Thought-provoking perspectives on the future of sports – digital and otherwise

Anne Tjønndal
Nord university

Andy Miah
Sport 2.0: Transforming Sports for a Digital World
274 pages, hardcover.
Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press 2017
ISBN 978-0-262-03547-7

Digital technology has become so embedded into our daily lives that it no longer makes sense to think of ourselves as ever being offline. The physical and virtual worlds have in many ways become indistinguishable, not only in the sense that we spend a lot of time on computers, tablets, and smartphones. Rather, the virtual is becoming physically constituted through the integration and occupation of digital technologies into all aspects of our lives. In sport, the complete integration of the virtual and the physical is becoming comprehensively apparent, and it has the potential to dramatically change how we perceive sport, giving rise to a new digital physical culture. This is the single underlying premise of Andy Miah’s new book Sport 2.0.

While many sport researchers work towards understanding and solving key issues of sport today, what is unique about this book is that author Miah attempts to address the questions of sport in the future.  Miah’s book contains ten chapters and is structured in three parts. Together, these parts are meant to take the reader through central questions arising from the development of a new digital sport and physical culture, which Miah refers to as “Sport 2.0”. Part I is titled ‘The Field of Play’ and comprised of chapters one and two. This part of the book focuses on how digital technology is changing sport experiences. Chapter 1 considers the different cultures of sport, digital technology, and the Olympics, while chapter 2 sets out the theoretical dimensions of the book by discussing virtual reality, computer culture and sport. Part II, “E-Sports in Three Dimensions” (chapters three, four, and five), focuses on the broad ways in which digital technologies have affected elite and amateur sport experiences. Chapter 3 examines how digital technologies are affecting the elite athlete’s experience of sport, but also the other individuals around the athlete, such as coaches and officials. Chapter 4 focuses on how the amateur athletic experience is being modified by digital technology and how this affects computer culture. Chapter 5 provides Miah’s analysis of the spectator’s experience of digital technology in sport.

In Sport 2.0 Miah gives the reader a thrilling glimpse into what the future of sport might look like in our digital world.

Part III, “The Olympic Games and Sport’s Digital Revolution” (chapter 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10), shifts the discussion away from the culture of sport practice toward the specific context of sports production and consumption, by discussing the Olympic Games as an example of digital media innovation in sports. Chapter 6 provides an historical examination of how the Olympic movement has been at the cutting edge of media production. Chapter 7 focuses on the emergence of new journalist communities at the Olympic Games. In chapter 8 Miah analyses how the rise of social media has transformed media events. Chapter 9 provides a detailed analysis of the social-media interventions surrounding the London 2012 Olympic Games, while chapter 10 focuses on how digital culture is shaping citizenship by creating new channels of communication, activity, and expression.

Miah brings up many highly relevant and interesting questions related to social media, virtual worlds, technology, and sport. In particular, his perspectives on e-sports, elite athletes, and consumption of sports are the high points of Sport 2.0 and well worth reading. However, after reading this book several times over, I still have trouble fully grasping Miah’s concept of what the new digital physical culture that constitutes “Sport 2.0” truly is.

Parts I and II of the book give several thought-provoking perspectives on how digitalization and technology have affected sport and may affect sport in the future. Part III, on the other hand, deals solely with the Olympic Games – and with a strong focus on social media. This is an interesting object of study in itself, but the chapters in part III (6-10), seem somewhat out of place in relation to the aim of the book, which primarily is to explore the differences and similarities between sports culture and digital culture. In his introduction, Miah states that he argues that:

the advanced use of digital technologies in sport transforms them into new kinds of cultural experiences – experiences that are defined by different values and expectations and which are constituted by new populations of practitioners. In short, digital technology is changing everything about sports, including the people taking part, the places where it occurs, and the purposes to which it is put. In turn, the changing culture of sports – marked by the rise of alternative sports – is causing the digital environment to change (p. 6).

While I enjoyed reading part III, I cannot help but wonder if the point Miah argues in the introduction would be better illustrated with a broader analysis of the relationship between sport and digital culture. For instance, I would have liked to see a chapter with Miah’s perspectives on digital technology and grassroots sports.

In Sport 2.0 Miah gives the reader a thrilling glimpse into what the future of sport might look like in our digital world. While the book has some limitations, as outlined in this review, Miah still offers many interesting perspectives on the future of sport in a digital world and the emergence of a new digital physical culture – particularly as regards the future of elite sports and elite athletes in a digital world. Miah does not argue that physical activity will cease to be central to sports, or that digital corporeality will replace the nondigital version. Rather, he attempts to describe how sports will become mixed-reality experiences and abandon the duality of physical and digital. This is a very ambitious goal for any single book, and while Miah might not accomplish this completely, Sport 2.0 is a good starting point to explore the future of sports.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2018

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