New book explores the sport-health ideology


Anne Tjønndal
Faculty of Social Science, Nord universitet

Dominic Malcolm
Sport, Medicine and Health: The Medicalization of Sport?
212 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2017 (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society)
ISBN 978-1-138-31765-9

Dominic Malcolm is Reader in the Sociology of Sport in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University. Malcolm has published several books in a wide range of subjects within the sociology of sport field, including The Sage Dictionary of Sports Studies (2008), Sport and Sociology (2012) and Sport and Society: A Student Introduction (2016, edited with Barrie Houlihan). In 2018, his latest book Sport, Medicine and Health: The Medicalization of Sport? was released in paperback form, after first being published in 2017. Here, Malcolm evokes a re-consideration of two socially pervasive ideas: that sports participation is a fundamental and necessary part of a healthy lifestyle and that elite sport rationally exploits science and medicine in the pursuit of competitive success.

In the introduction, Malcolm argues that the link between sport and health – the sport-health ideology – is one of the more enduring human beliefs (pp. 8) and that this ideological standpoint weakens the differences between the terms physical activity, exercise, and sport. After the introduction, Malcolm sets up the conceptual and theoretical foundation for his exploration of the sport health ideology (Chapter 2 “Medicine, health and sport” and Chapter 3 “The development of sports medicine”). The primary focus of chapter 4-6 is the impact of the medicalization of sport on the public, starting with an exploration of the most visible manifestation of the sport-health ideology, the Physical Activity Health Promotion (PAHP). With chapters 7–8, Malcolm switches his focus to elite sport, focusing on healthcare provision and socially constructed conceptualizations of illness in the athletic body. Finally, chapters 9 and 10 explore two concrete empirical issues, concussion and cardiac screening, which intertwine elite and mass sports, medicine and health, as well as the conceptual and institutional levels of the medicalization of sport.

Throughout his book, Malcolm illustrates how the ideological link between sport and health is far from straightforward. Some of the critiques raised against the sport-health ideology in Sport, Medicine and Health is that sport’s dependency on commercial sponsorship leads elite sport to promote unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as when Coca-Cola or McDonalds are allowed to sponsor mega-events (Waddington, 2000; Mansfield & Malcolm, 2014). Criticism against the sport-health ideology is also made for its propensity to individualize responsibility for personal health, neglecting the barriers that exist for disadvantaged populations (chapter 6 in the book). Based on the prevalent beliefs of a linear relationship between sport and health, and the critique against such beliefs, Malcolm seeks to develop a more nuanced understanding of the sport-health ideology with his latest book. In this new book Malcolm accomplishes this excellently. Overall, the book represents a comprehensive sociological examination of the sport-health ideology in modern society. In his acknowledgments and his appendix, Malcolm writes that this book is the cumulation of 15 years of researching and writing in the field of sociology of sport. This becomes apparent not only with the high quality of the text itself but also through the meticulous and broad use of references to other works in the field, making the book out to be a solid piece of scientific work.

All in all, the quality of Malcolm’s latest work is high, and it is hard to name a favorite chapter or part of the book. Still, my personal pick would have to be chapter 9 (“The medicalization of concussion”), where the author discusses the complexities of sports-related concussion, the medicalization of concussion discourse and practice, and the presentation of concussion in media and film. Not only is the topic of sports-related concussion notoriously difficult to study and write about, but it is also a highly relevant empirical example related to the theme of the book – sport, health and medicine.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2019


Mansfield, L. & Malcolm, D. (2014). The Olympic movement, sport and health, in J. Baker, J.F. Thomas & P. Safai (eds.). Health and Elite Sport: Is High Performance Sport a Healthy Pursuit?New York: Routledge, 187-203.
Malcolm, D. (2008).  The Sage Dictionary of Sports Studies. London: SAGE
Malcolm, D. (2012). Sport and Sociology. London: Routledge.
Waddington, I. (2000). Sport, Health and Drugs: A Critical Sociological Investigation. London:  E & FN Spon.
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