- Beyond Boycotts: Sport during the Cold War in Europe ed. by Philippe Vonnard, Nicola Sbetti, and Grégory Quin
In their introduction to Beyond Boycotts: Sport during the Cold War in Europe, editors Philippe Vonnard, Nicola Sbetti, and Grégory Quin posit that their goal is to present a more complex exploration of sport during the Cold War. They, along with their contributing authors, have succeeded in bringing to light various case studies from the period that provide readers with a more nuanced understanding of how sport and the politics of the time intertwined.
A central theme that runs through the compilation is that, while focus tends to be on the divisions and conflicts of the Cold War, numerous instances also existed where members of the divided blocs cooperated. For instance, Sylvain Dufraisse informs us that, before the Soviet Union debuted in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, it had already begun working with other European nations, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, to improve its sporting programs. Vonnard and Kevin Marston write about how UEFA, the European [End Page 432] union of soccer federations, existed as an organization that spanned the divide between the competing blocs, and Stefan Scholl considers how the European Sports Conference attempted to do the same. The ideological competition also influenced nations to adopt the training methods of their competitors, as Daniel Svensson and Anna Åberg show was the case in the evolution of scientific training methods used by skiing federations in the Soviet Union and Sweden.
Conflict is not absent from the work, and the first essay by Sbetti explores the political maneuvering between Italy and Yugoslavia over Trieste, a city that both nations claimed as their own. Also often overlooked is the use of sport by the anticommunist Franco regime. Juan Antonio Simón describes how Spain employed sport in an attempt to re-enter the international community, with not a little ideological difficulty.
Europe is the primary scene of action for the bulk of the contributions, but there are also essays that consider non-European actors. François Doppler-Speranza explores how American servicemen, primarily from Chambley AFB, attempted to use basketball to build relations between the U.S. military and their French hosts. Claire Nicolas explains how, as part of the nonaligned movement, Ghana's Young Pioneers used sport to promote their newly independent nation and Pan-Africanism. In their essay about a similar instance of sporting diplomacy between China and Switzerland that also had economic motives, Quin and Quentin Tonnerre inform readers that "ping-pong diplomacy" did not end with matches between the People's Republic of China and the United States. Souvik Naha re-examines how the Cold War narrative that grew around the chess match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer simplified the story of the competitors, neither of whom could be fit into neat ideological categories.
In his afterword, historian Martin Polley argues that the contributors to Beyond Boycotts have succeeded in doing what the title promises; they have highlighted lesser-known episodes from the sporting record of the Cold War. The contributors have indeed brought focus to several often-overlooked or ignored facets of the sporting historiography of the period. This work should be of great interest to historians of sport and specifically of sport during the Cold War. By discussing Spanish, Ghanaian, Italian/Yugoslavian, and others' use of sport for diplomatic and nationalistic purposes, they have added to the information to which we have easy access. Their discussion of the collaborative efforts of nations and nonstate actors also adds another layer of complexity to a narrative that often promotes a simpler story of the communist bloc versus the capitalist.
There are a few essays that should form the basis for more research. One in particular is Duffraise's on Soviet efforts to improve their practice by training with other nations' athletes and learning from their coaches. The typical history relates that the Soviets burst onto...