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  • The Ideals of Global Sport: From Peace to Human Rights ed. by Barbara J. Keys
  • Enrico Landoni
Keys, Barbara J., ed. The Ideals of Global Sport: From Peace to Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. Pp. 239. List of contributors, index, acknowledgments. $49.95, hb.

Friendship, struggle against any form of discrimination, democracy, and peace: these are just some of the key words behind the slogans through which the major mass media and the organizers themselves, such as FIFA and the IOC, present to the public worldwide sport megaevents. This model of rhetorical and "politically correct" narration has been imposed especially over the last twenty years and is used, as if it were a code or a formulated repertoire, to channel the general public's attention toward positive thoughts, diverting it from embarrassing problems, which instead normally characterize the organization of major sports events and the very life of great international sports institutions: waste of money, corruption, subjection to the interests of big corporations, repression of dissent. The increasingly frequent recourse to the issue of respect for human rights, which for almost five years now has become the central element not only of communication campaigns but also of the institutional and political life of FIFA and the IOC, also responds to this goal.

The story of this internal evolution in the main international sports institutions and the analysis of the instrumental character of this "idealistic" and "humanitarian" shift embraced by the IOC in particular represent the two fundamental topics of this interesting volume edited by Barbara Keys. The book contains nine historical, political, and anthropological essays divided into two parts. The first is aimed at demonstrating how the so-called great values conveyed by sport have nothing to do with the Olympic Charter and with de Coubertin's original values and at dispelling the myth that great sports events always boost democratization and the progress of the host countries and improve international relations. The second part aims instead to underline the abstractness and the instrumentality of the recent campaigns in defense of human rights, which the IOC, in particular, has allowed to be superimposed and, in a certain sense, substituted for the fundamental values of the Olympic Charter, in order to create an image more appealing to general sentiment.

Thanks to its intergenerational and interdisciplinary structure, Keys's book offers many interesting points and is destined to arouse expectations and discussions among scholars, because of the strength of the subjects used to sustain the basic thesis: "When moral claims are made, it is rarely in the spirit of advancing an argument for convincing examples need [End Page 178] to be provided in the face of skepticism. More often, moral claims are made in the spirit of enchantment, like a liturgy based on faith, not facts" (1).

Hence, we have the need to bring the discussion and reflection back on the rails of rationality and scientific evidence. This effort is certainly rewarded in the second part of the book, which is the more convincing of the two parts, thanks above all to the essay by Keys on the role played by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on the occasion of the Chinese Olympic candidatures and to Dmitry Dubrovsky's well-documented work on Moscow 1980 and Sochi 2014. The strengths of these two chapters consists, respectively, in the punctuality of the historical contextualization and in the precision with which a bold yet effective parallel between Breznev's Soviet Union and the political and social reality of Putin's Russia is proposed. Both in 1980 and in 2014, human rights were sacrificed on the altar of possible international dialogue, and the hosting of the Olympic Games proved to be a useful opportunity to tighten rather than loosen internal repression. The success of Sochi 2014, in particular, certainly did not mark the return of Russia to a new multilateral vision but rather accentuated its nationalism. That is why it can be said that the true legacy of Putin's Olympics was the annexation of Crimea. Regarding this critical analysis of the relationship between international sport and human rights, the essay by João Roriz and Renata Nagamine on...


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pp. 178-179
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