Call for Papers | “Traditional Games in a Modern World”, Special Issue of International Journal of Sport and Society. Call ends February 20, 2022

Varpa is an outdoor game that dates back to the Viking Age and survived in Gotland, Sweden. It is similar to boules and horseshoes but is played with a flat and heavy object called a “varpa” instead of balls. Varpas used to be well-shaped stones, but nowadays, aluminium is more popular. A varpa can weigh between one-half and five kilograms (one and eleven pounds). The object of the game is to throw the varpa as close to a stick as possible. The stick is fifteen metres (sixteen yards) away for women and twenty metres (twenty-two yards) away for men. The game can be played individually or in teams.

Traditional games are the countertype of modern sports: localized, ethnically-rooted, people’s (folk) games. They encompass a wide gamut of sport forms, including folk wrestling styles, Indigenous games, martial arts, table-top games, many ‘peculiar’ types of races (cheese, reindeer, coconut tree, etc.), and myriad bowling and throwing games. Today, these sports and games are often marginalized, ridiculed, and not well understood. Yet, in many cases, traditional games represent the precursors of our modern obsession with sport. They are rooted in the past and provide cultural grounding for many groups around the world.

Do traditional games have a place in the contemporary sportscape? Which traditional games have survived as residual culture (Williams, 1977), which have been sportified and commoditized (Dunning & Elias, 1986), and which are on the verge of extinction? Is the revival of certain traditional games a sign of society’s instinctive double movement (Polanyi, 1944)? How do traditional games manifest in the folklore, legends, and myths of ethnic groups? Does the museumification of traditional games histories and artefacts benefit or deter continued participation? How are traditional games (re)presented in modern institutions and events (e.g. schools, cultural events, national heritage, etc.)?

The aim of this special issue is to situate traditional games in the modern sporting landscape. The continued relevance and adherence of traditional games provides a key site for analysing the juncture between traditionalism and modernism. Sports and games are the somatic cultural heritage of society. The physical cultures of our pasts and futures are indelible markers of our relationships with our bodies, our genders, our ethnicities, and our social surroundings. Indeed, the sports and games people play have greater relevance around the globe than most other cultural characteristics. To understand the sporting traditions of peoples is to understand their cultures, their bodily identities, and their heritages. The modernization and globalization of sport is permanently linked to traditional games around the world. This special issue will relate traditional games to modern sports, attempt to diagnose the state of traditional games in modern society, and revitalize the study of traditional games in sport studies scholarship.

Possible themes for consideration:

      • Modernization of sport
      • Connotations of traditionalism in sport
      • Sportification, pedagogization, or folklorization of traditional games (Eichberg, 1991)
      • Indigenous games and Indigenous cultural resurgence
      • Contemporary Asian martial arts
      • Equity, diversity, and inclusion through traditional games
      • Traditional games and sport for development and peace
      • The internationalization (i.e. UNESCO) of traditional games
      • Western versus Eastern perspectives of contemporary traditional games
      • Traditional games and ethnonationalist politics
      • Gender, race, and sexuality in traditional games


For those interested in contributing to the special issue, please submit your abstract (300-500 words) directly to Tom Fabian (

  • Abstract Deadline: February 20, 2022
  • Notification of decision: February 25, 2022
  • Deadline for submission of draft manuscript:May 30, 2022
  • Deadline for submission of full manuscript: June 30, 2022
  • Length: 5000-8000 words (inclusive of references and notes)
  •  Journal publication date: December 30, 2022
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