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Improving the Physical Self: Sport, Body Politics, and Ethiopian Modernity, ca. 1920–1974

From: Northeast African Studies
Volume 13, Number 1, 2013 (New Series)
pp. 71-99 | 10.1353/nas.2013.0010



The following essay seeks to understand the place of sport in attempts to “modernize” Ethiopia during Haile Selassie’s reign. It focuses on modern sports (i.e., sports already codified and regulated by international bodies), and their expansion through specific imperial projects as well as individual activities. These include training institutions such as schools or military academies, where sport was a means of creating healthy and efficient bodies; places of leisure, suchasthe Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) or university sports, where sport became a vital part of self-improvement; and spaces where the emperor turned sport into a powerful symbol to bear witness to his interest in developing a healthy nation. Using sports as a lens, the essay argues for a multifaceted and nonteleological reading of modernity.