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Hofstra to host groundbreaking soccer conference

By JP GuzhnaySpecial to the Chronicle

Hofstra University will be hosting the largest academic international soccer conference in the United States from April 10 to April 13. The high point of the event is keynote speaker Pelé, who will be receiving an honorary degree and a permanent plaque at Shuart Stadium.

“The Cultural Center has compared the size, and importance, of the conference to those of the Presidential Conferences,” said Dr. Stanislao Pugliese, who co-directed the event alongside Dr. Brenda Elsey, both professors from the history department at Hofstra.

Pelé is arguably the greatest player the sport has ever seen. He has won the FIFA World Cup three times, in 1958, 1962 and 1970, the only player to do so; and he is the all-time leading goal scorer for the national team of Brazil.

In addition to his extraordinary career, he also had the opportunity to come out of semi-retirement to play for the New York Cosmos in the season of 1975. The Cosmos, who will kick off their season on the last day of the event on April 13, has been closely associated with Hofstra in the past and present, as Shuart stadium is the home field of the club to which all students are welcomed with reduced student ticket prices.

In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the “Soccer as the Beautiful Game: Football’s Artistry, Identity and Politics” conference will allow the student body opportunities to explore soccer in a whole new way. Pugliese described the sport as a “cultural phenomenon” that can open up new areas of interest.

“We have about 30 different panels, everything from politics, economics, to the history of the world cups,” said Pugliese, who also teaches a course on the history of soccer at the university.

“Wherever you go around the world, with the rise of television, you’ll find Barcelona or Manchester United fans in the smallest villages. No sport in the U.S. can compare to that.”

Shortly after Pelé’s arrival in New York, former European and South American stars also joined the ranks of the Cosmos. Players like Franz Beckenbauer, who won the 1974 World Cup with West Germany, joined Pelé in 1977, winning the soccer bowl that year.

However, after these and other large-impact players in the sport retired, the North American Soccer League went on a decline. Since the creation of Major League Soccer in the U.S. and Canada in 1993, teams such as the New York Red Bulls and the Seattle Sounders have had raucous fans attend home games to show their support, similar to the impact the Cosmos had in the ‘70s.

According to Pugliese, the conference will attract media from all over the world. There are over 125 speakers from 25 different countries, “from Argentina to Uruguay, [including] around a dozen speakers from the U.K, speakers from Israel, Japan, Asia, [and] all over the world,” said Pugliese. He also confirmed the attendance of George Wahl from Sports Illustrated and Matthew Futterman from The Wall Street Journal, among other soccer journalists.

The conference will have panels covering different aspects of soccer that may interest students from the perspective of their respective majors. Some of those topics are, “Gender and Sexuality,” “Philosophy of Football” and “Political Mobilization: Reform and Revolution.”

Besides journalists, former players, and coaches attending the conference, scholars from all around the world will also join together to demonstrate the sport from an academic perspective. Dr. Jennifer Doyle from the University of California, an English department professor who runs “The Sports Spectacle” blog, will be joining sports writer and broadcaster Dr. David Goldblatt, who teaches at Bristol University in the U.K. and Pitzer College in the U.S., as the event’s keynote speakers. Pugliese described the event as an “hybrid combining the academic world and the popular sport. … There are people who are coming to the conference who have never played soccer before and look at the sport on a strictly academic or scholarly point of view.”

The panels at the conference will give students the opportunity to learn about the sport or its relationship with society. Students may also have a chance for direct interactions with the journalists and speakers who will cover, attend, or speak at the event.

“You should never say, oh, that doesn’t interest me, I’m not going to bother with it,” said Pugliese. “As part of a liberal arts education, you should always be open to a new kind of music, or a sport like soccer.”

When speaking about the development of the event, Pugliese praised fellow coordinator Elsey and the Cultural Center for being helpful through obstacles in dealing with logistical problems.

“Professor Elsey has many contacts including FIFA, overall everyone did a great amount of work in the development,” Pugliese said. The event is from Thursday, April 10, through Sunday, April 13, which includes some of the activities like the panels, book signings and the Cosmos game. However Pugliese regurgitates that the Friday symposium, where Pelé will be speaking and receiving an honorary degree, is the must-go day if students are not able to attend the whole conference.

The “Soccer as the Beautiful Game: Football’s Artistry, Identity and Politics” conference is an opportunity to explore a culture that is closely tied to the history of Hofstra’s Shuart stadium.

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