Frans Verheeke Chair

The Frans Verheeke Ghent University Chair was established within the Centre for Local Politics at Ghent University. This means the Chair is uniquely positioned within Political Sciences in Belgium, seeing as other existing university sports institutes have their roots in the field of medicine.

In the nineteenth century, sport – as a new social concept – was from the start also socially innovative, and female pioneers could practice their sport just as men could (cf. Delheye, 2017; Luitzen, Bollerman & Delheye, 2015). It is striking, however, that this equal treatment did not last for long. Due to conservative and paternalistic forces, sports became institutionalised in bastions of elite, white, male power. 

After the Second World War, there were moves towards emancipation, however the governing bodies still largely remained male and white. It is only recently, as a result of changes in society and thanks to socially progressive campaign groups, that there has been increasing criticism of the fact that the sports world is regulated by white men. Female athletes, for example, have been demanding equal pay, equal media attention, and more input into governing bodies, and are calling for tougher action on harassment and transgressive behaviour. ‘Disadvantaged groups’ (people in poverty, people with a physical or mental handicap, ethnic minorities, those with a migration background, the LGBTQ+ community) no longer want to be side-lined but wish to be taken seriously. Sport is not inclusive by definition, however, but it can further reinforce social segregation.

In addition to the social barriers that are increasingly being criticised, there are also administrative and technological transitions that will impact the future of sport as we know it today. How can the drive to professionalisation be combined with volunteer work? Or with the administrative participation of all stakeholders? How can we strengthen fair play (including financial fair play), or improve the ‘competitive balance’, and combat match fixing? Are international championships – in the literal sense, with athletes competing under their national flag – still relevant today, seeing as top athletes are often naturalised citizens? Will it be possible to combat doping in the future? How should top sports organisations and WADA deal with ‘bionic humans’, or with the selection of embryos? Should there be a separate class of competition for transgender athletes? Etc.


Through the Ghent University Frans Verheeke Chair, we want to break new ground by promoting a more connected, intersectoral political / official approach to sports and movement. The chair is not in any way a passive observer nor a gatekeeper , but an active facilitator, aiming to build bridges between the different policy areas where sport is – or could be – used as an aim or means.

Through targeted political science research, and also by means of publicly accessible ‘meetings’ about the big social challenges of the future, providing a space where theoretical experts and also actors from the field can enter into dialogue with one another, the Ghent University Frans Verheeke Chair is hoping to become a physical (and digital) point of reference for research and knowledge exchange. The chair also aims to pay extra attention to disadvantaged groups, and thus also serve as an emancipatory facilitator with an eye to empowering said groups.

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Herwig Reynaert, Dean of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences and Chair of the Centre for Local Politics, is a professor affiliated with the Department of Political Sciences of Ghent University. He teaches subjects including local politics, current issues in local politics, Belgian domestic politics, and internal politics in Belgium. He is also greatly interested in sports and World War One, and this led to his book Olympiërs in Flanders Fields’(Olympians in Flanders Fields), that he co-wrote with Bart Vangrysperre, as well as an exhibition ‘Olympiërs in Flanders Fields’, and a music project together with Wannes Cappelle and harmonie Ypriana. Since it was published, the book has also been translated into English and presented in London. 


Foto Pascal DelheyeProf. Pascal Delheye studied physical education, sports management and history at KU Leuven and at the Claude Bernard University Lyon I. In 2001 he was awarded a PhD fellowship from the FWO (the Flanders research foundation). His doctoral research on the ‘scientification’ of physical education was awarded the Young Investigators Award by the European College of Sport Science. Following his postdoctoral research at KU Leuven and the University of California, Berkeley (USA) he became head of the Department for Historical Kinesiology and Sports History at KU Leuven. 

He has published extensively on the history of sports and physical education, and in 2014 he edited “Making Sport History: Disciplines, Identities and the Historiography of Sport” (Routledge, London & New York). From 2003 to 2008 he was chief editor of Sportimonium, and from 2014 he was co-editor of Sportwereld ( In 2005, as a literary sidestep, and together with Willie Verhegghe, he also published Ook wij waren winnaars: 150 sportgedichten uit Nederland en Vlaanderen, (We too were winners: 150 sports poems from the Netherlands and Flanders – De Geus / Poëziecentrum Gent). Since 1 January 2017, he has been affiliated with the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at Ghent University, where his sports-political research interests and his social engagement have come together in the Ghent University Frans Verheeke Chair.