At the annual conference of the PSA, Political Studies Association, in Reading 2006, the PSA Sport and Politics Specialist Group made it’s first public appearance, in the form of two panels with a total of six papers with various approaches to the general theme. The success was such, that immediately following the conference, a decision was made to stage a panel at the following PSA conference, in Bath 2007, and to organize a separate Sport and Politics conference, which took place in Gregynog, Powys, in February 2007. Twenty-five academics were present and partook of no less than 14 papers from a total of 17 speakers, papers on a number of topics within the general theme of sport, politics and society.
The tranquil surroundings of the University of Wales residential centre at Gregynog, Powys, provided the setting for the inaugural sport and politics study group conference (24-25 February 2007). A total of 25 academics and postgraduate students enjoyed 14 papers from 17 speakers on a range of subjects that explored the ‘currency’ of sport. The speakers, a number of whom included leading figures in the field, were drawn from sport studies, sociology and political studies departments across the UK, with one delegate travelling from Belgium.
Community and Identity
David Storey (Worcester University) kicked off the proceedings with his presentation ‘Transferring national allegiance: cultural affinity or flag of convenience’, a paper that explored shifting regulations that govern international eligibility for athletes seeking to represent their nation. His examples were drawn from Ireland and revealed the conflicting and complex relationships that have to be negotiated by sportsmen for career advancement and cultural identity.
John Williams and Stephen Hopkins (Leicester University) continued these themes of community and identity through a paper (‘The politics of football ownership and fandom in an Anglo-Irish city in the North-West of England in the 21st Century) that explored sports fandom and the challenges brought to it by new consumer identities. They focused on the cultural politics of support for Liverpool FC and argued that the global ownership, production and consumption patterns that characterise other clubs, which have been the site of anti-commercialisation opposition, appear peculiarly out of place at Liverpool; a club that has a deep culture of cosmopolitanism, commercialism and global outlook a legacy of its seafaring past. The presentation mixed the contemporary, contextual and historical to offer a nuanced and scholarly reflection on the nature of the political economy of sport.
David Storey, John Williams, Stephen Hawkins, Sean Hamil, and Tom Carter
Sean Hamil (Birkbeck College, University of London) picked up the theme of football and community to discuss the role of Supporters Direct in transforming the governance of football in the UK. He argued that injections of international capital into football and US-style franchise reorganisation of some clubs, misinterprets the foundational basis of their operation and existence. Football clubs are not business enterprises but community cultural institutions. The examples of Manchester United and Celtic were used to show how these tensions are managed and how local and political responses have emerged to challenge to developments in the political economy of football. Hamil also reflected on his role as academic and activist, a theme that recurred throughout the conference.
Tom Carter (University of Brighton) extended the international scope of examples to explore ‘What happens while the official looks the other way? Sports migrants and the circumvention of the state’. Utilising a decade of ethnographic fieldwork on Cuban sport, Carter showed how we need to take into account multiple and cross-border relations to explain patterns of migration, the reaction of totalitarian states to it, and the impacts of migration decisions upon the family and friends that remain. As such, the paper proposed an updated theory for understanding sports migration that incorporates and reflects both the actual experiences, routes, and roots of sports migration and all of the institutional “players” as well as relevant individuals involved in the migration process.
Drug Policy in UK Sport
The Philosophy of Sport
Alun Harman and Jim Lusted
Tom Gibbons (Teesside University) and Jim Lusted (Leicester University) utilised the recent 2006 FIFA World Cup to look at national allegiances expressed by football fans. Their paper ‘Is St George enough? Exploring the complexities of contemporary English identity among fans of the national game’, which drew upon case studies in the North of England, suggested that fans of smaller English clubs negotiate their support for the nation with other identities, which is leading to ‘global’ structures of meaning and the development of hybrid identities that modify a unitary association with the nation.
Success and National Pride
Charlotte van Tuyckom
Aaron McIntosh’s (Glasgow Caledonian University) paper ‘Sports policy and practice gender impact analysis’, revealed some recent findings from a report commissioned by the Scottish Executive’s Equality Proofing (?) Budget & Policy Advisory Group, which looked at the relationship between spending and outcomes in terms of gender equality for Scottish sport. He highlighted how national agency activity has been refocused in recent years, particularly in relation to breaking down the barriers to physical activity. In targeting particularly inactive groups in the population, such as teenage girls and young women, sports bodies are now explicitly encouraging the delivery of a wider range of ‘activities’, breaking away from traditional sporting hegemonies. However, McIntosh questioned how adequately this sport policy aspiration could be achieved in light of the current governance of sport and leisure in Scotland.
Malcolm MacLean (University of Gloucestershire) analysed West Indian cricket legend Viv Richards’ autobiography, Hitting Across the Line, using the postcolonial theory and the lenses of ‘sly civility’ and cultural/political nationalism to argue that both are necessary to uncover the various roles that cricket plays in relations with the residue of the British empire, and in intra-West Indian relations.
Anna Semens (University of Central Lancashire) utilised findings from her doctoral research to focus on the development of the role of player representatives in relation to structural and economic changes in the football industry. She used qualitative interview data collected between 2004 and 2006 to evaluate the appropriateness of the FIFA licencing system and the effectiveness of proposed new regulations designed to control player representatives and legitimise the transfer process.
The Welsh Contribution
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On the Saturday evening we enjoyed a sumptuous three-course meal and were joined by two guest speakers. Robert Croft, the Glamorgan and ex-England cricketer, entertained us with anecdotes about the relationship between cricket and the media. He gave us some insights into his relationship to England coach Duncan Fletcher and how a new generation of cricket stars are being developed away from the prying lenses and notebooks of the press. Esteemed journalist and current editor of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac, Matthew Engel, himself a graduate of political science at Manchester University, carried on the theme of the relationship between press and cricket, in a talk that discussed the politics of England’s defeat. They generously responded to questions from the conference delegates and carried on the discussion in the bar afterwards.
The conference ended with a discussion of future directions for the group, where a number of directions were proposed. These are now being taken into consideration by the group convenors. However, all agreed that the group should continue to operate through conferences, workshops or seminars; to take forward the debates raised at Gregynog and should maintain rigorous yet friendly atmosphere to discuss work-in-progress from academics and postgraduate students alike.
Copyright © Russell Holden & Paul Gilchrist 2007
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