On the heels of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s for­ma­tion of the White House Office of Olympic, Par­a­lympic and Youth Sport, the mood was cel­e­bra­tory at the Power of Sport Summit 2009, hosted on campus Friday by North­eastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

The center, which recently urged Obama to enhance the government’s role in making sport more acces­sible to youth, women and the dis­abled, focused the panel, “From Idea to Action: The Sport, Cul­ture and Gov­ern­ment Policy Project,” on the fed­eral government’s role in helping to develop a fairer playing field for all seeking access to sport.

Sport in Society exec­u­tive director Dan Lebowitz opened up the dis­cus­sion, held at the African Amer­ican Institute’s Cabral Center, by stating that those at his center, upon learning of Obama’s deci­sion, were “ecstatic.”

Eli Wolff, man­ager of research and advo­cacy for Sport in Society, and a member of the U.S. National Soccer Team from 1995–2004 and the U.S. Olympic Team in the 1996 and 2004 Par­a­lympic Games, noted the wel­come timing of the White House deci­sion with the con­fer­ence. “Obama’s announce­ment presents a won­derful back­drop for our dis­cus­sion here,” he said.

The pan­elists included Mary Hums, a Sport in Society research fellow and Uni­ver­sity of Louisville pro­fessor; Lindsay Glassco, vice pres­i­dent of policy and strategy ini­tia­tives for Right to Play, an inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tion pro­moting sports for child­hood devel­op­ment; Tom Farrey, a jour­nalist with ESPN; Chris Lynch of Boston Youth Sports Net­work and Up2Us, a sports-​​based youth devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tion; and North­eastern music pro­fessor Emmett Price, a Sport in Society fellow.

They dis­cussed a wide array of topics affecting sport in America, including a lack of access among the poor, women, and the dis­abled. They hailed the White House deci­sion to use the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pro­mote the values of the Olympic Move­ment and encourage increased youth par­tic­i­pa­tion as a step in the right direction.

This is a great oppor­tu­nity to pro­mote sport and its role in social inclu­sion,” Hums said. “It’s not just about the elite sports, but sports at all levels that need greater oppor­tu­nity in the United States.”

Glassco, an inter­na­tional policy expert, said the United States lags behind other nations in its com­mit­ment to sports. Yet, sport has been shown to have a pos­i­tive influ­ence on health pro­mo­tion and dis­ease pre­ven­tion, she said.

Describing how uplifting it was to hear of Obama’s com­mit­ment to sport, Lynch said a national move­ment to increase oppor­tu­ni­ties in sport might now gain some trac­tion. “We need to create more oppor­tu­nity to get boys and girls involved in youth sports,” he said. “We need to look at what we are doing, how we can do better, and how we can advance the ball.”

Farrey said too many young people are being left out of sports by a flawed system. “A single mother can’t nec­es­sarily get her kid to all the prac­tices,” he said, and the selec­tion process for team sports at the youth level does not make room for late bloomers.

The power of sport should teach more than com­pe­ti­tion, Price added. “When will sports teach kids about hope and dreams and about con­tri­bu­tion to mankind?” he asked. “Sport is about inclu­sion, not exclusion.”

Watch a video of the 13th Annual Red Auer­bach Youth Foun­da­tion Invi­ta­tional Double Dutch Tour­na­ment, recently held at Northeastern.