Sport, Race and Ethnicity, according to Grant Farred, succeeds because it causes readers to rethink notions such as race, ethnicity, difference, and diversity. The result is that this collection of essays “demonstrates where, when and why sport functions as the site of contestation of a nation or a community’s most dearly held political beliefs” (p. ix).
The book grew out of a conference entitled Sport, Race and Ethnicity that took place in Sydney, Australia, in December of 2008. One of the books great strengths is the impressive array of contributors who, happily, provide a global perspective and scrutinize key issues such as apartheid in South Africa, race in the United States, and the role of the aboriginal in diverse settings—Canada and Australia. The contributors include Randy Roberts, Colin Tatz, and John Hoberman.
Roberts is, arguably, today the pre-eminent boxing biographer, and his recent book on Joe Louis is excellent. Colin Tatz is a distinguished Australian scholar, and his studies of the Australian aborigine are probing, persuasive, and tightly crafted. John Hoberman, a professor of Germanic studies at the University of Texas, has written about the racial dimensions of sport and the history of doping in elite sports in a manner that consistently engages students, readers, and academics alike. His titles and sometimes his prose can be daunting. In Sport, Race and Ethnicity Hoberman’s essay is entitled “Racial Athletic Aptitude and the New Medical Genetics: ‘Black Dominance’ and the Future of Race Relations.” His narrative concludes with material that fits exactly, and perfectly, with the perceived racism that has soured, to some extent, the current European Soccer Championship (June 2012) being staged in Poland and the Ukraine. Sections of soccer spectating thugs in the Ukraine have developed crowd chants to mimic chattering monkeys as an insult to players of color. Hoberman writes:
In European soccer stadiums, black athletes greeted by bananas and monkey chants have long served as public specimens of the racial other and as scapegoats [End Page 157] for the tensions experienced by newly multiracial societies. These sobering examples make it clear that we should not underestimate the potential exploitation of athletes as human specimens who confirm the existence of racial differences and thus the logic of racial segregation(p. 172).
One of the many charms of Sport, Race and Ethnicity is its quirky make-up. For this reviewer it was both exciting and rewarding to be introduced to “new” characters on unusual athletic terrains. Some examples: Andrew Ritchie explores the unusual story of a black American race cyclist, Major Taylor, who traveled to very much a white Australia and established a legendary persona in the early years of the twentieth century. It should come as no surprise that Richie’s biography of Major Taylor will eventually find a bigger audience as a feature film.
And then there is the narrative from Sean Brawley, a history professor at the University of New South Wales. His story looks at 1926/1927 and examines the inner meanings of why two stellar Japanese swimmers (Katsuo Takaishi and Takahiro Saito) competed in a series of races in Australia. Brawley sub-titles his writing “Ambassadors of Peace!”: “The tour’s public success did generate a level of goodwill between the two countries when by their own words, the young Japanese swimmers and Australian officials feared for the geopolitical future of the Pacific region” (p. 133).
Finally, Joseph Bradley from Stirling University, Scotland, explored Scottishness and a jig-saw cultural puzzle where nationality, religion, cultural identity, and soccer intersect. His chapter—“Authentic Scottishness and Problematized Irishness in Scottish International Football”—draws in part from ongoing research carried out with the Tartan Army beginning in 2002. The Tartan Army refers to a horde of avid and passionate supporters of Scotland’s national soccer team. A noteworthy feature of Bradley’s investigation is his reliance on qualitative inquiry via focus groups. The voices of the Tartan Army make for a compelling read. “If the rest of Scotland...