A postcolonial analysis of the LGBT social movement and sport mega events

Maria Zuiderveld
Södertörn University

Heather Sykes
The Sexual and Gender Politics of Sport Mega-Events: Roving Colonialism
187 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2018 (Routledge Critical Studes in Sport)
ISBN 978-1-138-31849-6

This book empirically builds upon three mega sports events and one revolution: the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010, the 2012 London Olympics, the Sochi Olympics 2014, and the revolution in Egypt that began in the spring of 2011.

Heather Sykes has written the majority of the 9 chapters. The chapter of the Sochi Olympics and the Circassian genocide as well as the chapter on the Egyptian Football Ultras role during the January 25 revolution is co-authored with Manal Hamzeh. The chapter on the No Sochi movement is co-authored with Salima Bhimani.

According to Heather Sykes, the essence of sports mega events is colonialism. Sykes doesn’t buy the peace discourse surrounding the Olympics or the argument that sports events can bring nations together. It is all just part of the corporate branding of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, and Fédération Internationale de Football Association, FIFA. Sykes labels these organisations ‘non-territorial empires’ (p. 7) and is loud and clear in her serious critique against mega sports events. There is a ‘roving colonialism’ of the events that Sykes describes like this:

Every two or four years, each mega-event touches down in a new city requiring grandiose construction projects and the displacement of poor urban communties. Huge profits are made by land and property developers. Ruling elites use the mega-events for geopolitical gain. The forced removal of local people, stealing of land to make profit and broken agreements between governments about benefits and legacies are all forms of ongoing colonization. (p. 2)

The development during recent years is not only acceptance, but promotion of gay and lesbian athletes in the games. However, Heather Sykes questions what the LGBT social movement is doing in the context of sports mega events. Sykes is not impressed, these gay and lesbian athletes are tokens of governments and organisations wanting to stage and promote how they embrace diversity.

The core of the problem that Heather Sykes brings forward in this book is that LGBT activists, having themselves fought for and achieved inclusion in the games, fail to recognise the exclusion of others in order for the games to take place.

One of Heather Sykes case studies is the Pride Houses during the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010. This was the first time Pride Houses were part of the event, allowing LGBT individuals to celebrate the tournament together. While gay and lesbians were rejoicing the long wished for inclusion in the games, Sykes argues that they themselves could not acknowledge the exclusion that had taken place in order for their inclusion to be possible. The No Olympics on Stolen Land was central in the debate of the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010.

The feminist critique of the Egyptian Football Ultras could have deserved more space, it is now covered by only the last few pages in the chapter.

Thus, Heather Sykes calls for confrontation from the LGBT social movements of the politics surrounding mega sports events. There is also a need for a decolonisation of LGBT activism, disengaging from the politics of FIFA and the IOC. Instead the aim should be towards developing support and cooperation between different groups of social activists struggling for justice, equality, diversity and inclusion.

The book contains a useful chapter on methodology while doing research on social activism. The chapter includes a section that discusses the researchers’ own background and pre-understanding of the field. These kinds of stories are unusual but valuable as they offer transparency as well as a deeper understanding of the research results.

It is obviously a challenge for the reader to evaluate the extensive empirically grounded arguments presented in this book, given that the starting point builds on a profound critique of the IOC and FIFA. The anti-colonialism critique against mega sports events is not novel. Neither is the gender and sexual politics perspective on these global games. However, the new perspective offered by Heather Sykes, with the contribution of Manal Hamzeh and Salima Bhimani, is the critique of the LGBT social movement and the problematisation of their participation in these events. Arguably, this is an essential read for social activists, not only in the context of the gay and lesbian environment.

The last case study on the Egyptian Football Ultras is brutal and raises many questions on the relation between sport, violence and authoritarian regimes. However, as the book title claims to cover Sport Mega Events, this chapter is a bit out of context. The feminist critique of the Egyptian Football Ultras could have deserved more space, it is now covered by only the last few pages in the chapter.

At the time of writing of this review, Stockholm is one of three candidates for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The Swedish minister of Sports has been slightly positive, whereas the local politicians of Stockholm have, so far, been very reluctant. This book is a welcome contribution in the field of social research on large sports mega events and its relation to the wider society. The Olympics, the World cup and so forth represents so much more than the records, the medals and the winners –something for Sweden to remember while waiting for the decision by the IOC as to which city will host the 2026 Winter Olympic.

Copyright © Maria Zuiderveld 2018


Table of Content

  1. The Sexual and Gender Politics of Sport Mega-Events: Roving Colonialism
    Heather Sykes
  2. Methodology
    Heather Syke
  3. Gay Pride on Stolen Land Homonationalism and Settler Colonialism at the Vancouver Olympics
    Heather Sykes
  4. Gay/Lesbian Asylum and the Pride House Imperialist Settler Homonationalism at the Vancouver Olympics
    Heather Sykes
  5. London Olympics, Islamophobia and English Homonationalism
    Heather Sykes]
  6. ‘Pot of Blood’: Sochi Olympics and the Circassian Genocide
    Heather Sykes and Manal Hamzeh
  7. The No Sochi ovement and Circassian Activism: Colonial Double-backing of the Sochi Olympics and Russian Nation Building
    Salima Bhimani
  8. Egyptian Football Ultras and the January 25th Revolution: Anti-Colonial Masculinities and Patriarchal State Terrorism
    Manal Hamzeh and Heather Sykes
  9. Decolonizing Sporting Homonationalisms: From Complicity to Solidarity
    Heather Sykes


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