Centre for English Language Communication
National University of Singapore
The Dark Sides of Sport responds to a need in existing academic literature to explore, in one book, various areas of deviance that pose a threat to sport. As such the book comprises 14 chapters from leading international scholars in their research fields to provide their insights into various dark sides of sport from the past and in the present. The contributors hail from five different continents to provide a rich and broad variety of cultural perspectives. Topics covered in the book focus primarily on the Olympics due to its global relevance and economic impact with issues about governance, doping, terrorism, gender testing, sustainability and nationalism. However, other topics such as sexual harassment and violence in football, as well as the sport-for-development and peace complex are also explored. These are portrayed through historical case studies, and overviews of conceptual frameworks to explore various threats for sport.
Chapter 1 opens the book with an interesting conceptualisation of the dark sides of sport from Jean-Loup Chappelet. This chapter distinguishes four separate though interlinked facets, each corresponding to the main types of cheating today: doping; foul play such as match-fixing, violence, and abuse; ethical violations through bribery, trafficking and poor governance; and bad sustainability and mega-sport Gigantism. These, Chappelet argues, are capable of obscuring sport’s bright sides. In order to respond to these areas of deviance today, Chappelet proposes a conceptual framework, with four overlapping facets for sports integrity. These are Sustainable; Anti-doping; Fair play; and Ethical, forming the acronym ‘SAFE’. Chappelet concludes that it is only by promoting SAFE and fighting corruption on these fronts, that sport can regain credibility and legitimacy in our societies.
Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 look at how sports, and particularly the Olympics, has a long history of use in politics. In chapter 2, the authors present four case studies to explore sport functioning as ‘gateway’ and/or ‘catalyst’: the Olympic Games, apartheid South Africa, Northern Ireland and Catalonia, and the Middle East/Arab World. ‘Gateways’ and ‘catalysts’ are presented as conceptual tools to understand the impact of the Games. ‘Gateways’ may exist through sport if a cause or a particular political outcome is given mass exposure, or if alternative perspectives are given light, through the Games. Catalysts accelerate diplomatic objectives. For example, in chapter 2 authors present how the 1936 Berlin Olympics acted as a diplomatic gateway as it was an opportunity for the Nazis to showcase the Aryan race. However, this gateway needed to be carefully managed by taking down ‘Jews not wanted’ signs and loosening the regime’s anti-homosexual laws for visitors to the Games. This demonstrated that the regime was aware that these perspectives would produce disquiet. The Games have also been a catalyst in the context of geopolitics, for example in the case of the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics, and the 65 nations that also refused to participate because of the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the same way, the 1992 Barcelona Games was a gateway for the Catalan cause for autonomy from Spain to be made visible to the world. The opening ceremony was predominantly an event to showcase Catalan socio-cultural life with performances of Catalan music, art and folk traditions. This may have acted also as a catalyst for the growing strength of the Catalonian movement. In chapter 3, Toby Rider explores the Olympics during the Cold War era and the way that the dominant ideological discourses of communism and liberal democracy targeted the influx of tourists during the Games. The author presents how the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Games served as a gateway for covert activity from the Free Europe Committee (FEC) by secretly supporting Eastern European exiles in a range of propaganda activities to help to subordinate the communist regime.
Thus, as the author argues, a return to the ideas of a permanent Olympic site should be entertained by the IOC.
Chapter 4 examines terrorism at mega sport events referring first to the France-Germany football friendly during the attacks in Paris in 2015, then, in more detail to the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. After Tokyo 2021, Paris will host the summer Olympics and with this, there are fears of a possible repeat of 2015. With terrorist attacks, there are significant rising costs for security, Jörg Krieger [Rider] points out. Hosting big events has therefore become an expensive business, which in turn has given the IOC great difficulty as it cannot find hosts. Thus, as the author argues, a return to the ideas of a permanent Olympic site should be entertained by the IOC.
Chapters 5 and 6 highlight issues related to hosting mega-sporting events. There are repeated adverse human rights impacts as well as ecological consequences. In chapter 5, through her ‘life cycle analysis’, Daniela Heerdt argues that at each of the four stages (bidding and planning stage; construction and event preparation; delivery; legacy), human rights issues emerge. This, she states, is particularly problematic at the second stage with large-scale infrastructure and construction projects. It is at this time that the rights of workers and those living near the sites are heavily impacted. Heerdt concludes that what is missing is a statutory human rights commitment to bind the IOC. Similarly, in chapter 6, Alberto Aragon-Perez discusses how sustainability for infrastructural changes in host cities is not fully addressed by the IOC, and how mega-events can have excessive consequences on the surrounding natural landscapes. However, both Deerdt and Aragon-Perez argue that these mega events have the potential to promote human rights and raise global awareness of the need for eco-friendly measures. Deerdt exemplifies this by citing how in Qatar, amendments to labour laws have remained in place since their holding of the FIFA World Cup, and how in Tokyo, laws prohibiting discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been adopted. More like this should be done, she argues, to uphold the Olympic Charter’s principle of equal rights to all.
Chapter 7 explores the Russian doping scandal as one of the most prominent controversies in recent sport history, and how it seems to demonstrate that a new sporting cold war is upon us. Hunt and Duckworth argue that Russia’s acts in the doping scandal reflect patterns of violation of broader internal and external political behaviour. In the last few years, Russia has been testing boundaries of international norms, not just of WADA, but also in other areas. The 2017 cruise missile system Russia fielded violated a 1987 treaty; moreover, their involvement in the 2016 US presidential elections by hacking emails from the US Democratic National Committee are examples of this deviant behaviour outside international norms. These incidents reflect the nature of Russia’s governance. For Russia, sport helps to signal strength to rivals abroad and provoke nationalist sentiments at home, both important ideological tools for the functioning of the increasingly authoritarian regime.
Chapters 8 and 9 analyse sex testing and sexual harassment in sport. In chapter 8, Lindsay Parks Pieper explores the history of sex testing, and in particular the discrimination, mistreatment and the harm that this has produced. The history of sex testing has consistently shown us that no single biological characteristic can identify one’s sex, she argues. There is ‘a false belief in a sex binary’ and this has more than any other group, harmed women athletes (p. 108). Women who are strong and muscular are the victims of these tests, so much so that that it is unknown to what extent elite female athletes have been forced to quietly retire since the late 1960s due to testing. In chapter 9, Engleberg and Moston spend time defining sexual harassment and providing lists of sexually discriminating acts that athletes are subjected to. Sexual harassment is unwelcome, unsolicited sexual behaviour which might be offensive and intimidating. The authors also cite MacKinnon’s work distinguishing between quid pro quo acts such as when a coach makes sexual demands of an athlete for privileges in return, and hostile environment harassment such as a coach’s crude behaviour. Engleberg and Moston conclude that harassment is widespread in sport; and that sporting bodies have repeatedly failed to act effectively to deal with problems of this nature. Ultimately, if this kind of sexual harassment is not effectively dealt with, women are socialised out of sport. Consequently, there is a need to make sure that inquiries into the conduct of coaches and administrators are carefully examined. This is particularly true if males are managing female athletes.
Engleberg and Moston conclude that harassment is widespread in sport; and that sporting bodies have repeatedly failed to act effectively to deal with problems of this nature.
Chapter 10 examines the coaching rhetoric of sport. Stevens and Culpan argue that it is necessary to curtail the economic rationalities that dominate in sport and to rethink what athlete empowerment is. They ask three questions: why do sport and its authorities seem to be paradigmatically incarcerated? Why is the embodied regulation being rejected? And where does the coach seem to fit within this process? The authors answer the questions using theory from Foucault (1980). Three dominant rationalities are manifested as mechanisms of power for sport: commodification and objectification of the athlete; expert power and control of the coach over the athlete; and the creation of docile bodies. The authors argue that at the current time, a coach exercises too much power, and this runs the risk of athletes becoming docile bodies and possible victims of abuse. However, on a positive note, the authors refer to youths becoming increasingly involved in activity that is non-competitive in nature, as demonstrated in New Zealand. 97% of 6000 children and youth of New Zealand reported in a survey that they participated in activities like jogging, scootering and informal games. Moreover, because of this type of sport participation, there is a growing dismissal of expert power embodied in the coach. The authors conclude that it is vital that these types of discourses continue to evolve to disrupt sport and change it from its present state.
Chapter 11 from Jung Woo Lee explores sport and the global culture industry. It looks at how the Olympic Games mirror wider political and social circumstances. Drawing on the Frankfurt School’s critical theory, the chapter examines the evolution of the Olympic Games, and particularly how, through commercialisation, it has degenerated from its original pursuit of universal humanism. The author overviews how, with modernity, secularisation, the growth of commodification from the capitalist economy, and the development of the nation-state as a supreme political unit, there have been developments leading to social oppression. Sport in this modern world has become an ideological tool portraying the dominant social order underpinned by industrial capitalism and consumerism. Sport is a part of mass culture and is permeated with consumerist behaviour embodied in market capitalism. Thus, in its present form, sport can be viewed as a ‘narcotic of the people that continually fosters a one-dimensional man lacking critical reason’. Jung Woo Lee goes on to examine how the Olympics itself has developed into a one-dimensional entity through commercialisation. He states that at this time, the fundamental principles of Olympism are far removed because of society’s heralding of the winner-takes-all doctrine. Consequently, deviance such as doping scandals are a direct effect of market capitalism. He concludes that it is important that we protest against practices that spread neo-liberal consumerist ideology if we wish the universal humanism of the Olympic movement to re-establish itself.
Chapters 12 and 13 detail racism and violence in football. In chapter 12, Gustav Venter describes how the 1977 Mainstay League Cup was a reminder of the ways racism shaped South African football. Although attempts were made to develop the league as multiracial, this did not really occur as there was very little movement of players between black and white football clubs. Problems such as only playing games in white venues between whites and blacks only heated problems and led to crowd violence. The chapter goes on to explain how the government enforced integration into the competition, and how at the present time, the landscape is different with the establishment of the South African Football Association, and the inclusive South African identity. However, what has tarnished sport in South Africa today is corruption such as stories of bribery. In chapter 13, the importance of the football club Siroki Brijeg NK from the Bosnian-Herzegovinian (BiH) town of Siroki Brijeg is portrayed. In particular, the authors, Armstrong and Maidano present how the hard core fan group, the Skriari (cave dwellers), represent the Croatian identity and narratives of resistance against the BiH Government. They then discuss how there is a strong often violent rivalry with the Sarajevo FKs who represent the Bosniaks. Fixtures between these teams symbolise the post-conflict relations between the Croatian and Bosniaks communities. Football in this region can be seen as symbolic of the tensions still present from the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995.
The book thus serves as an invaluable reminder that these problems are here and recurrent, and that action for change is required if sport is to retain credibility and legitimacy.
Chapter 14, the last in the book, explores sport for development and peace (SDP). It problematises SDP, arguing that the developmentalist rhetoric has championed the ‘power of sport’ as inherently good. In fact, as Cora Burnett argues there are dark sides to SDP in the form of unequal power relations, western domination, reminiscent of neo-colonial and imperialist notions of superiority, as well as biased knowledge production. Often SDP projects represent a civilising mission to transform the global south. Many locals are recruited as volunteers to work as sport coaches or facilitators on SDP projects. These locals may not be paid; or if there is a salary, it is normally only a small sum. The justification for this exploitation is that the participants are learning life skills. In reality, youth empowerment does not occur as there are no meaningful results leading to employment after the projects are terminated. Burnett cites one of her [his] earlier studies in 2014: ‘Making a living out of coaching sport is not a reality, while transferring experience form the sport context to the world of work is equally challenging’ (cited in Burnett, 2019, p. 207). She also makes clear that there is a significant need for research at the ground level that attempts to integrate the social worlds of individuals, the collectives and the agencies. Only attempts to cover all [these] three levels can provide a critical analysis of SDP policies and question the growth effects of the grand [grant] narratives of developmentalism.
All in all, the book brilliantly covers a wide range of deviances in [and] historical, geographical and socio-political contexts connected to sport as we know it today in our advanced neo-liberal consumerist societies. We live in an epoch in which the dark sides of sport are increasingly commonplace due to the money, status and power that can be gained from it. The book thus serves as an invaluable reminder that these problems are here and recurrent, and that action for change is required if sport is to retain credibility and legitimacy. This is a very well-researched and written edited volume. It provides appliable conceptual frameworks, and fascinating historical accounts of major events as well as critical analyses of social phenomena endemic in sport. The book could easily be a prescribed text for courses on sport history, sport sociology, sport policy and sport management. The book will also greatly interest academics from a diverse set of fields. I thoroughly recommend it to readers from diverse academic backgrounds.
Copyright © Mark Brooke 2020
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