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Reviewed by:
  • Sport and Diplomacy: Games within Games ed. by J. Simon Rolfe
  • Russell Field
Rolfe, J. Simon, ed. Sport and Diplomacy: Games within Games. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018. Pp. xv + 271. Index and illustrations. £80.00, hb.

Sport and Diplomacy has its origins in a 2015 colloquium of the same name, which has or will result in additional publications, including a volume on Soccer and Diplomacy. (Note: the latter volume is edited by Heather Dichter, also the book review editor for the Journal of Sport History. Dr. Dichter’s contributions to a number of the chapters in the volume [End Page 98] reviewed here is noted by many authors. This does not diminish the quality of the collection but is noted in the interests of transparency.)

Editor J. Simon Rolfe organizes Sport and Diplomacy into three sections, each of four chapters. The first section, “Concepts and History,” is intended to use case studies as a way to suggest some of the significant issues in the study of sport and diplomacy. Alan Tomlinson’s look at Stanley Rous and diplomacy through international soccer offers a useful framing of the varied actors in what Tomlinson calls the “sport diplomatic,” before focusing on public diplomacy. The latter is then the subject of the second quartet of chapters. There, David Rowe’s study of the use of sport as a diplomatic tool by Australia as the host of the 2015 Asian Cup soccer tournament, which examines how the narratives that informed the event were intended to (re)position Australia in relation to Asia, is particularly valuable. The collection concludes with four chapters (one suggesting a typology and three case studies) exploring the withdrawal of sport, most frequently via boycott, as a diplomatic tool.

Joseph Nye’s concept of “soft power” as a noneconomic, nonmilitary benefit accruing from diplomatic efforts pervades much of the analysis in Sport and Diplomacy. Similarly dominant are discussions of public diplomacy and the nonstate actors whose work in cultural fields such as sport are often as impactful as traditional state-to-state ministrations. The inclusion of these two themes within sport historical analyses is the real value of this volume. Despite this, the collection covers some well-trod ground (for example, politicization of the Olympics, boycotts). Megasporting events (MSEs), in particular, the Olympics, are a prominent subject. Moreover, the consideration of diplomatic impacts most frequently highlights the geopolitical concerns of Western nations, most often the United States (but also the United Kingdom).

This is not to say that there is not valuable material to uncover in the analysis of American diplomatic interest in MSEs. Umberto Tulli offers a compelling recasting of the U.S. government’s involvement in the hosting of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the context of Reagan-era foreign and economic policy. Joseph Eaton shifts the lens to examine reactions to the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the most interesting work goes beyond Western geopolitical concerns. Amanda Shuman offers a revision of the origins of “ping-pong diplomacy” from the Chinese perspective and, along with Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff’s history of unsponsored tours of the United States by a small Paris basketball club, is one of the few chapters to shift the focus away from MSEs and the dominant powers.

The challenge with all anthologies is to bring some coherence to the disparate topics and approaches that, in this case, fall under the umbrella of “sport and diplomacy.” This is first an issue of organization. The concluding chapter to this volume includes a summary of the preceding twelve chapters and the ways in which the editor and his coauthor on the conclusion, Aaron Beacom, understand them to work together to expand on the study of sport and diplomacy. For the reader, this material ideally would have been placed within the introduction to communicate the composition of the anthology from the outset. Why is Tomlinson’s chapter on Stanley Rous not included within the section on public diplomacy? Why does the “no sport” section begin with Carole Gomez’s typology of boycotts, yet none of the subsequent chapters on specific sport boycotts...


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