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Public Lectures and Talks - Upcoming and Recent
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“How Sports have Connected China with the World: A Personal Account”

“Roots of Friendship—Finding Common Ground”

National Convention (virtual) of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association

November 5, 2021

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, sports have been an important channel for building human connections between China and the outside world – maybe even the most important channel. After 1949, most of the Western nations did not have diplomatic relations with China, and Chinese people could not travel abroad. From the 1950s to the 1980s, anthropologists who wished to study “China” were forced to conduct their fieldwork in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and among overseas Chinese. Official Chinese policy, for its part, prohibited China from joining any international organization of which the Republic of China on Taiwan was a member. Sports offered an alternative to the conventional diplomatic channels that were closed to China. Because of its alternative character, sport diplomacy has played a particularly important role in China’s diplomatic history since 1949.

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“Boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics – Could one occur, and what would be its impact on China?”

“Fulbright at 75: Celebrating a Legacy of Global Friendships”

Virtual 44th Annual Conference of the Fulbright Association

October 20, 2021

Susan Brownell was invited to deliver a talk to an invitation-only panel presented to the 1946 Society of donors.


The world order has undergone tremendous changes since the U.S.- and USSR-led Olympic boycotts during the Cold War. The growing political influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has led some scholars to assert that NGOs have become “the third force” in global politics after governments and corporations. NGOs are currently leading calls to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, aiming to pressure the Chinese government to improve its human rights record and, in particular, end the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This raises questions about how much influence NGOs can exercise over governments in the post-Cold War era, and what effect their activism might have on China.


"Your National Team is an Illusion: Re-thinking the History of Global Sport as a History of Connections Rather than National Rivalries"

Webinar on "History at the Intersection of Sports and Politics" in the Series "Making Political History Global,"  Session 2 – The global perspective offered by sports history 

17.05-19.00 CEST, September 30, 2021

organized by the Research Group Political History of the University of Antwerp in cooperation with Association for Political History

Sport being a global phenomenon, this session will ask the question to which degree and in which ways sports history may help to make political history more global.


Abstract: The history of modern sport is closely intertwined with the history of nationalism. Since the politics of sport are so riven by national rivalries, the world history of sport has typically been written as a series of national histories. How to write the history of international sport in a way that makes political history more global thus poses a unique challenge. In this presentation I will argue for re-thinking sport history as a history of connectedness, rather than rivalries, by focusing on civil society interest groups (clubs, associations, federations, etc.), for-profit corporations, and sport labor migrants. Using this perspective to examine the Olympic system and major global professional sports (e.g., football, rugby) reveals that the politicized national divisions that occupy so much popular and media attention, are in fact supported by a transnational network of relationships that are largely apolitical, and are driven by individual, social, and profit-seeking motives. “National teams” are often an illusion. I will conclude with a few thoughts about why these imaginary national symbols exist, and what role they actually play in the global sport system, if they do not play the crucial role in the system’s infrastructure that is normally attributed to them.


“Olympic Games, Human Rights, and China”

 Virtual Symposium on “The Asia Olympics: Past Achievements and Future goals”

sponsored by the Hellenic Studies Program and the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University

April 19, 2021

Moderated by Professor George Syrimis, Director of the Hellenic Studies Program, the panel discussion covered the history of Olympic Games held in East Asian nations as well as controversies surrounding the hosting of the Games in Asia in the near future. Syrimis said that the aim of the event was to weigh the impact hosting the Games has had on athletic culture and society in Japan, China, and South Korea and to assess the legacy and current state of Asian Olympism. “The current travails of the Tokyo Olympics were the catalyst for us to have a broader discussion about the modernity of the three nations through the prism of their Olympic traditions,” he said.

The panel featured professors from universities around the globe, including Susan E. Brownell, professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Missouri- St. Louis, William Kelly, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Yale, and John Horne, Professor of Sport and Social Theory at the Waseda University’s School of Sport Sciences in Tokyo.

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“Olympic Games, China, and Human Rights” 

Olympic Symposium on “Culture, Covid, Controversy: Tokyo 2021 & Beijing 2022”

hosted by 21M.848 PS: Advanced Theories of Sport, Claire Conceison, instructor

Department of Theater and Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

May 5, 2021

There have been only eight Olympics located in Asia in the 126-year history of the Games, three of them—in Korea, Japan, and China respectively—occurring within a span of five years (2018-2022), the latter two only six months apart, an unprecedented occurrence. When (if?) the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are held in 2021 due to COVID-19, it will be the first time the Games have ever been postponed, and the city’s second time hosting (Japan’s fourth). Next February, Beijing will become the first city in Olympic history to host both a Summer Games and a Winter Games.

These circumstances merit our attention, and call for a closer look at Tokyo and Beijing— their sport cultures and Olympic narratives, their journeys toward the upcoming Games, and the challenges and controversies surrounding those journeys. Almost daily from now until the cauldron is lit and the Olympic flag is raised in both cities, there will be daily news stories about the upcoming Games, the athletes, the cities, the politics, and the risks. This symposium provides helpful history, cultural context, current events, and fun facts that will equip you to both follow the news leading up to the Olympic Games and watch the performances during the grandest spectacle on earth, viewed by more than three billion people worldwide.


The students of 21M.848 (Performance Studies: Advanced Theories of Sport) presented their individual presentations in two panels and group Q&A, along with special guest Dr. Susan Brownell, who delivered a talk about the connections between the Olympics, NGOs, and human rights.

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“Remarks on Chinese Sports Exchanges”

Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of Ping-Pong Diplomacy,

jointly sponsored by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and National Committee on US-China Relations

Beijing, China,

April 24, 2021 (participation via Zoom).

This event was held in Beijing, emceed by Mr. Shui Junyi, a TV anchor on China Central Television.  Videorecorded greetings were submitted by Wang Qishan, Henry Kissinger, and former US Ambassador Winston Lord. Table tennis athletes Li Furong and Judy Hoarfrost, who had taken part in the ping pong exchanges of 1971, played a virtual reality ping pong game with Judy participating via Zoom. Basketball players Yao Ming & LeBron James, figure skater Chen Lu, and US-based gymnastics coach Liang Qiao were interviewed live on stage. NCUSCR Vice President Jan Berris  and Susan Brownell were interviewed live via zoom. 


“Olympic Games and Human Rights”

Virtual Session of the 60th International Session for Young Participants

International Olympic Academy, Olympia, Greece

September 4-10, 2020

Susan Brownell was an invited lecturer at the 60th International Session for Young Participants. The main topic of the Session was "Olympism and Humanism." The special subject for this year’s Session was “Olympic Games: Human Rights, Diversity and Inclusion in Sport.” 

Because of the pandemic, the Session was not able to be held as scheduled in Greece, and was held as a virtual session.

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