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Reviewed by:
  • The Olympics: A Critical Reader
  • Scott A.G.M. Crawford
Girginov, Vassil, ed. The Olympics: A Critical Reader. Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 2010. Pp. xii+452. End chapter references, author index, and subject index. $56.95 pb.

The Olympics: A Critical Reader is an odd book in many ways. It is based robustly on the premise that Olympism is a widely understood phenomenon, but there is no opening analysis that defines and explains exactly what the word Olympism means. All twelve chapters set out to dissect Olympism—studying Olympism, documenting Olympism, theorizing Olympism, negotiating Olympic identities, imaging Olympism, owning Olympism, staging the Olympics, promoting Olympism, safeguarding Olympism, contesting Olympism, teaching Olympism, sustaining Olympism—and the essays, taken as they are from leading academic publications, set out to scrutinize what has become an international sports extravaganza, the modern Olympics.

The book jacket notes, “Each thematic part has been designed to include a range of views including background treatment of an issue as well as critical scholarship to ensure that students develop a well-rounded understanding of the Olympic phenomenon.” This reviewer wonders whether this collection of essays will, indeed, engage and engross a student population. [End Page 322]

The introduction from Vassil Girginov, a Bulgarian scholar now Reader in Sports Development and Sports Management at Brunel University in London, makes the point that the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, saw his initial efforts as being an “unfinished symphony” (p. 1). Later, in his introduction, Girginov outlines the structure of A Critical Reader, but some of the prose is so convoluted as to challenge and confront, rather than connect with, the reader. An example:

An Olympic Reader, similar to reading, is the active construction of meaning. The construction of meaning involves two interrelated processes with different time orientations. On the one hand, since Olympism is a social movement for change through sport, studying it requires prospective thinking and envisioning possible future scenarios about the ideal kind of person, sport education and Olympic Games that would be truly embraced by humanity. On the other hand, sense-making of what has gone before is a retrospective, past-oriented process

(p. 4).

For a text that is eager to position itself as “essential reading for students of the Olympics” (end cover) the virtual absence of any illustration or photograph is troubling. Indeed, the dense type-print and the sheer size/scale of the book (452 pages), with some of the essays having as many as sixty-seven references, might deter the average student.

All of this, not withstanding, Girginov has to be congratulated for his collection of significant scholar contributions to The Olympics. The authors are a virtual “Who’s Who” of sports history, and it is exciting to see, within one book cover, New Zealand’s Doug Booth, Canada’s Hart Cantelon, and England’s Joseph Maquire to name but a few. A small point but a recommendation for any subsequent volume: a section to include short author profiles and their place of affiliation. It can be most exciting for students to reach out and explore opportunities to make ongoing links with leaders in their field.

This reviewer found The Olympics: A Critical Reader a solid, reputable, and informative text, an admirable reference and research tool, and especially helpful for sport historians as they look forward to 2012 and the London Olympics. Whether A Critical Reader is an ideal fit for a student reader is open to debate.

In a concluding section of the volume Girginov reveals, in a piece co-written with Laura Hills, a much clearer purpose and well-adjusted writing compass. It is a fascinating study of the link between the London Olympics and sports participation, and Table 28.1 (see p. 435) is a marvelous one that outlines the London 2012 Olympic sports development legacy landscape. [End Page 323]

Scott A.G.M. Crawford
Eastern Illinois University


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