now I know in the study the students were collaborating together at two completely different universities.  How did that work?
 
Emma Sherry
It did work, much to our surprise at times, because we very much did this at the seat of our pants.  It was a good idea and then we just sort of started doing it.  The feedback from the students was excellent though, so I think we managed it.  Effectively what we did is the semesters were running pretty much at the same times and the students did their regular in-class presentation, but this time they were video recorded by us.  So I recorded my students' presentations and Donna recorded hers.  We then figured out a way to swap those videos.  We had the same Olympic sports so my students doing rowing sport development in Australia swapped with the students doing rowing sport development in the UK.   And then what they did the next time was sit together in labs, watching the videos, and marking the  presentation, which was one interesting component, but the second part was unpicking what are these differences, what does that tell  us about sport development theory and delivery?  The logistics behind it were extraordinary, but it worked.
 
Meghan Lodwick
So, where to next?  I mean, now that you've finished the study, do you have recommendations for how to get better curriculum that focuses on that?
 
Emma Sherry
It's quite common in an Australian context to use the AFL as an example because it's so accessible for the students, and it's very easy for us to go, oh you know this time that that happened.  And for the students to understand.  So I think by stretching our students into talking about different sports and different countries, that is a way of internationalising.  I think also too of reminding them that we are a world leader but we aren't the only way of doing it.  So no one would deny that the Americans are world leaders but they have very different sports systems, so we can learn things from other areas.  The collaboration between universities is a lot of work and it requires a very strong partnership with a person that you're doing it with, but I would recommend to anyone if they have that sort of relationship with an international partner, to go for it, because the students really did get a lot out of it and the most interesting side effect for us was the fact that they were being videoed meant that they dressed up slightly more and they took their presentation more seriously, so even that came as a side benefit, was that they learnt a bit more about presenting and particularly they learnt a bit more about assessment, because they were assessing someone else, who they didn't know.  So there was a lot of little side benefits that we weren't expecting from that, but now that we've completed this project, we really are both much more aware of how to bring international focus.  We do vodcasts for each other, so guest lectures that we send over as a video that people can put into their teaching materials – there's a variety of different ways you can do it relatively easily, so think of guest lectures, or readings, case studies, from other countries and from other perspectives.  Because I think every student starts their degree thinking they're going to work well in Melbourne, thinking they're going to work for the AFL for example, and it's our job to open their eyes to the myriad of other opportunities that there are across the world.  It's a global industry.  It's one of the biggest global industries and they really should take advantage of that.
 
Meghan Lodwick
That was Dr Emma Sherry from La Trobe University's Centre for Sport and Social Impact and that's all the time we've got for a La Trobe University podcast.  If you'd like to leave some feedback about this or any other podcast in the series, or suggest a possible topic you can get in touch with us at podcast@latrobe.edu.au.

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