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Interview with Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Birmingham: Indian government is taking sport seriously

Professor Robin Mason spoke to Sportskeeda about the new deal between SAI and University of Birmingham

Robin Mason
Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of University of Birmingham,feels India has big future in sports

In a development that could boost the future of sport across the country, the University of Birmingham and Sports Authority of India (SAI) have signed a deal to work towards creation of educational programmes in India for improvement in performances of athletes.Coaches from India had earlier visited the University of Birmingham for a workshop that aimed at projecting to them the importance of sports science.

Professor Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Birmingham, spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda about this deal and how it could benefit Indian sports. Here are excerpts from the interview:

What gave birth to the idea of the University of Birmingham deciding to work with Sports Authority of India (SAI) and why particularly India?

The Indian Government has highlighted the importance of sport to the nation and is looking to invest in boosting India’s sporting performance through Sports Authority of India (SAI). India is a very important country for the University of Birmingham. We have long ties to the country stretching back to 1909 when we welcomed our first Indian student to our campus in Edgbaston.

The partnership follows the successful visit of Indian sports coaches and sports scientists to the University of Birmingham in the wake of its success at the 2016 Rio Olympics. This two-week programme benefited personnel from a range of sports and science disciplines.

In a country like India, where the combination of education and sport has not come to the fore, how do you foresee this programme becoming a success?

SAI and the University of Birmingham will work together to help improve the sporting performance of India’s athletes by developing education programmes which can be used by coaches, sport scientists and PE teachers across India. The partners will identify joint research opportunities and areas of common interest, as well as teaming up to shape sports policy and the development of India’s next generation of athletes at all levels of sport.

Tell us a little bit about how Sports Education Programmes have blossomed in the University of Birmingham.  

Birmingham’s experts are world leaders in sports science and combining the latest research with coaching to help boost athletes’ performance. The University is as one of the UK’s top sports institutions – not just from the quality of our coaching, but the way in which we apply the latest thinking in a range of areas, including sports nutrition, sports psychology, performance analysis and injury rehabilitation to help improve the performance of our athletes.

Birmingham enjoyed outstanding Olympic success in 2016 with student Lily Owsley and alumna Sophie Bray winning gold in women’s hockey. Alumnus James Rodwell scooped silver with Rugby Sevens – part of Team GB’s record haul of 67 medals. Olympic medallist/women's cycling coach Paul Manning MBE is a former Birmingham student, as is Paralympic cycling gold medallist Lora Turnham.

Why is important to combine sports and science in the modern day scenario and what is its scope in terms of employed for non-athletes?

In modern-day sport, it is often not enough to simply focus on coaching athletes in improving technique in their chosen sport. We live in an era in which sports science is needed to generate  marginal gains – lots of small improvements adding up to a significant improvement in performance – and sports science can help to secure those marginal gains.

What are some of the key standout factors in this two-week programme for PE teachers and how they will benefit from it?

Coaches visiting Birmingham represented the following sports: Archery, Athletics, Volleyball, Table Tennis, Handball, Judo, Football, Badminton, Boxing, Kabaddi, Swimming, Hockey, Gymnastics, Tennis and Wrestling. Sports scientists represented the following disciplines: Biomechanics, Sports medicine, Psychology, Physiology, Nutrition and Anthropometry.

The two-week programme saw Birmingham experts sharing the latest thinking in a range of areas, including sports nutrition, sports psychology, performance analysis and injury rehabilitation. There were also visits to Warwickshire County Cricket Club, Birmingham City FC and the Football Association HQ at St George’s Park, Burton-on-Trent.

Delegates learned about the latest research and theories in areas like Interdisciplinary Approaches to Sport Coaching, The Process of Talent Identification & Management,  Functional Movement Assessments: Theory & Practical, Athlete Management: Technology & Tracking of Athlete Development and Applied Sport Nutrition & Sport Psychology in Action among several others.

What are some of the direct steps that will be taken to improve the performances of Indian athletes?

We will work together in a number of key areas - developing educational opportunities, programme support and development that benefit both SAI and the University of Birmingham. These will focus on the development of Indian sports scientists, PE teachers, coaches and other groups to support SAI through curriculum development and strategies. We will also develop research opportunities in areas of sports science that are of mutual benefit - such as nutrition, psychology and performance enhancement.

Does the University of Birmingham plan to provide scholarships to students from India, related to certain courses?

We are open to exploring future opportunities.

How intrinsic is sports-science combination on the university level in United Kingdom and give us examples of how athletes have benefited from the same?

Combining sports and science is very important – what applies to established athletes equally applies to our student athletes. For example, we have a range of hi-tech sports equipment in our School of Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation Sciences. This includes equipment such as an anti-gravity treadmill, as used by Olympic athletes such as Mo Farrah and Paula Radcliffe to speed rehabilitation from injury.

Who are some of the prominent athletes/coaches, who have passed out or have been associated with University of Birmingham?

The University of Birmingham has enjoyed outstanding Olympic success in 2016 with student Lily Owsley and alumna Sophie Bray winning gold in women’s hockey. Alumnus James Rodwell scooped silver with Rugby Sevens – part of Team GB’s record haul of 67 medals. Olympic medallist/women's cycling coach Paul Manning MBE is a former Birmingham student, as is Paralympic cycling gold medallist Lora Turnham.

How long do you think it will take before people start taking sport-science seriously in a country like India? Also, do you think it is possible to create sport-science infrastructure in India, given the financial implications?  

The fact that the University of Birmingham and SAI will be working closely together on introducing more sport science – with the support of the Indian government – demonstrates that it is already being taken very seriously. We are delighted to help SAI establish a sports science infrastructure in India, as they work with their Government colleagues to boost the country’s sporting performance.

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