Politics and Sport

Barrie Houlihan. Handbook of Sports Studies. Editor: Jay Coakley & Eric Dunning. 2000. Sage Publishing.

In 1968, at the height of the protest against racial inequality in the United States, John Carlos and Tommy Smith gave the ‘black power’ salute while on the Olympic victory podium at the Mexico City Games. The protest outraged Avery Brundage, President of the International Olympic Committee, who had them expelled from the Games, but generated overwhelming support among the African American population. Twelve years later, the occasion of the Olympic Games was again used by Americans as a platform for protest. However, this time the protest was led by Jimmy Carter, President of the United States, and the eventual boycott was directed at the actions of the Soviet Union in invading Afghanistan in 1979. More recently, in 1994, six Catholics were killed by Unionist terrorist gunmen while they watched the Republic of Ireland play Italy in a soccer World Cup match at a local bar in Loughinisland, Northern Ireland.

There are many more examples that could be added to these three where politics and sport have intersected. Yet it is far from clear what criteria have to be fulfilled for a particular decision or set of actions to be classified as the intertwining of politics and sport. The above episodes include examples of individual protest, organized terrorism and government policy where sport has been used in part as a resource and in part as an arena for political action. The lack of uniformity in the three examples highlights the problem of providing a precise and inclusive definition of politics. For many, politics is defined in terms of the actions of government: the authoritative use of power to make rules and laws that have precedence over rules from other sources in society (Moodie, 1984: 23). The focus for study would then be the process of governmental decision-making and policy implementation and involve, for example, an examination of the decision by the Argentine military government to spend 10 per cent of the country’s national budget on preparations for hosting the 1978 soccer World Cup (Mason, 1995: 71) or the decision, in 1949, by Walter Ulbricht, State Council Chairman, to ‘create an exemplary performance oriented sport culture’ in the German Democratic Republic (Hoberman, 1984: 202). This view tends to confine politics to specific institutions or arenas such as parliaments, courts, cabinets, central committees and political parties.

In contrast, there are those who reject this focus on governmental processes as overly narrow and based upon an artificial, and largely unsustainable, distinction between the public and private spheres. For Renwick and Swinburn politics ‘takes place wherever conflict exists about goals and the method of achieving those goals’ (1987: 14). This is a view supported by Ponton and Gill, who argue that politics is about the arrangements for ordering social affairs and consequently ‘the student of politics cannot in principle exclude the possibility of political activity in any sphere of human life at any level, from the smallest of groups, such as the nuclear family, to the activities of international organizations’ (1993: 8). Such a broad definition has the virtue of allowing an examination of the use of power within a range of non-governmental sports organizations ranging from the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the major international federations (IFs) through the domestic governing body to the local sports club.

A final complexity in any attempt to discuss the relationship between politics and sport is the need to acknowledge that the definition adopted is itself an ideological product. It is not surprising that in liberal democracies the primary unit of political analysis is usually the individual, as reflected in Lasswell’s often-quoted definition of politics as concerning ‘who gets what, when and how’ (1958), or society, as indicated by Crick’s definition which sees politics as a way of ‘ruling divided societies’ (1964: 14). Marxists, however, would reject both these conceptualizations in favour of one that viewed politics as a reflection of class power and a phenomenon particular to capitalist societies (Callinicos, 1984).

There is little to be gained by attempting to engineer a consensus from these competing conceptualizations of politics. Rather, it is important to acknowledge the variety of definitions and the tensions that exist between them. For present purposes a distinction will be made between politics and sport and politics in sport. The study of politics and sport directs our attention to the use made by governments of sport and the process by which public policy is made and implemented. In democratic states our attention is focused on the interplay of political parties, representative bodies and interest groups in shaping policy outcomes. In authoritarian regimes our attention may be drawn, for example, to the interaction between the state bureaucracy and the ruling elite. For all regimes, whether democratic or not, we would also be concerned to identify the policy objectives that the government hoped to achieve through intervention in sport. The study of politics and sport is therefore concerned largely with an examination of the relationship of politics to sport in the public domain defined by recognized institutions of state.

A focus on the politics in sport is predicated upon a view of politics which does not recognize the demarcation between the public and the private and which treats politics as a ubiquitous aspect of all social institutions, including schools, sports clubs and governing bodies. Within this conceptualization, the power to act politically is derived from a variety of resources, including expertise, money and legitimacy, which are distributed across a wide range of social institutions. A focus on politics in sport leads to a consideration of issues concerned with the way in which organizations use power to pursue their own sectional interests at the expense of other social groups. Issues of gender equity, racial discrimination and class advantage would all be legitimate foci for examination.

While consideration of government policy and the politics of the Olympic movement, for example, will be found in most recent social scientific studies of sport, the explicit examination of the relationship between politics and sport is comparatively recent. However, this omission is not due to a wilful myopia by political scientists as few of the social sciences can boast a significant literature dealing with sport before the 1970s. For students of politics the stimulus for interest in sport was a product of two major issues in international politics, namely the Cold War and the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. The return of the Soviet Union to Olympic competition in the early 1950s and its subsequent domination of the Summer Games during the 1960s, and the use of sport by ‘East Germany’ for purposes of nation-building and the promotion of its claim to recognition as the German Democratic Republic, created an awareness of the value of sport as a political resource. The use of sport by the communist bloc also acted as a stimulus to the development of public policy towards sport in Western Europe and the major democracies. The development of the international campaign against apartheid in sport reinforced the perception of sport as a valuable political resource. Both the Cold War and the anti-apartheid campaign raised the profile of the International Olympic Committee and the major international federations as potential, if not actual, actors in international politics.

Paralleling the rise in the profile of sport in international politics, but also stimulated by it, was a growing concern with equity issues in sport. The initial emphasis was on racial equality in sport and was most powerfully expressed by Edwards (1970; but see also Davis, 1966) in a study that contextualized the Carlos and Smith protest at the 1968 Olympic Games. By the late 1970s the focus on racial equality was complemented by similar concerns related to gender (see, for example, Mitchell, 1977), class (see, for example, Brohm, 1978; Hoch, 1972; James, 1963) and space (see, for example, Bale, 1989, 1994; Dulles, 1965; Hardy, 1981). Although the broadening of the focus on politics and sport may be seen as a dilution of the analysis of public policy and the role of the state, it may also be argued that the wider focus enables a more sophisticated examination of the interpenetration of sporting and non-sporting organizations and the public and private spheres of social activity.

Politics and Sport: The Role of the State

Attempting to make generalizations about the role of the state in sport should be a daunting prospect. Variations in political systems, wealth, sports traditions, educational systems and the extent of non-state institutional complexity should produce patterns of public policy characterized by their diversity rather than similarity. Yet it is surprising how similar public policy outputs are irrespective of whether the state is authoritarian or democratic, affluent or poor, or politically stable or volatile. For some, the similarity of state intervention in sport, particularly in capitalist economies, is explained as the product of class conflict and the state’s strategic concern to protect bourgeois class interests and to ‘rigorously [regulate] the use made of free time through the state repressive apparatus’ (J.A. Hargreaves, 1985: 220; see also Brohm, 1978 for a similar analysis). A contrary view is that of Travis, who sees the accumulation of sport policy outputs as an incremental process that ‘should not be seen as a normative planning and management process,’ but rather as ‘a scatter of isolated legislation’ (1979: 1 and 2). Between the Marxist explanation of policy similarity as the product of the structural tensions inherent in capitalist systems and an explanation that views policy choice as more haphazard, it is important to note the likely impact of diffusion in explaining policy similarity. For the vast majority of countries public policy relating to sport is a postwar concern, when the opportunities to borrow policy solutions were comparatively easy.

One of the earliest modern forms of policy intervention in sport was in order to control or outlaw particular sports. In Britain and the United States legislation has been used to outlaw blood sports (Gorn and Goldstein, 1993; Holt, 1989), while professional boxing is illegal in Sweden. Generally, explicit legislative intervention by governments to prohibit or promote particular sports is rare. However, governments are coming under increasing pressure, both domestically and from international sports bodies and some international governmental organizations, to regulate aspects of sport such as drug abuse, the freedom of movement of sportsmen and women between teams, the behaviour of monopolistic leagues, and the treatment of young athletes (Wilson, 1994). The success of the IOC’s antidoping campaign requires close cooperation with governments while the recommendations of the Council of Europe on ethics in sport rely on government support for effective implementation.

A second motive for government involvement which pre-dates the postwar enthusiasm for more systematic state intervention was the improvement of military preparedness. The poor quality of conscripts during the First World War and the conventional assumption that the next major war would be similarly labour-intensive led many countries to introduce legislation aimed at improving the quality of volunteer recruits and conscripts. Canada, Britain and France all used legislation in the 1930s or early 1940s to create opportunities for physical training and fitness. Although the military rationale for government involvement in sport declined in prominence in the 1950s, it remained significant in those countries where territorial security was perceived to be still under threat. In the Soviet Union, for example, the GTO (Ready for Labour and Defence) scheme, which provided a framework for sports development for most of the Soviet period, contained shooting as one of the set range of sports up until the decline of the GTO in the late 1980s.

A third domestic motive for state involvement in sport (and one of the most common) is the belief that participation in sport facilitates social integration. Social integration is a loose term which can cover a diverse range of policy objectives including combating juvenile delinquency, establishing a sense of community during periods of rapid urbanization and the integration of diverse ethnic groups. For some, social integration is extended beyond simple social stability and is defined as integration into the work routines of a capitalist/industrial economy through an acceptance of the codification, rationalization and authority structures (governing bodies) of modern sport (Brohm, 1978; Gruneau, 1983; J.A. Hargreaves, 1982; J.E. Hargreaves, 1986; Hoberman, 1984; Mandell, 1984). In Britain, successive governments have invested in sports facilities and programmes as a solution to urban unrest (Coghlan, 1990; Henry, 1993; Houlihan, 1991) and in Northern Ireland there was an extensive programme of investment in public sport and recreational facilities aimed at bridging the gap between the Catholic/nationalist and Protestant/unionist communities (Sugden and Bairner, 1993). In France sport was seen as making a contribution to ‘social discipline and a means of regenerating French youth’ (Holt, 1981: 58). A similar motivation for government involvement may be found in an analysis of Chinese (PRC) public policy where sport cultivates ‘a sense of collective honour and the virtues of unity and mutual effort’ (Xie, 1990: 30) and also in the development of policy in Brazil (Lever, 1983; Levine, 1980), and in Argentina (Humphrey, 1994; Krotee, 1979; Mason, 1995). However, while there are some who argue strongly for the integrative effect of sport (Lever, 1983), it must be acknowledged that sport has also provided an opportunity for political opposition, especially in repressive regimes. The support given by Muscovites to Spartak Moscow, the soccer team that was not sponsored by either the security services (as Dynamo Moscow was) or the army (as CSKA Moscow was), carried with it an implicit gesture of opposition to the communist establishment. In a similarly repressive South Africa, the visits by foreign teams provided black South Africans with the opportunity to voice their opposition to the white government by cheering for the visitors, whoever they happened to be. Finally, support for the Barcelona soccer team during the period of Franco’s dictatorship, particularly when playing Real Madrid, symbolized not only Catalonian opposition to rule from Madrid, but also opposition to the absence of democracy.

A closely associated domestic motive concerns the attempt to use sport to build a sense of national identity. Irish history probably provides the first example of sport being used as a political resource in a nationalist and anticolonial movement. The role of the Gaelic Athletic Association in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in promoting traditional ethnic sports and challenging English cultural hegemony, and the use of sport from 1922 by the newly established independent Irish state to reinforce its identity is well documented (Mandle, 1977, 1987). More recently an increasingly wide range of states have sought to promote nation-building and to overcome the centrifugal forces of strengthening ethnic identity. The Soviet Union attempted to use sport to submerge a broad range of ethnic communities within a Soviet identity (Riordan, 1978, 1988). During the period from 1968 to the late 1980s the Canadian federal government invested heavily in sport in order, in part, to develop symbols of national identity to which both the francophone and anglophone communities could subscribe (Macintosh et al., 1987).

Using sport as a source of unifying symbolism has also proved attractive to a very broad range of ex-colonies who often face the problem of having to cope with arbitrarily imposed territorial boundaries and ethnic diversity. Cultural reference points derived from military history or religion are often sources of division, thus making the malleability, low cost and high media visibility of sport especially attractive to poorer states. However, the use of sport for nation-building purposes tends to skew public investment away from facilitating mass participation and towards a narrow focus on a very limited range of elite sports. For example, Peru spent 80 per cent of its national sports budget on women’s volleyball (Anthony, 1991: 332; see also Morton, 1982, and Peppard and Riordan, 1993 for similar conclusions relating to the Soviet Union). There is also considerable ambiguity regarding the effectiveness of sports symbolism in nation-building with the need to set the success of Irish sportive nationalism against the clear failure of attempts to use sport for nation-building in the former East Germany, the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia and Canada. Finally, the ease with which subnational groups can exploit the symbolism of sport to further their separatist claims is amply demonstrated in Northern Ireland, Catalonia and Quebec (Broom, 1986; Hargreaves, 1996; Sugden and Bairner, 1993) and tends to suggest that it is easier to reinforce a bottom-up ethnic identity through sport than to support top-down state management of identity through sport.

Closely related to the use of sport for nation-building was the use of international sport to project a positive image of the nation abroad. If governments were solely concerned with reinforcing national distinctiveness and unity then they would be more inclined to foster the idiosyncratic and unique features of the ethnic culture. However, modern states want not only national unity and distinctiveness but also an international stage on which to project that identity. Hence the paradox of states utilizing an increasingly common array of cultural symbols (flags, currencies, anthems, stamps, armed forces, military uniforms and Olympic sports) to demonstrate their individuality. Success in sports events, and particularly the hosting of sports events, provides a benign and uncritical backdrop for the parade of national achievement. As Mandell noted ‘the Soviets learned … that socialist citizens cannot cheer industrial Stakhanovites in stadiums and that there are no international festivals for steel workers’ (1976: 262, quoted in Cantelon, 1982). The intensive investment in recent years by Britain, Canada and Australia in elite programmes and specialist academies confirms the continuing allure of international sporting success.

A more recent motive for government involvement is to support economic development. At a national strategic level Mexico, Japan and South Korea used the hosting of the Olympic Games as opportunities to project images of modern technological and organizationally sophisticated societies and economies. Other states have selectively developed those sports that helped to promote tourism. In Ireland, for example, the government has invested heavily in the provision of opportunities for golf, fishing and long-distance walking routes following tourist board surveys which found that one-third of all tourists participated in sport when on holiday and that the availability of sports opportunities influenced their holiday choice. However, it is more common for bids to host major sports events to be part of a regional or metropolitan economic strategy. The link between ‘civic boosterism’ and sport in the United States and Canada is well documented (Baade and Dye, 1988; Johnson, 1985, 1986, 1993; Riess, 1989; Scully, 1995) and is also evident in Japan (Horne and Jary, 1994; McCormack, 1991) and many Western European countries.

As should be clear from the above discussion, it is not always possible to isolate the domestic from the foreign policy motives for state intervention in sport. The rapid internationalization of sports competition in the past 50 years and the advances in media technology of the past 30 years have combined to make sport an increasingly attractive diplomatic resource. Its primary attraction to governments lies in its combination of high visibility and low cost. However, while some argue that sport provides a versatile and effective resource (Houlihan, 1994; Macintosh and Hawes, 1994) others would agree with Kanin (1980) that sport is peripheral to international relations and provides, at best, weak symbolism. Nevertheless, sports diplomacy retains its attraction to governments, partly because international sport adds to the repertoire of tools available for the pursuit of foreign policy goals but also because of the subtlety and malleability of sports diplomacy.

One of the most significant uses of sports diplomacy is as a device for building closer relationships between enemies. The most celebrated example of this use of sport occurred in the early 1970s when, as part of the gradual thawing of relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States, the latter sent a table tennis team to the PRC, followed a year later by a basketball team. The sports were carefully chosen for their diplomatic value. The USA was not a highly ranked table tennis nation, whereas the PRC had consistently produced some of the world’s finest players. As the USA was not expected to win, its defeat would not result in any loss of prestige. Similarly, basketball is a minority sport in China and no loss of dignity would be attached to a Chinese defeat (Kropke, 1974). These sporting exchanges were an acceptable means for building contacts between the two countries, a process which led, in 1972, to the visit by President Nixon (Nafziger, 1978). Sport was used in a similar fashion during a period of great tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the late 1950s US troops were in the Lebanon and British forces were in Jordan ostensibly to forestall Soviet expansion, and Khrustchev talked of the world being on the brink of catastrophe. At the same time the USA and the USSR initiated an annual track and field competition which, while at times reflecting the tensions of the Cold War, generally provided opportunities for diplomatic bridge-building (Peppard and Riordan, 1993).

Sport is more commonly used as a means of maintaining good relations with allies or neighbours. The importance of the Commonwealth Games has increased as the significance of the Commonwealth in global politics has declined (Houlihan 1994). The quadrennial francophone games provide France with an important opportunity to renew its past colonial links and also to promote its claims to a global role. Rather than organizing specific sports events, the Soviet Union undertook an elaborate programme of bilateral sporting contacts with its non-communist neighbouring states and Warsaw Pact allies as part of a strategy of sports diplomacy (Peppard and Riordan, 1993). Similarly, but on a much smaller scale, the United States pursued sporting links with states in Central and South America as well as with Japan in the period leading up to the Second World War (Crepeau, 1980). President Harding hoped that continued sporting contact through baseball between Japan and the United States would help to improve relations (Sinclair, 1985). Unfortunately the power of baseball was not as great as Harding had hoped.

A more common use of sport is as a means of registering disapproval of a state’s actions, either through attempts to isolate a state from international sporting competition or by the boycott of particular sports events. In 1995 Nigeria was the most recent state to be subject to sports sanctions because of its continued and serious abuse of human rights. But using sport as a sanction has a long history and includes the decision not to invite the major defeated states to the Olympic Games that followed the two world wars, and the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from the 1974 World Cup rather than play against Chile so soon after the military overthrow of the democratically elected communist government of Salvador Allende.

A major illustration of the use of sports sanctions followed the invasion, in 1979, of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. The invasion prompted a chorus of international criticism mainly because Afghanistan was considered to be outside the Soviet Union’s traditional sphere of influence. The dilemma facing the USA was how to demonstrate its disapproval while not disrupting, too seriously, the delicate relationship between the two superpowers. According to Kanin ‘Sport, that most peripheral and most publicised form of international relations, provided the perfect answer’ (1980: 6). President Carter decided that boycotting the forthcoming Olympic Games to be hosted by the Soviet Union would be an appropriate diplomatic response. Despite the logic of a sport boycott being almost as unclear as the USA’s diplomatic objectives, Carter eventually secured a boycott by 62 states, including Japan, PRC, West Germany and Canada.

The boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games is only one of a number of occasions when sport has been used to show diplomatic displeasure. Both South Africa and Israel have been faced with concerted attempts to exclude them from world sport. The attempt to isolate South Africa because of its policy of apartheid is well documented (Booth, 1998; Guelke, 1986, 1993; Kidd, 1988; Krotee, 1988; Lapchick, 1979). The South African case is important for a number of reasons, particularly because it provides an opportunity to consider the value of international sport as a resource in diplomacy and the interaction of domestic sport policy with the actions of international political actors. Much has been made of the powerful symbolism of sport to white South Africans, but an undermining of the opportunity to experience that symbolism through the application of a boycott was, in itself, an irritation rather than a major threat to apartheid. More important was the way in which the groups opposed to apartheid used international sport as an activity, and international sports organizations as fora, to promote the issue of apartheid. In essence the anti-apartheid organizations, especially the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC), successfully orchestrated a highly public debate on sports apartheid to establish the immorality of the regime and used the more easily accessed international sports bodies, such as the IOC, the Commonwealth Games Federation and the IAAF, as stepping-stones to more powerful organizations such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings and the United Nations. Sport’s value was therefore primarily in providing a point of access to the agendas of major global political actors.

Israel has much in common with South Africa: both have been faced with hostile neighbours, both are relatively powerful in their region (and, in Israel’s case, has powerful allies), and both have had to contend with sustained campaigns to exclude them from international sport. In the early years of Israel’s existence it sent athletes and teams to a number of international sports competitions, including the regional Asian Games which take place under the auspices of the IOC (Simri, 1983). In 1962, however, the Games were awarded to the predominantly Muslim country of Indonesia which, despite expressions of goodwill, failed to allow Israeli athletes to participate. Israel attended the next two Asian Games (both in Bangkok) but the earlier problems recurred when the Games were awarded to Iran in 1974. Although Israeli athletes did attend they were faced with some boycotts by individual athletes. More worrying for Israel was the emergence of a concerted attempt to exclude them from future competitions. Between 1974 and 1976 Israel was excluded from the Asian Football Confederation (soccer) and from participation in future Asian Games. Israel’s experience highlights the particular role of international sports organizations, such as the IOC and FIFA. Both these organizations expressed their opposition to Israel’s exclusion but backed away from expelling the countries supporting the boycott, thus avoiding a direct confrontation with Asian, and particularly Islamic, sports organizations.

The politics of the Israeli sports boycott is still inadequately researched and the definitive analysis of the attempt to isolate South Africa from world sport has yet to be written. Both would provide valuable insights into the utility (and limitations) of sport as a diplomatic resource. Even a brief review of the US boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games makes apparent the variation in the interweaving of sporting and foreign policy objectives in different states. The response to Carter’s call for a boycott provides an interesting insight into the motives for the decisions made by the targeted states and the extent to which sport is a cipher for the underlying pattern of relations between states. In Europe, for example, France, traditionally suspicious of US motives, opposed the boycott, as did traditionally neutral Ireland; Finland, probably due to its close proximity to the Soviet Union and its delicate relationship with the superpower, also opposed the boycott; Greece, hoping to become the permanent host of the Games was also opposed; the British government strongly supported the Americans, but could not convince its athletes who, with some exceptions, decided to attend. Outside Europe, in South America for example, the boycott call was also interpreted with regard to foreign policy priorities. For most South American states it was the superpower to the north rather than the Soviet Union that was the cause of greatest concern. Consequently, apart from Chile, all other countries accepted the Soviet invitation to Moscow, some, no doubt, desiring to demonstrate their independence from the USA and others with an eye on their standing in the non-aligned movement.

Just as sport can be used as a vehicle for registering disapproval of a state, it can also be an effective vehicle for signalling the re-admission of a state to the ‘international community.’ The hosting of the 1964 Olympic Games by Tokyo marked the state’s return to diplomatic respectability. The location of the 1972 Games in Munich, a centre of National Socialism, not only indicated West Germany’s status as a trusted member of the ‘West,’ but also helped lay the ghost of Nazism. More recently, the visit by the South African cricket team to India in November 1991 and the attendance of a South African team at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 confirmed the emergence of a new non-racial South Africa.

Reviewing the use of sport in diplomatic relations one is tempted to agree with Kanin and those who see sport as part of the ephemera of international relations. According to this view, sport may be dismissed as a low-cost, low-threat resource to be used casually by governments. The assessment of Peppard and Riordan differs insofar as they see positive sports diplomacy as being valuable, but not necessarily successful. ‘Negative sport diplomacy, on the other hand, is virtually guaranteed to fail, because the breaking off of sporting relations or the announcement of a boycott can serve only as an expression of righteous indignation, which cannot change the conduct of the country against which it is directed’ (1993: 81). These views are overly pessimistic. By concentrating on the capacity of sports boycotts to change the behaviour of the target state they underplay the range of other functions that the diplomatic activity surrounding the boycott can fulfil. Taking the Moscow boycott as an example, it was important in providing an opportunity for a large number of states to send diplomatic signals to each other on a very public stage. States used the episode to demonstrate independence and/or solidarity, to build stronger links with particular states or groups of states or to loosen ties with particular power blocs, and to demonstrate commitment to causes. The call for a Moscow boycott provided a major arena for the exchange of diplomatic information within a low-risk context. In other words, one could argue that the lead-up to the 1980 Olympic Games enabled states to try out developments in foreign policy when the stakes were relatively low. It should also be borne in mind that while the Moscow boycott may confirm the sceptical view of negative sports diplomacy held by Peppard and Riordan, it is less easy to dismiss the contribution of sports sanctions to the ending of apartheid in South Africa.

A different motive for the utilization of sports diplomacy is for the promotion of individual state interests. Clearly the response to the various boycott campaigns was mediated by self-interest: but for many states they were reacting to the initiatives of others. Sport also provides a number of opportunities for the pursuit of a range of foreign policy objectives. Mention has already been made of the perceived value of hosting major sports events, particularly the soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games. Some states, such as Cuba (Sugden et al., 1990), have also used sport to assert the superiority of their ideology, while others, such as the PRC, have used sport to support their claim to global or regional diplomatic leadership (Pauker, 1964; Sie, 1978). Others, who have more limited diplomatic resources and more limited diplomatic aspirations, will use sport as a cheap and easily deployed resource. Very often the objective of sports diplomacy is simply to seek acknowledgement of their existence within the international system. Many of the sub-Saharan states found in apartheid an issue which brought with it the advantages of regional unity and a voice at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings and the United Nations that they otherwise would not have had. The two clearest examples of states using sport to further their foreign policy objectives concern East Germany and the PRC. The GDR, with powerful support from the USSR and the other Warsaw Pact states, used its ‘diplomats in track suits’ to pursue its claims to formal diplomatic recognition very successfully (Strenk, 1978 and 1980). In a similar fashion, both the PRC and Taiwan used sport as an element in their struggle for recognition of their claims to each other’s territory (Chan, 1985; Guttman, 1984).

Politics in Sport

The discussion so far has made clear the variety of domestic and foreign policy motives that lead governments to use sport as a resource. As should also be clear, governments frequently seek to achieve their policy objectives through the cooperation (whether willing or otherwise) of sports organizations. At the domestic level the attempts by many governments to solve, in part, social or economic problems of urban decay through sport requires liaison with sports-governing bodies and local clubs whose cooperation is often achieved through the manipulation of tax arrangements or grant conditions. Similarly, international organizations, such as the IOC, FIFA and the IAAF, are subject to intense political pressure by governments and interest groups. However, to conceptualize the relationship as one where branches of the state politicize sports organizations by drawing them into a process of political bargaining and competition for power over decisions would be to misunderstand and romanticize the objectives and operation of sports organizations. Some sports bodies, such as the IOC and the Commonwealth Games Federation, have either explicit political goals as part of their charter, as has the IOC, or have an explicit political rationale in their origin, as with the CGF. Other sports bodies are an integral part of the state bureaucracy either because of the authoritarian nature of the regime or, more commonly, because of the problems of establishing an independent organizational structure for sport without state financial support. But even those organizations that eschew formal references to political objectives or are financially independent of the state are none the less immersed in a range of political issues that arise within sport itself.

If Lasswell’s definition of politics, that it is concerned with the study of ‘Who gets what when and how,’ is accepted, then it is impossible to ignore the significance of sports organizations in affecting access to, and the nature of, sports opportunities for individual sportsmen and women or of groups which may be defined, for example, geographically, or by sport or gender: they are in effect part of what Wilson aptly refers to as the private government of sport. Among the issues which currently dominate the character of politics in sport are commercialization, gender, and race and ethnicity. None of these issues is discrete; each overlaps and intertwines with the other, and each has both a domestic and a global political aspect. As most of these issues are discussed elsewhere it will be sufficient to identify the main contours of the debates.

Commercialization involves examining sport as both a source of profit and also as a vehicle for the transmission of capitalist values. For a growing number of multinational corporations (such as Kodak, American Express and British Airways) sport sponsorship is part of a global marketing strategy for non-sports goods and services. Other corporations, particularly the major television companies, have a closer interest in sports programmes as products, but they also see sport as a means of selling advertising. Thirdly, there is a set of corporations, such as Adidas, Nike and Puma, that produce sports goods and have a clear interest in the growth in interest in the particular sports they manufacture for. Fourthly, all capitalist enterprises have an interest in the capacity of sport to contribute to the assimilation of capitalist values in general and consumerist values in particular. Finally, there are the sports organizations, ranging from individual clubs and leagues to the IOC and the major national and international federations, who operate in an increasingly competitive environment and are concerned to secure a growing market share for their particular club, sport or group of sports.

The impact of the growth in for-profit clubs and leagues, the increase in sponsorship, the purchase of television rights and the expanding world market for sports goods on the development of sport has been considerable and includes changes to the rules of sports to suit sponsors (Goldlust, 1988; Whannel, 1992), the marginalizing of non-Western and especially non-Olympic sports (Glassford, 1981; Paraschak, 1991), and the undermining of the ethical basis of sport in the interest of more dramatic (aggressive) and more sensational sport (Coakley, 1998; Lawrence, 1986)). At a broader level, the increased commercialization of sport raises the prospect of continued asset-stripping of poorer countries and their reduction to a market for imported sports. Increasingly, Africa and South America are becoming sources of sporting talent for the rich countries. Most top-class Brazilian soccer players play abroad (five of the national squad in the mid-1990s played their soccer in the Japanese league) (Mason, 1995); nearly all the successful Cameroon side in the 1990 World Cup played their professional soccer outside their home country, and the Dominican Republic has long been a source of elite players for the North American baseball league (Klein, 1991). Whether the sporting relations between business and rich and poor countries are best defined as cultural imperialism or some less clearly articulated form of cultural globalization, it is clear that power is being deployed in a way that promotes the interests of some organizations, especially the MNCs, at the expense of others. Apart from the vulnerability of economically weak countries, the other potential victims of increasing commercialization are the domestic and international governing bodies whose control over sport is undermined by their need to attract sponsors, the increasing pressure from athletes for a greater share of commercial income and a greater say in decision-making, and from the growth in profit-orientated clubs and leagues. The future direction and impact of commercialism, the consequences of greater commercial sponsorship for state patronage and the long-term consequences for governing bodies are all issues that require further investigation.

A second major issue within sport is the question of equality of access, and especially the relationship between gender and race, and sporting opportunity. Much has already been written about the discrimination against women’s sport and women in sport, the slow pace of change and the degree of inequality that remains (J.A. Hargreaves, 1994; Hult, 1989). There is a similarly large literature on race and ethnicity and sport (Eitzen, 1989; Hoberman, 1997; Lapchick, 1988; Schneider and Eitzen, 1989). Both these aspects of sport are covered in detail in this volume, and it is sufficient here to emphasize the extent to which both these dimensions of inequality are intensely political insofar as they can have a profound impact on individual choice and career opportunity. For both ethnic minorities and women there has been a general, if slow, improvement in opportunities to compete both in domestic leagues and at the highest international level. However, significant progress remains to be made in terms of access to coaching, administration and management in sport. The most significant gap, though, is the level of representation in those organizations that exercise increasing influence over the future shape and direction of sport, namely the television companies, corporate marketing units and sports goods manufacturing companies.

That there are still important debates about the practice of ‘stacking’ (the location of black athletes in particular team positions due to stereotypical assumptions about temperament and ability), and the particular sports deemed suitable for women is a reflection of the continuing salience of these issues to the achievement of greater equality of opportunity in sport. However, what is worthy of note is the extent to which these issues have remained the subject of domestic, rather than international, politics. Few international federations or organizing bodies have given prominence to racism and sexism on their policy agendas beyond ritual condemnation. There are three possible reasons for this omission. The first is that the issue of equality has a low priority in the IOC and the major international federations as illustrated by the general reluctance of the international sports bodies to adopt a clear policy on apartheid and South African involvement in international sport. The second is that the high profile of the apartheid issue enabled most sports bodies to claim the moral high ground on an issue tightly focused on one particular state. In other words, opposition to apartheid was seen as obviating the need for more elaborate policy statements on similar forms of discrimination. Finally, action to ensure equality of access to sports competition for women has been inhibited by the unwillingness to risk offending Islamic states and losing their considerable financial contributions to Asian sport.

Future Themes

The likely future themes in the study of politics and sport can be divided into two categories: first, continuing and emerging political issues within sport; and secondly, developments in the political environment of sport. As regards the first category, the issue of equality of access in sport, particularly at international level, is likely to emerge as increasingly significant. The theme will be expressed in a number of different ways, including challenges to the continuing Eurocentrism of many international sports bodies, particularly the IOC, the relative under-representation of athletes from poorer countries at elite levels, and the limitation on the opportunities for women to participate in sport and its organization.

The second issue concerns anti-doping policy. By contrast to the issue of equality of access, the major international sports bodies have made significant efforts, in conjunction with a number of governments, to construct a policy aimed at eliminating drug abuse by athletes. In recent years the introduction of out-of-season testing and the development of international testing teams have greatly strengthened the anti-doping policy. The major problem lies in the implementation of the policy and especially whether the IOC and the major federations have both the resources and the will to support the policy. Resources are necessary to ensure that testing procedures keep pace with the increasing sophistication of drug abusers. More importantly, the major sports organizations will need sufficient resources to ensure compliance and cooperation by individual governments. Finally, the IOC and the IAAF in particular will need to continue to demonstrate that they have the will to implement the policy rigorously. There remain serious doubts regarding each of these aspects of policy implementation. There is little indication that either the IOC, the major federations or individual governments are committing sufficient resources to research to ensure that the newer, hormone-based drugs, can be detected accurately. There are also growing doubts that the scale of penalties agreed by international sports bodies can be applied uniformly in member states. The attempt to impose four-year bans on German athletes foundered on the decision of the German courts. Finally, it is questionable whether the IOC and the federations are prepared to move beyond a cosmetic response to the problem. Much of the evidence given to the Dubin Enquiry (1990) following Ben Johnson’s failure of a drug test at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the account given by Voy (1991) suggest that there is, at the very least, a lack of firm commitment to eradicating drug abuse. The World Anti-Doping Agency, established in 1999 and to be jointly funded by the IOC, the international federations and governments may mark a watershed in anti-doping policy, but the level of disagreement and acrimony between partners that accompanied its formation indicated the depth of mutual suspicion and hostility that persists among key policy actors.

Moving away from specific policy issues to the context within which they are shaped, there are three developments of interest. The first concerns the future role of government. The late 1980s saw the disappearance of two major motivations for government involvement in international sport, namely the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of apartheid. It is plausible to suggest that the loss of the stimulus of ideological confrontation and apartheid would result in a reduction in government investment in sport, reflecting the decline in the value of sport as a diplomatic resource. However, this seems far from being the case, particularly among developed states, where government investment has generally increased. That sport should remain a valued resource for governments in domestic politics is not surprising, while its continued utility in international politics is a reflection of the strength of the resurgence of nationalism and the politics of identity at the turn of the twentieth century (Cable, 1994; Parekh, 1994).

A second area of interest concerns the future role of the major international sports bodies. The control that they have exercised over the development of sport is coming under increasingly severe challenge, not only from individual governments (which they are well used to coping with) and from commercial, particularly television, interests, but more recently from players’ unions and agents, and international governmental organizations such as the European Union, the Council of Europe and, to a lesser extent, UNESCO. The capacity of the IOC and the major international federations to plot the course of sports development has always involved a compromise with other interests, but the entry of international governmental organizations (IGOs) and the increasing assertiveness of international athletes will weaken further that capacity, possibly in important areas such as sports aid to poorer countries and anti-doping policy.

The third significant development in the political context of sport is the increasing prominence of commercial interests. Sport has always been dependent on patronage, whether of employers, governments, churches, or the media and sports businesses. The increasing significance of corporate sponsorship and sports broadcasting is not necessarily a malign influence, particularly where governing bodies are relatively powerful or where the state acts as a counterbalance. However, the less popular sports and sport in poorer countries are both vulnerable to pressure from commercial interests and may be unable to prevent the distortion of sports development strategies to provide elite competition and performers. The evolution of the relationship between governing bodies and their international federations, governments and commercial interests is likely to remain a major concern for the foreseeable future.

Politics and Sport Literature

Although the literature on politics and sport is extensive and growing rapidly it is important to note that the overlap of interests between political scientists and sociologists in particular, but also geographers, philosophers and historians is extensive and that there is much of interest for the study of politics and sport to be found in a broad range of social science literature. This is especially true regarding theoretical perspectives on domestic sports policy-making. Brohm (1978), J.E. Hargreaves (1986), Hoch (1972), and Cantelon and Gruneau (1982), provide analyses from a conflict/Marxist standpoint; a critical analysis is provided by Sage (1990) and by Henry (1993) who also provides an interesting overview of competing approaches; and Houlihan (1991) proposes a pluralist analysis. Galtung (1971, 1984, 1991) is one of the most stimulating analysts of the international politics of sport. Taylor (1986, 1988) examines the role of sport from a functionalist perspective on international relations. Finally, Houlihan (1994) provides a review of the capacity of the major perspectives in international relations to shed light on the role and significance of sport.

Canada (Kidd, 1996; Macintosh et al., 1987; Macintosh and Whitson, 1990), the United States (Coakley, 1998; Sage, 1990; Wilson, 1994) and Britain (Coghlan, 1990; Henry, 1993; Houlihan, 1991) all have a considerable literature devoted to an examination of domestic sport policy. For other countries the literature available in English is less abundant but the following provide some insight into domestic sports politics: Australia (Cashman, 1995; Lawrence and Rowe, 1986); China (Hoberman, 1987; Knuttgen et al., 1990; Kolach, 1972; Riordan and Jones, 1999); Europe (Bramham et al., 1989, 1993); Asia and Africa (Wagner, 1989); the former Soviet Union (Riordan 1977, 1978); Caribbean (Beckles and Stoddart, 1995); South America (Arbena, 1988; Lever, 1983). Wilson (1988) is also stimulating and there are useful contributions in the works edited by Wilcox (1994), Allison (1993) and Landry et al. (1991). Finally, Houlihan (1997) examines the politics and policy of sport in five countries, Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

There is a limited, but growing, number of single-country studies of sports foreign policy including Canada (Macintosh and Hawes, 1994), USA (Hulme, 1990; Kanin, 1980), and the former Soviet Union (Peppard and Riordan, 1993). There is also a growing literature on specific sports policy issues and themes. Those with the most extensive literature include drug abuse (Black Report, 1990; Donohoe and Johnson, 1986; Dubin, 1990; Goldman and Klatz, 1992; Houlihan, 1999; Voy, 1991), the Olympic Games (Espy, 1979; Guttman, 1984, 1992; Hill, 1992, 1996; Hoberman, 1986; Segrave and Chu, 1988), and South Africa and apartheid (Black, 1999; Booth, 1998; Bose, 1994; Guelke, 1986, 1993; Hoberman, 1991; Keech and Houlihan, 1999; Kidd, 1988; Krotee, 1988; Lapchick, 1976, 1979; Ramsamy, 1991).

Finally, there are a number of edited collections that are valuable sources, including Allison (1986, 1993), Arnaud and Riordan (1998), Landry et al. (1991), Lowe et al. (1976), Redmond (1986), Riordan and Krüger (1999), and Wilcox (1994).