In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sport and Politics

  • Introduction
  • Introductory and Overview Works
  • Classic Texts
  • Journals
  • International Sporting Governing Bodies and Organizations
  • Sport Governance and Policy
  • Sport and National Politics
  • Sport and International Politics
  • The Cultural Politics of Sport
  • Social and Political Activism in Sport
  • The Politics of Sporting Mega-Events
  • Sport and Development

Political Science Sport and Politics
Bryan Clift, Jacob J. Bustad
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0294


Since the early 1980s, the study of sport and politics has developed into a robust area of academic scholarship. Despite this growth, sport is often considered a phenomenon not associated with politics. Coupled with the popular perception that sport is too trivial or insignificant for serious research, sport and politics are not often connected or given significant consideration. One impetus for scholars of sport and politics is to demonstrate the important relationship between the two. As it has advanced, the study of the relationship between sport and politics has become an interdisciplinary endeavor. No one home of sport and politics exists. Decentralized, its study appears in a diversity of disciplines, notably within and in relation to cultural studies, economics, history, kinesiology, literature, geography, management, media and communications, political science, sociology, or urban studies. Political science alone is comprised of a range of fields and subfields (e.g., administration, policy, political theory, political economy, international relations, etc.). Acknowledging this diversity, both sport and politics come with definitional challenges. Sport is often associated with a structured organized activity that is goal-oriented, competitive, ludic, and physical. But commentators, critics, and everyday usage of the term often conflate it with exercise and physical activity, which are arguably less competitive and structured activities. Politics, too, can be taken in two common, and distinctive yet overlapping conceptual frames: The first involves the people, activities, processes, and decisions in the practices of governing a defined populace. The second takes a broader sense of the power relations and dynamics between people, which goes well beyond the strict understanding of institutions and government. Within the field, there is contention around whether or not the study of sport and politics should remain focused on practices of government alone, or if the latter conceptualization should be included. Regardless of where one sits on this issue, the study of sport and politics does indeed incorporate cross-cutting ideas of “sport” and “politics.” Early research on sport and politics focused on the more governmental side of politics, examining international relations, policy, diplomacy, or political ideology within specific countries, cities, or locales. This work has flourished since the early 1980s. Simultaneously, research foci pushed the boundaries of sport and politics by including broader understandings of power. Sporting organizations, teams, federations, international organizations, events, athletes, and celebrities, as well as exercise and physical activity practices, have been brought together with a range of politicized inquiry in relation to, for example, activism, conflict resolution, disability, environmental issues, ethnicity, health, human rights, gambling, gender, metal health, peace, pleasure, race, security, sexuality, social justice, social responsibility, urbanism, or violence. As the many works cited herein attest, the study of sport and politics is a diverse and growing focus of scholarship.

Introductory and Overview Works

There are several texts that serve as primers for the field of sport and politics. These authors address general and specific topics relevant to the field including sport governance and policy, sport and political activism, sporting mega-events, and the relationship between sport and politics within particular local and global contexts. As more recent writings, they capture the historical development of the field stemming from the early 1980s with more recent scholarship. The handbook Bairner, et al. 2016 is a broad and comprehensive account of important topics within the field, and provides detailed scholarly background to various issues, including sport and the nation; sport and political ideologies; and sport, political activism, and issues related to race, gender, and sexuality. Grix 2015 examines the involvement of the state in regard to contemporary sport governance and policy, while Abrams 2013 provides a historical perspective for examining the relationship between sport and politics in the 20th century and the implications of these histories for contemporary sport. Allison 2005 focuses on the changing dynamics of sport and national and international politics, and Markovits and Rensmann 2010 examines the role and impact of professional sport organizations and athletes within global politics.

  • Abrams, R. I. Playing Tough: The World of Sport and Politics. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2013.

    This book serves as an introductory resource to the area of inquiry as it presents particular historical cases as examples of the relationship between sport and politics. Most useful for undergraduate and graduate students within the initial stages of study.

  • Allison, L., ed. The Global Politics of Sport. London: Routledge, 2005.

    This edited volume serves as a second sequel to The Politics of Sport (1986), and provides an updated analysis of the critical issues related to sport and global politics. Includes chapters by leading authors in the field.

  • Bairner, A., J. Kelly, and J. Woo Lee, eds. Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics. London: Routledge, 2016.

    This handbook provides a comprehensive analysis of the field through over forty chapters focused on specific areas of research. Chapters are organized in sections related to ideologies, nation and statehood, corporate politics, political activism, social justice, and the politics of sports events. Most useful for scholars and researchers engaged in the field.

  • Grix, J. Sport Politics: An Introduction. London: Macmillan International Higher Education, 2015.

    This book lays an introductory basis for understanding “sport” and “politics” individually and in relation to one another before moving on to the more recent development of sport and politics in regard to state involvement in governance and policy. Later chapters focus on sport and national identity, sport and the media, and sport and public diplomacy.

  • Markovits, A. S., and L. Rensmann. Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400834662

    Gaming the World examines the cultural and political changes related to the global sport industry, specifically focusing on professional soccer, football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.

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