Helge Chr. Pedersen
The Arctic University of Norway
The academic field of sport, race and ethnicity has expanded vastly over the last 20 years. This has led to a wide range of theoretical, methodological and empirical approaches to how one can understand sport as an arena for ethnic and racial integration and segregation. In 2012, the biannual Sport, Race and Ethnicity conference was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A range of papers presented at the conference were published in a special issue of the Sport and Society journal in 2014. That special issue has now been released as the slim volume under review here. According to the editors, there has rarely before been a better time to consider “the full extent of the interplay of race, ethnicity and sport in the modern world” (p. 1). To do so the book sets itself the target of capturing a variety of aspects of the sport, race and ethnicity nexus “around the world” as the editors say. The authors however take us to mainly English speaking and postcolonial countries; to New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada and Ghana. The variety in topics is broad and interesting: Boxing in Ghana, sport for development, aboriginal sport and identity, gender and race. The theoretical approach is varied and includes ideas from sociology, politics, history, critical race theory and sports feminism.
Simon C. Darnell examines the SDP sector by employing the theories of Edward Said. According to Darnell, “Sport for Development and Peace” has grown substantially in recent years. Research in the field of SDP has documented important contributions by and through SDP, particularly in terms of social cohesion, social mobility and conflict resolution. There are however also important limitations and cautions within SDP. SDP tends to follow and solidify chains and structures of global power and policymaking, which can postulate Western and/or universal values at the expense of local tradition, and unintentionally preserve regimes and power structures – particularly when it comes to gender. Darnell examines how knowledge of and in SDP is constructed culturally within the Sports Illustrated Magazine and what the political implication of this knowledge are. It is suggested that SDP is an element in the accumulation of ideas that construct the West’s cultural other, and doing so help preserve established colonial power structures. This notion that sport development tends to underpin “western neoliberal” ideas and western dominance is also argued for in Rossi and Rynne’s paper on sport development programs for Indigenous Australians.
Jan Dunzendorfer focuses on the myth of the origin of boxing in Gold Coast/Ghana. Bukom, Accra, is known as the heart of boxing in Ghana. Since the 1930s, this part of Accra has fostered most of Ghana’s world-class boxers. Dunzendorfer examines the widespread myth of the origins of boxing in Ghana entangled with the traditional local martial art of asafo atwele that originated around 1900 in this part of Accra. Asafo atwele is supposed to mirror the fighting spirit of the dominant ethnic group in James Town/Ussher Town, the Ga-Mashie. The author makes two arguments about this myth of the origin of boxing. The first is that it oversimplifies the complex development of boxing in Ghana and hence essensializes the history of the sport. Second, Dunzendorfer sees the ethnic marking of boxing in Ghana as a political narrative that developed in the 1950s to serve as a tool in the struggle for political influence in the process of independence.It is not so much a book reflecting sport, race and ethnicity “around the world” as it is a book about sport, race and ethnicity in the English speaking (postcolonial) world.
Vicky Paraschak and Kristi Thompson criticize what they identify as “the deficit perspective” in Canadian Governmental programs to better Aboriginals’ health. The authors examine an alternative to this governmental approach by introducing “the strength perspective” that originates from the field of social work. By focusing on the possibilities that lie within the aboriginal culture as the strength perspective, instead of viewing the aboriginal people as the problem and whose health needs to be fixed by outside experts, Paraschak and Thompson indicate that efforts to improve Canadian Aboriginals’ health can move in the right direction. Bevan Erueti and Farah Rangikoepa Palmer study what it means to be Maori in an elite sporting context where elements of Maori culture have been included. Several Maori cultural practices such as the haka (ritualistic dance) and the waiata (song or chant) and symbols such as korowai (Ceremonial cloak made of feathers) and pounamu (jade or greenstone) have been implemented in an effort to form a national New Zealand identity amongst New Zealand international athletes. The article shows how this ethnic identity building has gained Maori athletes both as athletes and as humans.
So does the book consider “the full extent” of the interplay of race, ethnicity and sport “around the world” that it sets out to do? No, the task of doing that can hardly be covered over 105 pages. The world is a big place and to cover the full extent of the interplay of race, ethnicity and sport is a massive task. So what does the book achieve? The field of sport, race and ethnicity is dominated by researchers from the English speaking world; USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, UK and Ireland. This fact is reflected by this book and its selected topics. It is not so much a book reflecting sport, race and ethnicity “around the world” as it is a book about sport, race and ethnicity in the English speaking (postcolonial) world. The next step in creating a truly globalized research field if the sport, race and ethnicity nexus is to include more research from the world outside the old British Empire: areas such as South America, Russia, South East Asia, Scandinavia and continental Europe.
But it is unfair to criticize a book for what it does not do. Based on the content of this book it is worth a read. The articles are well-written and give added perspective to several fields of research both inside the field of sport and culture and outside the sport field. Sport is a window one can view the world through, and as this book shows it is a window that researchers outside the sports field should be interested in glancing through.
Copyright © Helge Chr. Pedersen 2016