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Reviewed by:
  • Sports in Africa: Past and Present ed. by Todd Cleveland et al.
  • Scott A.G.M. Crawford
Cleveland, Todd, Tarminder Kaur, and Gerard Akindes, eds. Sports in Africa: Past and Present. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2020. Pp. xi+ 299. Footnotes, contributor biographies. $60.00, hb.

Apart from the introduction to Sports in Africa, there are seventeen chapters in what can only be described as an extraordinary volume, in every sense of the word a tour de force. This reviewer longed for the editors—and the Ohio University Press—to have expanded and extended a collection of essays that are as remarkable for their authors' backgrounds and identities as for the research and scholarship that they disseminate. Sports in Africa showcases a social anthropologist professor of history; a video-lab assistant; a communication consultant; doctoral students at Georgetown University, Washington DC, and Otago University, New Zealand; a kinesiologist; an emeritus professor of sociology of sports; and a senior lecturer in literature and cultural studies. The editors note that their challenge is [End Page 74] to make the topic of sports in Africa worthy of gathering serious recognition within the academic community. They should be assured that this volume succeeds mightily on all fronts. Not only is the writing empirically driven, but, more importantly, the theoretic content is grounded in prose that is fresh, vibrant, and something not always associated with what is a university textbook, fascinating. Cleveland, Kaur, and Akindes are to be congratulated for putting together a team that explores complex identities and the dynamic nature of African sport.

In the book's section on "African Sports Pedagogy," Todd Cleveland, Matt Carotenuto, and Peter Alegi describe how they share the politics and practices of sports in Africa with American students. They tap into mega-sporting events such as the 2010 World Cup (soccer) in South Africa, the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and the Rumble in the Jungle (1974) between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Zaire (Congo). Film is seen to be a most productive platform to gain a deeper understanding of social and cultural identities. Clint Eastwood's Invictus (2009) and the documentary When We Were Kings (dir. Leon Gast, 1996) are listed as valuable teaching tools. Cleveland comments that his students "are not only learning from a film's content but are also assessing its evidentiary value by determining both what it reveals and what it conceals" (42).

Part 3 of Sports in Africa has a chapter that examines the struggle of women footballers against marginalization in Nigeria. The focus of the essay is resistance in Nigerian female football. Part 4 gives a chilling yet heartwarming insight into racial segregation within the Transkei during the time of the South African apartheid. The activity, surfing "the local beach[,] … served people of different races and classes as a meeting point where they could encounter each other in a respectable manner, far removed from the more racially hostile urban settings and social control of the South African state" (122).

The fifth part exemplifies what makes Sports in Africa such a compelling read. The narrative feels fresh, with new perspectives. The editors call this material the edge of the sports periphery. One author studies the place of pay-to-watch football kiosks in Kenya. Another writer sets his landscape in the Western Cape and considers the role of unofficial gambling games. Part 6 follows African footballers' migration to Europe. The section is subtitled "European Dreams and Nightmares." Writers Christian Ungruhe and Sine Agergard open their chapter by underscoring the intriguing transition of life as a Premier League player. Cameroonian international Benoît Assou-Ekotto envisaged his post-career role was to be an adult movie actor!

Black physical culture and weightlifting are the grist of Chapter 13 and, in the following chapter, Kenyan running comes under the microscope but not in the traditional vein of men and women as distance runners. On this occasion, the central figure is Seraphino Antao. In 1963, his sprinting success against elite European runners made his prime minister Jomo Kenyatta send him a telegram : "You have really become Kenya's priceless jewel in sports and shining athletic star" (226).

In Part 8, the two chapters...


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