In the Zone Sport and Politics Consultancy & University of Worcester
For a longstanding critic of many of those who either write or comment on sport, Dart and Wagg’s volume represents manna from heaven. This new text, packed full of discussions on sport driven political dissent extending from the events of the 1913 Epsom Derby to the build-up to the campaign to withdraw Chicago from the bidding process from the 2016 Summer Olympics, responds to the need to appreciate and comprehend the capacity of sport to alter social, economic and political agendas through the vehicle of public protest. This is regardless of whether it is increasingly generated by the power of social media and the potential of citizen journalism, or more traditional tools of public communication.
Too often, aside from the work of a small coterie of academics often writing against mainstream opinion, the coverage of sport is largely unreflective and too often uncritical. Furthermore, the connection between sport protest and globalisation tends to be overlooked, although the latter now receives increasing coverage as the tentacles of hyper-capitalism stretch ever wider. Even allowing for this encouraging trend, the treatment is often superficial, usually relating to football transfer dealings, the completion of television rights deals and investment into football and rugby union clubs. If not football oriented, the concern is usually then with the bidding process for the hosting of either the Winter or Summer Olympics.
Working from a threefold set of assumptions, namely that there are more important things in life than sport, that the governance of sport is problematic, and that contrary to still popular conception, sport and politics actually do mix, the editors seek to address a vital gap in the literature, challenging the reader to accept that sport and popular dissent are truly interlocking. However, a fourth premise, that the media dampens the process of critical thought, most notably via television, through editorial decision-making placing viewing figures and the needs of advertisers above the principles of public service broadcasting, would have reinforced the authority of the volume. This is a shame as the work is characterised by its user-friendly nature, wide-ranging and truly international coverage and interesting choice of themes for discussion.
The work consists of fourteen roughly equally long chapters from a range of academics, at different stages of their research progress, located around the globe, though sometimes it returns to familiar paths (with an over-concentration on Olympic issues) these are well written, particularly O’Bonsawin’s exploration of Canada’s contribution to the rise of Olympic protest. Joyously, the text is largely football free aside from the very last chapter. However, the study may have benefited from a section devoted to the Africa Cup of Nations, which as a rule generates considerable opposition from those understandably angry at the resources pumped into sport rather than much needed infrastructure investment. This issue was very much to the fore at the 2017 tournament hosted by Gabon.
The most interesting chapters appear at first glance to be the most off-beat. Chapter one focuses on Emily Wilding Davidson, the first to mount a high profile political protest at a major sporting event and be captured on film doing so. In following this action others have chosen to draw on the suffragette legacy of ‘Deeds Not Words’. Although the study is lacking an effective exploration of the context and discussion around the notion of protest, the placing of this chapter at the outset sets the tone for the work and its importance is marked by Osborne in her research, though she correctly qualifies the significance of the personal sacrifice made, and is equally right in playing down the political impact of the militancy of the action.Chapter one focuses on Emily Wilding Davidson, the first to mount a high profile political protest at a major sporting event and be captured on film doing so.
Pleumarom’s exploration of the global anti-golf movement highlights the negative consequences of resort and golf course construction that has done damage to the image of the game. Although much of the attention of the chapter is on golf in Asia, notably Thailand, it is clear that the global movement has achieved considerable impact through the creation of alliances of local residents, and environmentalists who have worked together to fight environmental (the excessive use of chemicals on golf courses) and social justice abuses which have been perpetrated by rich and powerful groups seeking to benefit minority interests via the expansion of golf tourism at the expense of the needs of the wider community in which they are located. The value of this chapter lies in the way that a sport supposedly less tarnished by politics actually shows itself to be riddled by all the issues that the editors are seeking to highlight.
One notable failing of this collection of essays is a contribution dedicated solely to the discussion of the concept and nature of protest, drawing distinctions between the impact of individual initiatives acting completely autonomously, such as those of American Footballer, Colin Kaepernick, (civil rights and equality) rugby player, David Pocock, (environmentalism) and cricketer Moeen Ali, (Free Gaza campaign) as compared to those of highly orchestrated and co-ordinated campaigns involving large numbers of individuals. Although all readers will have a notion and understanding of the concept, the editors are remiss in not allocating space in either the introduction, or preferably in a free-standing chapter, to explore contrasting perceptions of what this means, in addition to setting out some criteria for the evaluation of the effectiveness of campaigns of protest. Inadvertently this is partly addressed by Dart’s strong chapter focusing on the actions of Trenton Oldfield who disrupted the 2012 Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge by going for a swim in the River Thames. His act of civil disobedience, echoing a situationist tactic, generated substantial exposure for his manifesto “Elitism leads to Tyranny.” This was the first time this event had been disrupted since it was first held in 1856 and stirred wide-scale anxiety regarding possible disruption to the London Olympics. However, this act representing the actions of a moment rather than a movement, served to increase legal and security measures to ensure that similar actions did not follow at London 2012.
In addressing a gap in the existing literature of sports studies and sport sociology, Wagg and Dart perform a vital service for academics, students and the lay-reader. Had they called on a couple of sports journalists to contribute, the likelihood is that the volume would have acquired the wider readership it merits in addition to galvanising a wider and much needed discourse. However, in times of austerity the key question that needs to be posed is to what degree, and how often, are sporting audiences willing to see their pleasure disrupted, be it at Wembley, in Los Angeles, Paris or Bahrain. Is the sports-fan merely willing to accept an interruption to commemorate the recent death of a sporting icon, or the loss of innocent lives through a terrorist attack, as opposed to reflecting on social injustice and the flagrant abuse of human rights? Protests lacking a clear agenda, which disrupt a sporting event, will simply be deemed as Dart reminds us as “spoilsport”.
Copyright © Russell Holden 2017
Table of Content
Introduction: Sport and Protest