Throughout much of the first decade of the 21st century there has been a widespread social policy focus on sport as a mechanism to build community coh...moreThroughout much of the first decade of the 21st century there has been a widespread social policy focus on sport as a mechanism to build community cohesion, to combat ‘social exclusion’ and to help develop social capital (that policy maker’s buzz word that seemed to fit so well with the solidifying neoliberal hegemony of the era. This book of generally very good essays cuts right to the quick of that approach by exploring the interface between sport governance (so the role and potency of sports organisations), social capital and the academic and policy/political debates around that seemingly taken for granted approach.
The book works well on three levels. First, it challenges the dominant functionalist uses of ‘social capital’ as a concept, derived from Putnam’s well-known development of the idea in Bowling Alone. Second, the various authors, in their own ways suited both to the theoretical approaches and evidence, negotiate the tensions between Putnam’s and Coleman’s approaches that see social capital as more collective and Bourdieu’s that sees it resting in the individual as a tool of status and power. Third, the dominant tendency across all the contributors is to see social capital as linked to the growing normalisation of neo-liberal assumptions about social exchange and transactions and therefore a tendency to valorisation of the intangible. It should be clear from this that the book is both academically demanding and rich.
The collection can be seen as comprised of three groups of papers. The introduction and conclusion (by Groeneveld and Houlian and Groeneveld and Ohl respectively) frame the collection very well. The first sets up the key conceptual and theoretical issues, including a review of the three predominant models of social capital – Putnam’s, Coleman’s and Bourdieu’s – as well as sketching in broad brush terms the significance of these ideas in the context of European approaches to sport governance and EU policy. The second set of essays are derived from an EU-funded research project lead by Groeneveld exploring social social capital and sport governance in four European states – Denmark, Czech Republic, Italy & France. These essays, by Thomas Persson, Dino Numerato, Cristina Fusetti and Simone Baglioni, hold together well in part because they focus on the same sports (amateur football, sailing and handball) and use the same broadly ethnographic methodological approach. The final set of papers, by Borja Garcia, Andrew Adams, David Hassan and Allan Edwards, and Ørnulf Seippel, enrich the collection by allowing exploration of other national setting beyond the research project but lack the coherence of the six papers derived from the research project.
I found several of the papers particularly useful, alongside the introduction and conclusion which both frame and extend the issues extremely well. Of the papers derived from the research project, Persson’s discussion of the various ties in Danish sports governance as framed by ties that relate to leisure and to professional relations has resonance in wider contexts and takes us beyond the usual notions of bonding, bridging and linking capital the is the norm in social capital debates. Deployment of these ideas in a more explicit manner could have helped Baglioni’s case which alludes to several similar circumstances but lacks the theoretical crispness of Persson’s case. In a similar manner, Numerato’s distinctions between sports organisations as characterised primarily by politicking, as a movement or as a community (as well as his useful and honest discussion of outliers and evidence that did not fit his case) brings productive subtlety to his case. Fusetti’s analysis of France reveals in productive ways the significance and impacts of state systems, and alongside Numerato’s focus on the post-communist Czech setting provides a sharp set of readings of the state in civil society.
Of the other papers, Garcia’s is a useful critical reading of EU sports and cultural policy (or the lack of it) and sceptical view of the so-called European model of sport (and in this sense sits alongside some of the work the emerged from the ‘Sport in Modern Europe – Perspectives on a Comparative Cultural History’ funded in the UK by the AHRC (see www.sport-in-europe.group.can.ac.uk for further information on that project). Equally sharp in its analysis is Ørnulf Seippel’s paper looking at Norway which deploys a rich matrix based in the interaction of governance and social capital on one axis and democratic effects and policy outcomes on the other to pose challenging questions about the supposed functionalist claims in social capital inflected policy approaches. His discussion of democratic effects turns around the impacts in terms of individuals, a public sphere (bridging both state and civil society institutions) and the relations between voluntary/civil society institutions and the institutions of the state – parliament, government and administration. His exploration of policy outcomes is frame din terms of efficiency, efficacy and equity. This is a potent framework through which to explore and analyse social capital.
Groeneveld’s and Ohl’s concluding essay then effectively binds the papers together but extends the case made by framing social capital as both a metaphor (which may also be seen as a piece of ideological obfuscation, but this is not explicitly their case) and as an exchange mechanism. That is, they return social capital to the economic and demand that we step beyond the barriers imposed by essentialising sport as either a public good or ideological bad, but recognise it as a complex social site carrying social goods as well as dangers.
The major problem with the collection is that lack of fit between the three sets of papers. The six derived from the research project have a coherence and cogency that, despite the relative weakness of Baglioni’s, makes a powerful case for comparability and difference. The other four papers, despite their value do not fit so well, and Andrews’ is simply too dense and acronym-laden to engage many readers. I suspect these problems could have been fixed by tighter copy editing (but I am aware of the problems there, and at times as editors we find ourselves caught between conflicting views of good prose).
The collection is an important contribution to debates that go well beyond the academic; sport’s central place in many aspects of social and health policy and the potent attachment of many policy advocates and makers to naïve and simplistic notions of social capital means that the arguments and scepticism here are a vital foil to widespread inept policy making and the presumed instrumentalism of functionalist frames. It is frustrating then that Routledge has seen fit to publish it only as an £80 hardback. This will only further restrict its audience. (less)
The place and involvement of indigenous peoples in sport is a complex area of social analysis; in some cases we see their playing as a sign of the dep...moreThe place and involvement of indigenous peoples in sport is a complex area of social analysis; in some cases we see their playing as a sign of the depredations of colonialism having been overcome while in others it is seen a beating the oppressor at their own game. In other cases it is seen as a linked to the view that people of colour are more naturally sporting – the physical but anti-intellectual person – while in other settings first nations’ sport is evidence of their adaptation of sport to their own ends. This important collection of scholarly writing about the history and sociology of Native American sport engages with all these and other analytical tropes.
There are essays shaped around a colonial gaze of native athletes, including the 19th century painter George Catlin’s Choctaw ball players, understandings of Tarahumara runners or the changing image and perception of Jim Thorpe. Alongside these there are native athletes in organised Anglo sport, including a fabulous piece of archival rummaging leading to a close exploration of a recurrent appearance by an Indian School basketball team from Dakota a Catholic basketball tournament in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s. This is mirrored by a piece analysing the place and consequences of a University of Georgia Toli team in a Choctaw competition, and the way the college athletes find themselves face-to-face with a Native American way of life they have never experienced.
Amid the collection, four pieces stood out for me: two from each side of the border. Eric Anderson’s analysis of the resistive potential and the limits of expectation among Navajo basketball players and Matthew Kreitzer’s unexpected and surprising piece about Native baseball players in Northern Utah in the early 20th century both open up provocative new ways of thinking about the potentials and limits of colonial sport. From the Canadian settings there is Michael Robidoux’s excellent assessment of the complex place of hockey violence in First Nation’s masculinity, that effectively gets beyond the conventions of thinking about hockey violence, and Janice Forsyth and Kevin Walmsley’s unpacking of the complexities of identity, inclusion and resistance in the World and North American Indigenous Games.
In the whole, these papers explore ways to look at sport in colonisation, anti-colonialism and postcolonisation, and in doing so are excellent examples of the potential of sport analyses. As is so often the case with explorations of sport and of colonial politics, women are notable by their absence – although Anderson, Robidoux and King (in his concluding essay) explore important issues of gender. Even with that absence, this is an important contribution to a growing body of scholarly work exploring indigenous peoples and sport.(less)
This was my furst review in an academic journal, in The Journal of Sport History in 1997:
Ian van Zyl played in my Natal high school rugby team. He was...moreThis was my furst review in an academic journal, in The Journal of Sport History in 1997:
Ian van Zyl played in my Natal high school rugby team. He was a thinking rugby player with a real eye for the gap. The school team was very good, some of the players were provincial representatives and they made up almost all of the Zululand high schools team. When they played home games it seemed like the entire town turned out to watch.
The centrality of rugby in South African social life has often been the subject of comment, and it is usually stressed that rugby has a particular place in the Afrikaner world. Aside from its inclusion in a number of general commentaries on South African sport, little attention seems to have been given to rugby as a socio-cultural institution. Beyond the Tryline is a significant step towards correcting that gap - a gap so big that a player with only a modicum of Ian van Zyl's ability would have got through easily.
Beyond the Tryline gives extensive coverage of South Africa's rugby scene. Black rugby meets English rugby, Afrikaner nationalism greets the build up to the 1995 World Cup. Through all this, rugby is seen through a Geertzian deep play lens. It is placed alongside other social characteristics as either being informed by, or informing, nationalism, schooling, class or gender. In doing so, the collection is certainly ambitious, confronting a huge topic in a svelte form.
Grundlingh's opening essay looks at rugby in the so-called 'New' South Africa. He works his way through the tangled politics of rugby's reconciliation with itself as the (white) South African Rugby Board sought a new relationship with the (non-racial) South African Rugby Union to form the South African Rugby Football Union. Problematically, he highlighted (white) public opposition to the deals struck between the ANC and the SARFU to build a new rugby yet derides the (anti-apartheid and non-racial) South African Council on Sport for being more interested in doctrinal purity and the reconstruction of South Africa than in international sport. This is the weakest of Grundlingh's three essays, and oddly grants South African rugby considerable autonomy.
Grundlingh's second essay steps back to look at rugby's response to isolation. In doing so, however, he extends the acceptable period of isolation. He continues the notion that tours such as that by the 1986 Cavaliers from New Zealand - nearly a full strength All Black side - were 'rebel' tours. This essay is a useful attempt to show institutional rugby responses to isolation while maintaining the image that a strong anti-apartheid feeling persisted inside SARB. A discussion of the changing attitudes to the sports boycott and racialised sport would have helped. He needed to address the contradiction between acceptable mixed race national teams, and their rejection at all other levels. This argument suggests that 1970s multi-nationalism had become naturalised, yet this implication is not developed.
Grundlingh's final contribution looks at the connections between rugby, Afrikaner nationalism and masculinity. This discussion places far more emphasis on nationalism than on gender, largely because imperial gender role(s) are assumed to have been adopted. There was, however, a conscious attempt by the SARB to publicly incorporate women as supporters, which appears to be at odds with this imperial ideological role of rugby. Grundlingh is quite right to argue that the attempt to 'Afrikanerise' rugby is anti-imperial, but his failure to consider the gender implications of this shift from rugby as an imperial bond to its role in nationalist assertion significantly weakens his analysis. The essay would have been strengthened had he considered at the role of women in Afrikaner nationalism, as well as looking at the tensions between this and the place of women in Afrikaner rugby. The essay does include a useful discussion of the spread of rugby within Afrikanerdom, but greater attention to the social status of ministers and school-teachers in facilitating the dispersion of rugby to Afrikaner communities would help explain why an English sport took hold so rapidly. This explanation seems to hold well for the Cape, but it is a problem that Afrikaner rugby in Transvaal is depicted almost exclusively in terms of Pretoria: what about the spread to rural areas?
Spies and Odendaal each contribute one essay to the collection. Spies deals with rugby within white English speaking South Africa. This is a disappointing essay, lacking a clear thesis except that schools are important in the spread and development of English speaking rugby. It is too patchy and insufficiently analytical. Spies has missed a chance to consider English and Afrikaner social relations around rugby - how does the imperial heritage, and tension over apartheid formations, impact on or play through relations between white communities or attitudes to rugby? That said, it does provide a useful narrative of the growth of English rugby.
Odendaal's contribution is perhaps the most useful and significant in the collection. It is an important narrative of the development of black rugby. Despite this, it would have been strengthen by the inclusion of more about social relations of non-white rugby. He also points to tensions between SARU and SACOS over the priorities given to international contact and social transformation. A clearer statement of how these tensions were manifest and the extent to which they were resolved would have made to piece much more useful. Despite this, the essay is the most comprehensive statement on black rugby in South Africa to date.
Beyond the Tryline provides a good basis for further scholarly analysis of South African rugby and some useful ideas for those working with sports in former colonies of settlement. It is often the case that the primary treatment of any subject has a kind of sacrificial role to play in ongoing debate. Hopefully Grundlingh, Odendaal and Spies will not be too disappointed to take their place on the altar of sports' social analysis. (less)