Solid collection of essays depicting sport through its significant doubles

Steph Doehler
School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport, Open University (UK)

Brittany Reid & Taylor McKee (eds.)
Duelism: Confronting Sport Through Its Doubles
195 pages, hardcover
Champaign, IL: Common Ground 2021 (Sport & Society)
ISBN 978-0-949313-47-8

Duelism: Confronting Sport Through Its Doubles, explores how the concept of sport can be observed through its relationship with diverse facets of society. Specifically, the book aims to offer a “nuanced understanding of doubles” (6) by interrogating sport via its ongoing conflicts with various cultural entities. Through an interdisciplinary approach the book is divided into a collection of 11 essays, which explore a range of themes including politics, nationhood, safeguarding, gender, media and education, amongst others. As is the challenge when reviewing any edited volume, there is a lack of consistency with writing styles, which inevitably changes with each author, therefore generalised statements are a difficult terrain to navigate. Additionally, whilst I would like to offer deeper analysis into each chapter, this approach would not be conducive to a holistic review of the book and, thus, an element of brevity has been applied.

Despite the potential pitfall relating to narrative that has often been exhibited within anthologies, Duelism benefits from the clear vision of its editors and the carefully written chapters that are both original and inviting. Realistically, due to its broad array of topics, as scholars it is unlikely we will have deep-rooted awareness of every chapter, yet even those which were outside my familiarity offered new and insightful perspectives. Somewhat inevitably, those which fell within my academic interests were read with a more critical eye. For example: Witherspoon and Woodiwiss’ chapter on politics and the Olympics outlined how the 1972 Munich Games became the turning point whereby the event was no longer outright apolitical. I would contend this given the political and ideological showcase of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and the post WWII Games which undoubtedly displayed Cold War tensions long before the Moscow and Los Angeles boycotts of 1980 and 1984 respectively.

Chapter 7 critically interrogates the validity of comparisons between Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi as cultural icons. This is a fascinating read, but occasionally appears a little too generous to Messi.

A clear and easy to follow structure characterises the overall flow of the book. Although some chapters achieve this stronger than others, each attempts to contextualise the concept of duelism in relation to their specific topic. The essays are very much isolated from one another, which makes them easily digestible and allows the reader to return to the book at leisure without concerns over forgetting what had come before! At 195 pages, the book certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. We begin in Chapter 1 with the familiar notion that sport and politics are habitually intertwined, told through the lens of the Olympic Games. Notwithstanding the point raised about this chapter above, this was a strong overview which recounted the early history of the Greek games, to the increasingly challenging position within the modern Olympic movement.

Chapter 2 offers a critical overview of how sports authorities handle child sex abuse claims. Whilst this chapter was less supported by academic sources than others, as the author correctly declares, it will make “uncomfortable reading” (35) for some, particularly the English Football Association. Both Chapter 3 and Chapter 10 address issues of nationhood, though through differing perspectives – one demonstrating how sport played a crucial role in the symbolic amplification of British imperialism through a Brazilian perspective, whilst the other addresses Greg Rusedski’s defection to Great Britain in the 1990s. The latter, authored by a Canadian, portrays Rusedski as the villain with sporadic discussions on what he gained by becoming a GB athlete. Chapter 4 discusses a topic that will resonate with all sports performers and consumers – emotion, specifically, how these are represented within a sports setting, compared to within society.

Chapter 5 is a stimulating read, but one where duelism isn’t completely defined within the topic of how female goaltenders in ice hockey are portrayed in films. The questions whether gender or film media is the double here remains unanswered even after the chapter has been read. Chapter 6 explores the role of sport within the North American education system. Reading this essay proved insightful for a UK based reader, yet one avenue of discussion omitted is the exploitation of athletes within the college system (see HBO’s excellent 2018 documentary, Student-Athlete). Chapter 7 critically interrogates the validity of comparisons between Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi as cultural icons. This is a fascinating read, but occasionally appears a little too generous to Messi. For example, the author writes he “does not get involved in scandal” (114), entirely by-passing Messi’s tax fraud conviction, rumours of infidelity and protracted contract battles (though this was published before his transfer to Paris Saint-Germain).

Chapter 8 offers a similar conflict to Chapter 5, whereby the duelism isn’t entirely clear. An essay which explores masculinity in print-media through the backdrop of the Korean War appears to offer a somewhat tenuous link to duelism and would have benefitted from outlining its aim clearly within the introduction. Chapter 9 challenges the belief that sport in South Africa was one of the few cultural activities not linked to the shame of apartheid. Citing the Van Riebeeck Sports Festival in 1952, the author argues that sport was regularly used to promote political ideology. Finally, Chapter 11 focuses on one of the greatest sporting rivalries, England vs Germany. Using sources from three English newspapers the essay addresses how the press covered specific football matches between the two nations. An interesting addition to this chapter would have been for the German author to have offered a comparison with the German media coverage of the same matches.

There are a number of other topics that perhaps could have been pursued in the book, the main one surrounding race. Aside from the chapter on the Van Riebeeck Sports Festival, with references to colonialism and apartheid, there is certainly potential milage in exploring the role of race through a more contemporary perspective, especially in the light of more recent race related athlete activism (though, admittedly, this is where my own current academic interests lie, so I do concede an element of subjectivity here). Naturally, it is unfair to criticise the contributors of this volume for not undertaking a different project. However, it goes to highlight that there is mileage in a future second edition of the book with some contemporary perspectives.

One relatively minor criticism is the rather abrupt manner in which the book ends, immediately following the final chapter. Although many edited books share this format, in a volume which includes such diverse and standalone contributions, a final word from the editors would have rounded off the collection in a more cohesive and conclusive manner.

Whilst the chapters don’t necessarily ask challenging questions or generate significantly new ideas, the book shows great academic value for sport sociologists and, in places, sport historians. The editors should be praised for bringing together such a diverse range of topics with no crossover or repetition. Reid and McKee have delivered a finely crafted collection of essays that contributes to the limited literature on duelism and sport, and meets its stated purpose of “demonstrating precisely how sport can be thought of as ‘dueling’ their chosen entities” (6).

Copyright © Steph Doehler 2022

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