Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book


This wide-ranging analysis of the key themes and developments in sports history provides an accessible introduction to the topic. The book examines sports history on a global scale, exploring the relationship between sports history and topics such as modernization, globalization, identity, gender and the media.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Sport Matters

Abstract
In a seemingly paradoxical statement the chief sports correspondent of the Times newspaper, Simon Barnes, has speculated that ‘perhaps sport matters because it doesn’t matter.’1 What he seems to have meant was that, compared with questions of world confl ict, health, disease and the environment, the issues that so concern us in sport carry little weight. Thus, sport is something that can consume our attention as a distraction. Perhaps it serves as a valuable distraction from the worries of the world. It matters because it doesn’t matter.2 It is an interesting thought; an attempt to put things into proper perspective, by a writer who makes his living by communicating the issues of sport to us. Barnes’s comment, though, prompts further questions for readers in the early twenty-first century. What, in the last analysis, does matter? In a world beset by financial disorder, pathetic attempts to tackle climate change and a cultural climate that spreads much banal shallowness, we should perhaps be rethinking many of the conventional wisdoms that the later twentieth century has bequeathed to us: about economic growth and how it is to be attained, about our political systems and how democracy is to be fulfilled, about global relations and the relationship between rich and poor within and between societies. And perhaps about sport, where it is going, and what it means to us.
Jeffrey Hill

Chapter 2. The Transition to Modern Sport

Abstract
When asked to describe the game of cricket to a visitor from overseas, an Englishman with a keen line in irony said: ‘Well, you see, these 22 people gather together at a large ground, stumps are set in the ground 22 yards apart, the two captains toss a coin to decide who shall bat first, the fielding team takes the field, followed by the two opening batsmen of the other team, the bowler measures out his run up … and down comes the rain.’
Jeffrey Hill

Chapter 3. Sport and Identity

Abstract
In recent years historians studying sport have been much exercised by the issue of ‘identity’: that is, how a sense of both self and group have come into being through the agency of sport. In this they have contributed to one of the main interests of what is sometimes called the ‘new cultural history’. In this project identities such as social class, gender and caste are regarded not as something genetically given or fixed, but as essentially cultural constructions that produce ideas about who we are, and which arise from living and interacting in society. The forces and influences that serve to constitute both individual and collective identity are complex. They have much to do with the ‘languages’ (in the broadest sense of that term) that help us to think and communicate (see Chapter 5), but can also be found in other processes and organizations. It is not diffi cult to see how sport can fulfil a major role in all this. It has the capacity to stimulate identity at various levels of social activity. Some of these will be territory-related — locality, town and city, region, nation, supra-nation (Europe, for example, when the golfers are contesting the Ryder Cup with the United States), and even the world when at the time of the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup we are asked to think of ourselves as members of a world sporting family. In a different sense, identities form around entities that might seem less tangible, but which can acquire an immense emotional power: an ethnic group, a nation, a religion, an age group, a gender group.
Jeffrey Hill

Chapter 4. Sport and Gender

Abstract
Until quite recently it would have been common among sport historians to assume that a chapter on gender would be about the involvement, or lack of it, of women in sport. There was some justification for such an assumption, because traditionally sport history has been biased towards men and for a long time a more balanced approach had been needed. Furthermore, the participation of some women in sport has noticeably increased, at both the recreational and elite levels; the number of female sport heroes, for example, with outstanding achievements in international competitions to their credit, is no longer something to be counted on the fingers of one hand. When Tony Mason published his Sport in Britain only some twenty years ago he was able to observe many areas of sport from which women had been and still were excluded. ‘Sport’, he concluded, ‘remains a largely masculine world both at the top and at the bottom’.1 The situation has changed considerably since then, and even within the dozen or so years between the publication of that book and his Sport in Britain 1945–2000, co-written with Richard Holt, it had become possible to modify the earlier state of affairs and note important changes in participation rates for women. In particular there was the enthusiasm for female exercise, stimulated in part by ‘style leaders such as Madonna and Princess Diana’. ‘Sweat was sexy’ remarked Holt and Mason, adding the crucial condition: ‘providing it was showered off with a suitably branded product.’2 Thus was concisely encapsulated a significant social and cultural development — a newly forged liaison between gender, sport, consumerism and femininity.
Jeffrey Hill

Chapter 5. Mediating Sport

Abstract
As we noted in Chapter 1, the output of sport history has increased significantly over the past 30 years. However, much of what historians have produced has tended to remain within a conventional historiographical framework of outlook (what we perceive sport to be) and method (how we should study it). Elite sports have been given more attention than those practised at a recreational level; men rather than women have been the subject of attention; ‘westernized’ sport in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is more amply covered than either earlier sporting activity or that of the non-western world. In addition to this there has been a preference for thinking about sport as a series of finite activities: the games people play, and those who play, organize and watch them. Whilst this focus has produced many interesting studies it might nonetheless be claimed that there have been limitations inherent in it, and that these have led to certain omissions in our understanding. One of these relates to the way that sport is a process understood indirectly; that is to say, not as an activity known through direct participation — as player, organizer or spectator at the sporting venue — but as an activity reported from another source rather than being experienced at first hand. The immense growth during the twentieth century of various channels of communication — the newspaper press and related print journalism, radio, television, books, film and photography — should remind us that all of these forms serve to mediate ideas about sport. They are in fact the media on which sport is now so dependent, not only for communicating information but also for providing support and sponsorship. Where would the much-vaunted English Premier League — regarded by some as the world’s leading association football league — be without BSkyB and Barclay’s Bank? It is from the media in all its forms that a great deal of what we know and understand about sport is derived.
Jeffrey Hill

Chapter 6. Sport in a Globalized World

Abstract
The idea of ‘globalization’ has acquired a strong currency among many academics in recent years. It has been applied to all manner of international developments and relations in a number of fields — political, economic, cultural. There is a tendency to see it as a description of the way in which we are all now members of one homogeneous world — a ‘global village’ — and therefore influenced by the same decisions made by the large corporations that dominate the world market. It has been regarded as the extension of capitalist relations ever wider in the world and the forms of exploitation that are a necessary part of it — hence the protests, sometimes the scene of violence, that have been staged at meetings of the G20 and which are sometimes known as the anti-globalization movement. Whilst there might be value in this notion, we nonetheless have to bear in mind that the process of globalization has equally be seen as a good thing in that it has removed some of the inequalities that formerly attended world economic relationships in an age of imperialism. One of the problems with using the term ‘globalization’ is that it means different things to different people, and indeed the entire process has somewhat contradictory features. As well as being a unifying force, it can also cause fragmentation and tensions. Globalization is, in fact, a problematical concept, when applied either to describe a process in the world or as a means of understanding the contemporary international relations. It is not something that can taken as a ‘ready made’ explanation of how the world works. In sport, there have been influential studies of the ‘globalizing’ process but, as the authors of an important book on labour migration have reminded us, the concept is sometimes used uncritically and in a way that takes little or no account of history.1
Jeffrey Hill

Conclusion

Abstract
The cultural analyst John Tomlinson, seeking in the early 1990s to disentangle the complex knots of ‘modernity’, ‘post modernity’, ‘cultural imperialism’ and ‘globalization’, pointed to a crucial theme in all this: the crisis of moral legitimacy. Capitalism, he claims, is ‘technologically and economically powerful, but culturally “weak”’.1 This was meant, I think, to describe a continuing condition, not simply a transient phase; but in the early twenty-first century, whatever moral hegemony capitalism might once have had has been severely tested amid consumer debt and banking crises, occasioned (one might argue) by cynical economic and political managers. Recognition of a moral crisis assumed a key part in President Obama’s 2009 inaugural address, when he spoke of the United States’ being ‘ready to lead once more’. To lead, that is, not simply in military or economic terms, but to bring a moral force to bear on the world. It was a sentiment that explains the immense public expectation invested in the newly elected president early in 2009. It was as if America, and perhaps even the world, wanted a vision of where it was going, and why people were doing what they were doing; as if ‘globalization’, as Tomlinson suggests, is a process of unintended consequences — producing effects with no particular overall aim or meaning. Its effects seem greater than the capacity of political organizations to deal with them. Thus environmental problems, probably the greatest of the many problems facing the world in the twenty-first century, appear to many to be almost beyond solution.
Jeffrey Hill
Additional information