Division of Science, Technology and Society
Chalmers University of Technology
In early March 2017, an academic congress was organized in Jyväskylä to coincide with the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti. The congress was hosted by the Finnish Society for Sport History, The Finnish Society of Sport Sciences and the University of Jyväskylä. While many may still remember the competitions and the dominance of Marit Bjørgen in Lahti, academic congresses usually have difficulties making a lasting impression on the broader public. Therefore, it is nice to see an anthology from this interdisciplinary congress. An introduction from the editors Heikki Roiko-Jokela and Piia Pöyhönen gives an overview of both the congress and the book. Most contributions would fall under the category of sport history, but there are also a few from other disciplines.
Besides being the official publication from the 2017 Ski Congress, this is also the yearbook of the Finnish Society for Sport History. As such, it illustrates both the benefits and potential pitfalls of turning a national publication into a peer-reviewed international one. This is a direction in which many similar publications are heading (not least the Swedish equivalent, Sport, History and Society). This is a welcome development in many respects, as we need more high-quality sport history published internationally. Local and national case studies can contribute with depth and enrich the field. Many of the chapters in this book are excellent, and provide detailed accounts of national histories and events. There is a strong focus on Finland, though the U.S., Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Slovenia and other countries are also represented. These and other chapters show how sport can be studied in and of itself but also be used to understand broader developments in society. For example, E. John B. Allen analyzes how negotiations between Nordic and American traditions formed an American ski culture which was more professionalized than in the Nordic countries. This type of work is relevant not only for sport historians but can shed new light on early 20thcentury immigrant cultures in the US in general. The same is true of with Isak Lidström’s chapter on ethnic stereotypes in Swedish skiing – it shows how such stereotypes were constructed in a sport and thereby also in Swedish society in general.
However, there may be some reason for concern in this internationalization of national sport history publications. There are some issues with the English that could have been avoided with a more thorough text-edting proof-reading. In addition, the national cases (as fascinating as they are) rarely speak to each other. For example, I enjoyed immensely the well-written chapter by Kalle Virtapohja about former Finnish president Urho Kekkonen, who was also an enthusiastic cross-country skier. Unfortunately, this case is not compared to other cases when political leaders have been using sports as part of their political identity. No reference is made to international sport history, and this goes for several of the other chapters as well (such as Suvi Kuisma’s interesting chapter on the historical developments in Lahti).It would have been fruitful if each author, as well as the editors, had devoted a bit more space for comparisons and discussions between the national cases.
There are contributions with a more articulate relation to international research, and Anna-Liisa Ojala’s chapter on the role of artificial snow in Finnish ski resorts is certainly one. She analyzes the ideas about snow and how discursive work combined with the more mundane work of snow production together transform the understanding of ski resorts. Antero Holmila’s chapter on Olympic amateurism falls under the same category and is also among the few chapters (including for instance. Susan Barton’s on winters sports clothing and Leif Yttergren’s on the Swedish-Norwegian conflict in the aftermath of Cortina d’Ampezzo 1941) that deal with international relations in sports. The list of authors would offer the potential to initiate a truly international discussion, which may have been the case at the congress but is not fully reflected in this book.
What similarities and differences could be seen in the political role of skiing, when comparing the diplomatic crisis between Sweden and Norway after Cortina d’Ampezzo (Yttergren), and the French-Austrian relationship following WW2 (Andreas Brugger)? How does the construction of national identity related to skiing differ between Finland (Anssi Halmesvirta), Sweden (Lidström), the U.S. (Allen) and other countries? Several chapters address aspects of sportification. The professionalization and organization of snowboarding (Esa Mangeloja), Finnish skiing (Jouni Lavikainen) and ski jumping (Ismo Björn, Hannu Itkonen & Anna-Katriina Salmikangas), the organization of winter sports in Austria (Christof Thöny) and the development of organized skiing in Estonia (Enn Mainla) could perhaps have been discussed in relation to each other?
Such discussions remain underdeveloped. It would have been fruitful if each author as well as the editors had devoted a bit more space for comparisons and discussions between the national cases. Maybe the chapters could have been grouped thematically and commented by the editors? The interdisciplinarity of the book could have been more articulate, as chapters on museology (Vilkuna et al.), sport science (Kallinen et al.) and embodied knowledge (Quintero & Scherer) could offer new perspectives on the historical developments. I miss a clear dialogue between individual contributions as well as a reflecting summary by the editors.
This is not a critique for this specific publication alone, rather regarding sport history in general. Sport is surely about the grassroots, and local, regional and national histories are vital. However, the international scene is also important. Sport history, especially in collaboration with other fields, could make a massive contribution to our understanding of international relations, diplomacy, economy and history. International relations in sports have been addressed in several publications over the last years (e.g. Gleaves & Hunt 2015; Vonnard, Sbetti & Quin 2018), but there is room for more. We have international journals, organizations and conferences. There is a multitude of archives, though so far underused as pointed out by Borut Batagelj in his chapter. It is about time we pursue a truly international sport history.
Copyright © Daniel Svensson 2018
Gleaves, John & Hunt, Thomas M. (eds.) (2015). A global history of doping in sport: drugs, policy, and politics. New York, NY: Routledge.
Vonnard, Philippe, Sbetti, Nicola & Quin, Grégory (eds.) (2018). Beyond Boycotts National, Continental and Transcontinental Sporting Relations during Cold War. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Table of Content
Heikki Roiko-Jokela & Piia Pöyhönen