KPE’s Ira Jacobs appointed interim director of newly launched Tanenbaum Institute for Science in Sport (TISS)


About three and half years ago, Professor Ira Jacobs, then dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE), got a phone call from Larry Tanenbaum’s executive assistant, who told him that the chairman of Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment (MLSE) would like to meet with him in his office.

Jacobs had spoken to Tanenbaum on many occasions over the years about his philanthropic contributions to the university and the faculty specifically, including scholarships for U of T student athletes made available through the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation. Nevertheless, he wasn’t sure what to expect. 

“Whenever someone asked to meet in my office, I never knew if it was going to be a laudatory, happy meeting to say, ‘well done, the Faculty is doing great things,’ or if it was to raise a concern about something serious that they thought merited a conversation with me in person,” says Jacobs. 

As it turned out, he had no reason to be worried. On the contrary. Tanenbaum shared that the time was right to plan a gift that would be supportive of high performance sport, which had been such an important part of his own professional career. 

“He wanted to do something significant, something that would have high impact in the field of high performance sport and he asked if we could develop a plan that would bring together the fields of sport medicine and sport science,” says Jacobs. “It was a thrill to understand both the nature and the size of the gift he anticipated.”

And so, the vision was born for the Tanenbaum Institute for Science in Sport (TISS), a global centre of excellence for high performance sport science and sport medicine. With a $20-million gift from the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation - the largest philanthropic gift in support of high performance sport research that has ever been given to an academic institution in Canada - and a $21.5-million contribution from U of T and Sinai Health, TISS was officially unveiled in late May. 

TISS brings together the sport science research of KPE with the sports medicine research of U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and the clinical and research expertise of the Dovigi Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Clinic and the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Sinai Health. Its mission? To support research that advances high performance in sport – for professional and non-professional athletes and para-athletes, as well as for members of the wider community, both able bodied and with disabilities, who want to optimize their recreational participation in sport. 

“TISS will help us understand human limitations and human capacities as they relate to sport,” says Jacobs, who was appointed interim director of the institute. “Specifically, it will support research that will prevent injury, enhance recovery and utilize technologies to develop nutritional, training and rehabilitation interventions to allow all sport participants to optimize their abilities to achieve high performance.”

About half of the funding from the gift will go to each of the TISS partners to endow new positions such as a new chair in sport science and data modelling, a chair in musculoskeletal regenerative medicine and a professorship in orthopaedic sports medicine, and to attract top researchers from Canada and around the world. The rest of the funding will provide a pot of funds to which scientists associated with the three partners can apply to accelerate their research, innovations and clinical programs.

Professor Gretchen Kerr, dean of KPE, says she is delighted for the Faculty to be a part of this exciting research enterprise. “The Tanenbaum Institute’s cutting-edge research will play a leading role in advancing high performance sport in a manner that is healthy, safe, welcoming, and inclusive,” she says, adding that Jacobs was a natural choice for interim director. 

“Professor Jacobs has been instrumental in developing the Tanenbaum Institute from the very beginning, working alongside colleagues in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, Sinai Health and experts from the high performance world to match the aspirations of the three partners with those of the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation. It’s wonderful to see their vision come to fruition.”

As interim director, Jacobs will oversee two advisory committees, one focused on research and the other on external relations and partnerships. One of the things he is most looking forward to is having at least one conference annually that would “give scientists an opportunity to communicate with each other and give those who are in the high performance world - athletes, coaches, etc. – an opportunity to receive cutting edge and applicable new knowledge.”

Jacobs is also excited about the open science framework (OFS) that will be cultivated at TISS – something that was important to the donor. OSF has scientists sharing their research with each other from the planning stages.

“This will enable researchers to know who else is doing research in their area of interest and rather than see it as a competition, see it as something that advances science more rapidly,” says Jacobs. “They may be able to add something to it or create collaborations and networks that would otherwise either not happen at all or would take a lot longer to occur. The end goal is to make knowledge available to everyone more effectively and efficiently.”

Jacobs says he is grateful to the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation for recognizing the power of research to amplify the immense potential of sport. 

“Their generous gift will empower TISS to generate, advance and disseminate transformational knowledge in the world of high performance sport that will be of benefit to all - not only in the GTA and Canada, but the world.”