A newly established professorship in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts will support research on the role of soccer in politics and society and the conditions in which sports and performing arts can transform the lives of children in the world’s poorest neighborhoods.
Kirk S. Bowman, professor in The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, is the new Jon R. Wilcox Term Professor in Soccer, Global Politics, and Society. Bowman and donor Jon R. Wilcox have maintained a lively conversation on the subject for many years and the new professorship embodies a shared vision.
“As a lifelong sports enthusiast and participant, I have witnessed the role of sports in politics and society and see this as an understudied field,” said Wilcox, who is co-founder, CEO, and director of California Republic Bancorp. “More importantly, I have observed the transformative role that sports can play in the world, in particular in Latin America.”
Bowman describes the success of Miratus Badminton Club, a non-profit organization in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The club engages young people from one of the city’s most desperate favelas, or slums, through the sport of badminton. Ninety percent of the favela’s children are members of the badminton club, spending five hours a day on the badminton courts or in the computer center or library. They are required to attend school and can’t partake in alcohol or drugs. The club has grown in past years to the point that half of Brazil’s Olympic badminton team will come from this favela alone.
“This is just one example of the kind of highly successful programs at work throughout Brazil, Argentina, and other countries around the world,” said Bowman. “They are achieving amazing work, completely altering the path of these kids’ lives by inspiring a drive to succeed and opening career paths.”
One focus of the Wilcox Professorship is to provide assistance to those organizations helping young people. Bowman will identify organizations with proven track records and inspired and innovative local leadership which can be empowered through a new non-profit that will direct resources to locally managed organizations.
“I would like my gift to provide Dr. Bowman with the resources and time to scientifically examine the role of soccer in politics and society and also to research the conditions in which sports and performing arts can transform the lives of young people in the poorest favelas, villas, and neighborhoods of our planet,” said Wilcox. “I have been reading Dr. Bowman’s work for nearly two decades and firmly believe that his commitment to these subjects will advance both basic research and provide important applied research models. When I lived with my family in Buenos Aires, I witnessed first-hand the incredible role of soccer in identity and politics. The growth of soccer’s popularity around the world and in the United States demands a systematic examination of soccer and politics.”
Bowman will also use the professorship to write his next book, Soccer and Global Politics: The Incredible Power of a Small Round Ball. Bowman, who has conducted fieldwork in ten different countries, will be provided the resources to continue research in ten additional countries in addition to the time spent writing his book.
“I am impressed with the interdisciplinary tradition and commitment to explore both the production of knowledge and the application of real world practice,” Wilcox said. “I am also very interested in the new programs in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, such as the new Sports, Society, and Technology program, where Dr. Bowman will work.”
California Republic Bancorp, of which Jon Wilcox is co-founder and CEO, is one of the fastest growing banks in California history. Wilcox has been an early stage investor in numerous companies including computer technology, medical products and bio-technology. His current and prior board affiliations include South Coast Repertory, Junior Achievement, Very Special Arts, Westside Center for Independent learning and Fiji Reef Resources. He and Professor Bowman have had a long-running dialogue about Latin America and the new professorship embodies their enthusiasm for the distinctive research in liberal arts at Georgia Tech.
A specialist in Latin America, Professor Bowman’s most recent books are Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development (University of Toronto Publishing, 2014) and Peddling Paradise: The Politics of Tourism in Latin America (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013). He is director of the Nunn School’s Undergraduate Programs and the Summer 2015 Study Abroad in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Rio de Janeiro.
Photo is of Kirk Bowman (l) and Jon Wilcox (r) at Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain