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  • The Atlas of Sports: Who Plays What, Where, and Why by Alan Tomlinson
  • William M. Simons
Tomlinson, Alan. The Atlas of Sports: Who Plays What, Where, and Why. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Pp. 144. Photographs, maps, charts, sources, and index. $21.95 pb.

Ambitious in canvas, this compact volume identifies the diverse sports played by specific nations and peoples throughout the world. Author Alan Tomlinson, Professor of Leisure Studies at Brighton University in the U.K., also provides commentary concerning the reasons for distinctive forms of sports participation. Tomlinson focuses on the contemporary while referencing relevant history. As befits an atlas, numerous maps, photographs, charts, and other graphics are integral to the presentation.

The Atlas of Sports is organized around four units—sports politics, specific sports, sports economics, and national sport profiles. The sports politics unit offers mini-essays on the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games, and Gay Games as well as the relationship of sports to drugs, disabilities, and initiatives for peace. The component [End Page 572] on specific sports contains entries on thirty separate endeavors, including American football, baseball, boxing, cricket, cue sports, cycling, international and European football (referred to as “soccer” in the U.S.), golf, gymnastics, hockey, horse racing, motor racing, rugby, sailing, skiing, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball, and wrestling. The profiles in the unit on economics examine international federations, media, sponsorship, consumerism, merchandising, gambling, and tourism within a sport context. The concluding section consists of essays examine the sport cultures of seventy-seven nations throughout the world.

By design, a global mosaic rendered in limited pagination necessitates snapshot profiles. Within imperatives of space and eclecticism, an impressive array of phenomena emerges: Central Asian buzkashi competition involving mounted riders and the carcass of a decapitated goat, a posthumous wrestling victory in the Olympics of antiquity, the Paralympic Games for disabled veterans, the distinctions between the major forms of rugby, the simplicity and accessibility of international football, the juxtaposition between athleticism and sexuality in women’s tennis, and an abundance of other phenomena. Incidentally, Tomlinson’s acknowledgment of the crisis that electronic sports media creates for traditional print outlets is not without irony.

The internet also poses a dilemma for references books that focus on an ever retreating present, such as The Atlas of Sports. Information current at the time compiled by the author faces the potential peril of obsolescence by the time of print publication. Many of the performance, participation, profit, and salary statistics employed in the volume derive from 2009. Utilizing basketball images rather than pie charts, The Atlas of Sports, for instance, shows Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson, both now retired from active play, amongst the top earners in the National Basketball Association. The section on American football still has Peyton Manning playing for the Indianapolis Colts and contains no mention of the sport’s recent crisis concerning the long-term effects of concussions. The Atlas of Sports might have more efficacy as an on-line, periodically updated publication.

With the exception of political and sports scholar Lincoln Allison’s assistance with the Country Profiles, Alan Tomlinson individually authored all of the entries. While Tomlinson demonstrates an impressive breath of knowledge, acquiring expertise concerning seventy-seven countries and thirty sports would appear challenging as the following examples suggest. The timeline on black heavyweight boxing champions has several omissions, including Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Ken Norton. Given Jazz Age tennis star Bill Tilden’s pedophilia, is he the best example of the many athletes who came too late for the Gay Games? In the 1961 movie The Hustler, the corpulent Jackie Gleason played Minnesota Fats, not the trim Paul Newman as claimed in the section on Cue Sports. Mention of controversy over alleged use of illicit drugs might leaven plaudits for cyclist Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France triumphs. Inclusion of the Special Olympics would augment the essay on disability. Treatment of African-American integration of baseball neglects the group’s declining rate of participation over the past generation.

A uniform, two-page format, significant portions of which feature graphics, circumscribe the entries for specific sports, thus limiting depth of information and...


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