ISSN 1652–7224 ::: Published 12 September 2007
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Conference report:
PSA Sport and Politics Specialist Group, Gregynog 2007

Russell Holden
University of Wales Institute, Cardiff
Paul Gilchrist

Chelsea School, University of Brighton

At the annual conference of the PSA, Political Studies Association, in Reading 2006, the PSA Sport and Politics Specialist Group made it’s first public appearance, in the form of two panels with a total of six papers with various approaches to the general theme. The success was such, that immediately following the conference, a decision was made to stage a panel at the following PSA conference, in Bath 2007, and to organize a separate Sport and Politics conference, which took place in Gregynog, Powys, in February 2007. Twenty-five academics were present and partook of no less than 14 papers from a total of 17 speakers, papers on a number of topics within the general theme of sport, politics and society.

Far from all participants were actually political scientists; the speakers represented a number of academic disciplines, among them sociology, economy and business administration, anthropology, and sports science. The contributions touched upon problems in the field ranging from the commercialization of football and cultural identity, over anti-doping issues and philosophical aspects of citizenship and national identity, to the possibilities of social transformation through sport. We are proud to be able to present a report from the Gregynog meeting by the convenors of the conference, Russell Holden and Paul Gilchrist. The report was previously published in the Political Studies Newsletter, June 2007, as well as on the Sport and Politics blogspot.

The tranquil surroundings of the University of Wales residential centre at Gregynog, Powys, provided the setting for the inaugural sport and politics study group conference (24-25 February 2007). A total of 25 academics and postgraduate students enjoyed 14 papers from 17 speakers on a range of subjects that explored the ‘currency’ of sport. The speakers, a number of whom included leading figures in the field, were drawn from sport studies, sociology and political studies departments across the UK, with one delegate travelling from Belgium.

Community and Identity

David Storey (Worcester University) kicked off the proceedings with his presentation ‘Transferring national allegiance: cultural affinity or flag of convenience’, a paper that explored shifting regulations that govern international eligibility for athletes seeking to represent their nation. His examples were drawn from Ireland and revealed the conflicting and complex relationships that have to be negotiated by sportsmen for career advancement and cultural identity.

John Williams and Stephen Hopkins (Leicester University) continued these themes of community and identity through a paper (‘The politics of football ownership and fandom in an Anglo-Irish city in the North-West of England in the 21st Century) that explored sports fandom and the challenges brought to it by new consumer identities. They focused on the cultural politics of support for Liverpool FC and argued that the global ownership, production and consumption patterns that characterise other clubs, which have been the site of anti-commercialisation opposition, appear peculiarly out of place at Liverpool; a club that has a deep culture of cosmopolitanism, commercialism and global outlook – a legacy of its seafaring past. The presentation mixed the contemporary, contextual and historical to offer a nuanced and scholarly reflection on the nature of the political economy of sport.

David Storey, John Williams, Stephen Hawkins, Sean Hamil, and Tom Carter

Sean Hamil (Birkbeck College, University of London) picked up the theme of football and community to discuss the role of Supporters Direct in transforming the governance of football in the UK. He argued that injections of international capital into football and US-style franchise reorganisation of some clubs, misinterprets the foundational basis of their operation and existence. Football clubs are not business enterprises but community cultural institutions. The examples of Manchester United and Celtic were used to show how these tensions are managed and how local and political responses have emerged to challenge to developments in the political economy of football. Hamil also reflected on his role as academic and activist, a theme that recurred throughout the conference.

Tom Carter (University of Brighton) extended the international scope of examples to explore ‘What happens while the official looks the other way? Sports migrants and the circumvention of the state’. Utilising a decade of ethnographic fieldwork on Cuban sport, Carter showed how we need to take into account multiple and cross-border relations to explain patterns of migration, the reaction of totalitarian states to it, and the impacts of migration decisions upon the family and friends that remain. As such, the paper proposed an updated theory for understanding sports migration that incorporates and reflects both the actual experiences, routes, and roots of sports migration and all of the institutional “players” as well as relevant individuals involved in the migration process.

Drug Policy in UK Sport

Barrie Houlihan
Barrie Houlihan’s (Loughborough University) paper ‘Independence and accountability: the case of the Drug Free Sport Directorate, the UK’s national anti-doping organisation’ gave a thorough account of the politics of drug policy in UK sport. The paper evaluated demand for an independent National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO), from a survey of national governing bodies (NGBs) and elite athletes and interviews with major policy actors, Houlihan argued that elite athletes and NGBs are less concerned with the location of the NADO within UK Sport, but with questions of accountability and communication. Enhanced independence, it was argued, would be, in itself, no guarantee of either neutrality or of greater effectiveness and may well be counter-productive. Moreover, when administrative reform is considered, there is little evidence that a more independent NADO would be more efficient, equitable or robust.

The Philosophy of Sport

Alun Harman and Jim Lusted
Alun Hardman and Hywel Iorweth (University of Wales Institute Cardiff) took us into sport philosophy with their paper ‘Sport citizenship and national identity – towards a normative account of international relations’. They attempted to clarify issues of citizenship, nationalism and national identity in sport by looking at ISR (international sporting representation) from the competing philosophical perspectives of ‘moral formalism’, ‘moral conventionalism’, ‘moral subjectivism’ and ‘moral interpretivism’. They argued that for a conception of ISR to be compatible with ‘moral interpretivism’, sporting eligibility should be judged by reference to rational principles regarding the nature and purpose of international sport and in particular the principle that sporting representatives should share in the national identity of the country they represent.

Tom Gibbons (Teesside University) and Jim Lusted (Leicester University) utilised the recent 2006 FIFA World Cup to look at national allegiances expressed by football fans. Their paper ‘Is St George enough? Exploring the complexities of contemporary English identity among fans of the national game’, which drew upon case studies in the North of England, suggested that fans of smaller English clubs negotiate their support for the nation with other identities, which is leading to ‘global’ structures of meaning and the development of hybrid identities that modify a unitary association with the nation.

Success and National Pride

Charlotte van Tuyckom
Charlotte Van Tuyckom (University of Ghent) used international statistics to examine the relationship between sporting success and feelings of national pride. Using different data sources (World Values Survey, Polity IV, World Development Indicators, Olympic medal counts, World Football Elo Ratings) she revealed a negative correlation between sporting success and feelings of national pride, a result that stands in opposition to common and reported perceptions. Charles Little (London Metropolitan University) utilised records and information at the Public Records Office to reconsider the sport boycott against Rhodesia. He contrasted the rationale behind the boycott movement to show how it centred on the legitimacy of Ian Smith’s regime (1965-1979) rather than the racial issues that characterised the anti-apartheid sport boycott against South Africa. Furthermore, he showed the central part Britain played in the campaign and the importance of state actors rather than public protest movements. The paper was a reminder that sport boycotts are inefficient in delivering political change; an important point to remember as we approach 2010 – the release date for papers surrounding the British government’s failed approach to the 1980 Olympic boycott.

Transformative Capacity

Grant Jarvie
Grant Jarvie (Stirling University) in his paper ‘Sport, social change and the public intellectual’ asked us to consider three questions. What is the capacity of sport to produce social change? What is the role of the public intellectual? And should the role of the public intellectual be promoted? Jarvie wondered whether we have fully abandoned the transformative capacity of sport, a feature that marked earlier works and interventions in the field, as our RAE-dominated landscape asks us to prioritise certain published outputs instead of dreaming and implementing utopian projects for change through sport. Similarly, he showed how the press utilise the ‘fast talker’ - rhetoricians and public commentators who can offer fast and clever soundbites – marginalising the voice of the academic and promoting instead individuals who lack a critical, deep and sustained engagement with the politics of sport. These features were considered in the context of the decline of the public realm and voids in democracy - the retreat of ruling elites, apathy and abstention, and parties as appendages of the state - to show that there is a difficult path ahead in terms of our capacity to inform public debate and influence social change through sport. Nevertheless, he felt there was a responsibility on us to be more utopian and challenging in our thinking about sport and to be bold enough to launch programmes for change, through various forms of political participation.

Gender Equality

Aaron McIntosh’s (Glasgow Caledonian University) paper ‘Sports policy and practice – gender impact analysis’, revealed some recent findings from a report commissioned by the Scottish Executive’s Equality Proofing (?) Budget & Policy Advisory Group, which looked at the relationship between spending and outcomes in terms of gender equality for Scottish sport. He highlighted how national agency activity has been refocused in recent years, particularly in relation to breaking down the barriers to physical activity. In targeting particularly inactive groups in the population, such as teenage girls and young women, sports bodies are now explicitly encouraging the delivery of a wider range of ‘activities’, breaking away from traditional sporting hegemonies. However, McIntosh questioned how adequately this sport policy aspiration could be achieved in light of the current governance of sport and leisure in Scotland.

Malcolm MacLean (University of Gloucestershire) analysed West Indian cricket legend Viv Richards’ autobiography, Hitting Across the Line, using the postcolonial theory and the lenses of ‘sly civility’ and cultural/political nationalism to argue that both are necessary to uncover the various roles that cricket plays in relations with the residue of the British empire, and in intra-West Indian relations.

Anna Semens (University of Central Lancashire) utilised findings from her doctoral research to focus on the development of the role of player representatives in relation to structural and economic changes in the football industry. She used qualitative interview data collected between 2004 and 2006 to evaluate the appropriateness of the FIFA licencing system and the effectiveness of proposed new regulations designed to control player representatives and legitimise the transfer process.

The Welsh Contribution

Russell Holden
Russell Holden (University of Wales Institute Cardiff) rounded off the conference with an apposite Welsh theme in his paper ‘Never forget the Welsh – exploring the myths and realities of the Welsh contribution to the 2005 Ashes victory’. His paper examined the Welsh contribution both inside and outside of the Principality by highlighting a forgotten – perhaps marginalised - range of personnel and agents involved in the cricketing triumph. Nevertheless, Holden argued that some of the greatest efforts in terms of the contemporary development of Welsh sport, however, are the result of the support the Welsh Assembly Government (e.g. in funding the ground development of Sophia Gardens, the home of Welsh cricket) and not necessarily through mobilisation of alliances made on the back of recent victories for Welsh sport, including the Ashes but also the 2005 Six Nations victory. As such a number of questions need to be answered, in particular where the intervention of the Welsh Assembly Government are for the purposes of nation-building, promotion of the nation-state or strengthening cultural identity?

* * * * *

On the Saturday evening we enjoyed a sumptuous three-course meal and were joined by two guest speakers. Robert Croft, the Glamorgan and ex-England cricketer, entertained us with anecdotes about the relationship between cricket and the media. He gave us some insights into his relationship to England coach Duncan Fletcher and how a new generation of cricket stars are being developed away from the prying lenses and notebooks of the press. Esteemed journalist and current editor of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac, Matthew Engel, himself a graduate of political science at Manchester University, carried on the theme of the relationship between press and cricket, in a talk that discussed the politics of England’s defeat. They generously responded to questions from the conference delegates and carried on the discussion in the bar afterwards.

The conference ended with a discussion of future directions for the group, where a number of directions were proposed. These are now being taken into consideration by the group convenors. However, all agreed that the group should continue to operate through conferences, workshops or seminars; to take forward the debates raised at Gregynog and should maintain rigorous yet friendly atmosphere to discuss work-in-progress from academics and postgraduate students alike.

Copyright © Russell Holden & Paul Gilchrist 2007 | Editor Kjell E. Eriksson | Publisher Aage Radmann