- Sport and National Identities: Globalisation and Conflict ed. by Paddy Dolan, John Connolly
The link between national identity and sport is one that has long interested historians and retains its contemporary relevance in places of contested identity such as Catalonia and Northern Ireland. It is, therefore, timely that Dolan and Connolly have released a collection of twelve essays from academics across the world, investigating case studies from the British Isles, Europe, the United States, and Asia.
Emanating from the 2015 European Association for Sociology of Sport Conference in Dublin, the book seeks to demonstrate the continued relevance of sport as a means of representing national identity. It does this thematically in three parts, exploring the political organization of sport in regions of contested identity, media representation of national identity through sport, and interstate power relations.
In examining sport as a vehicle for promoting national identity in stateless countries like the Basque region, Rojo Labaien goes beyond the well-trodden road of focusing solely on soccer clubs, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, which he considers as having “to some extent failed to effectively address the distinguishing mark of Basque sport as a whole” (42). Using the example of the Euskaltel cycling team, founded in the 1990s, he shows how a team of Basque riders offers the chance to promote “Basqueness” to the wider world.
National identity in Irish sport has often been seen through the lens of either partition in 1921 or the more recent “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, but here Cormac Moore interestingly looks at the 1950s, the period immediately following the final severing of links with the United Kingdom. Pointing to cross-border associations such as rugby and hockey, we see how British representations at matches held in the North in the 1950s were resented by the wider Irish sporting community, leading ultimately to future matches being held solely in Dublin.
Part 2 of the book examines the role of the media in portraying national identity. Here, Stephen Boyd examines surfing’s inclusion as a full Olympic sport from the 2020 games and its transformation from subculture to part of the sporting establishment. Using Ireland as a case study, he persuasively argues that the limited media coverage given to surfing in Ireland and the lack of sociopolitical baggage that other national sports such as football possess, combined with the fact that waves are “universal,” allows surfers instead to “view themselves as part of a global community” (119).
The ongoing impact of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest at NFL matches in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement is investigated by Ronald Mower, Jacob [End Page 367] Bustad, and David Andrews. They demonstrate how Kaepernick’s actions form part of a continuum of protest by black athletes, dating back to those of Muhammed Ali, Tommie Smith, and others in the 1960s in “defying white privilege” (129). The authors argue that the commercial power that black athletes now wield gives them in the media an “unprecedented platform from which to challenge iniquities and injustices” (131), despite attempts by some whites, including President Trump, to negate them as being “unpatriotic.”
Part 3 investigates sporting nationalisms and interstate power relations and, in some ways, is the most disappointing part of the book. For example, Paul Tchir’s critique of England’s footballing decline as a metaphor for Britain’s concomitant decline as a global colonial power covers the familiar ground of defeat to the United States in 1950 and Hungary in 1953, without adding anything significantly new.
However, Michael Silk’s claims that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York City, sporting spectacles in the United States were wrapped up in a narrative based on a reaffirmation of “American” virtues carry far more weight. He argues that this was done through the invocation of “the ghosts of America’s past” (196), exemplified by the lighting of the flame at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics by Mike Eruzione, a member of the iconic U.S. ice-hockey gold-medal...