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

  • Introduction
  • African Dissertations and Theses
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Data Sources
  • Physical Education
  • Biographies and Memoirs

African Studies Sport
Martha Saavedra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0178


Sport as a human practice can be studied within several disciplines, including performance and sport sciences (e.g., kinesiology, psychology, and nutrition), sport management, administration and law, and physical education and coaching. Scholars in the social sciences and humanities have also applied their disciplinary lenses to sport, with strong subfields in sport sociology and sport history now established. More recently, an interdisciplinary subfield of critical sport studies has emerged. Sport and development is also coalescing as a field albeit with some contestation as to its content and focus (e.g., “how-to” and celebration versus “critical interrogation of practice”). As a distinct area of research, work focused on African sport from any of these approaches was rather limited until the mid-1990s. With a few exceptions, prior to 1998 scholarship on African sport was largely focused on or in South Africa, centering either on the impact of and fight against apartheid or on sport science inquiries into aspects of sports practiced mainly in white communities. Since 2000, however, research publications—mainly journal articles, but also a few book manuscripts—have greatly expanded in number, country, sport, and discipline, though football is by far the most commonly researched sport in Africa. A crude review of citations under “African sport” (excluding the term “American”) in Google scholar from 1970 to 2012 shows the average annual number of citations by decade as follows: 1970s = 97; 1980s = 177; 1990s = 402; 2000s = 1,927; 2010–2012 = 3,957. Following general patterns observed in African scholarship, most of the work catalogued is produced by European, American, and Australian scholars. This fact reflects, to some extent, actual research production, but even more so what is in circulation globally. At least since the 1970s, African researchers have produced significant scholarship on sport and physical education in pursuit of university degrees. Single copies of these theses and dissertations have largely remained in the archives and libraries of the respective institutions of higher education on the continent. However, more and more African institutions are digitizing catalogues, abstracts, and even full texts. In the next decade, scholarship in all fields, including sport studies, produced by African researchers should increasingly make its mark. Overall, much of the work is descriptive, using particular disciplinary methods to document African engagement with sport. More biographies and memoirs are also appearing that are useful as primary sources. Theoretically, works have queried the role of sport in African social and political life and how this varies across time and location and in comparison to other regions of the world. Questions explored in these works concern power, colonial and neocolonial influence, globalization, hegemony, agency, equity, inclusion, and identity. In some cases, sport is used as a lens to understand these issues more generally. In others, sport is investigated as the crucible in which resources are or could be mobilized for social and political impact. As a whole, the works establish the importance of this form of popular culture in African experiences.

General Overviews

Almost no general single manuscript overviews of African sport are available. However, starting in the late 1980s, edited volumes, such as Baker and Mangan 1987 and Wagner 1989, began to appear. Several books about South African sport were also published (see section Sport and the Anti-Apartheid Movement). Deville-Danthu 1997 is one of the first single-author volumes to examine the development of modern sport in a large region of Africa, in this case French West Africa. Some topical or country-specific volumes, such as Bale and Sang 1996 (cited under Track and Field, Black and Nauright 1998 (cited under Rugby), and Darby 2002 (cited under Football), as well as introductions to many of the edited collections also provide an introduction to general themes and conundrums confronted in research on African sport. Coulibaly 2012 provides an insider’s overview of important milestones in the organization of African sport. Vidacs 2006, an introductory article in an issue of the Africa Spectrum journal on the politics of football in Africa, makes a strong case as to how the study of sport can contribute unique insights into African social dynamics. Giulianotti 2004, while not specifically about Africa, is included here as it provides a good overview of themes and theories that have been employed in the study of African sport.

  • Baker, William J., and J. A. Mangan, eds. Sport in Africa: Essays in Social History. New York: Africana, 1987.

    One of the first volumes to focus on African sport. A broadly eclectic set of chapters that are mostly descriptive, covering precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial experiences and a range of activities, including hunting, wrestling, gambling, and boxing, as well as political control and expansion. Contains essays by Ali Mazrui, Terence Ranger, and Anthony Kirk-Greene, among others.

  • Coulibaly, Garang. La fabuleuse histoire du sport africain: Genèse du Conseil supérieur du sport en Afrique (C.S.S.A.), 1966–1991. Dakar, Senegal: Éditions Maguilen, 2012.

    Drawing on personal knowledge as well as the CSSA archives, the author provides a detailed overview of the history of modern sport in Africa with an emphasis on the role of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa (established 1966, dissolved 2012) and on the organization and administration of sport more generally. Documents competitions, events, federations, and personnel involved across the continent.

  • Deville-Danthu, Bernadette. Le sport en noir et blanc: Du sport colonial au sport africain dans les anciens territoires français d’Afrique occidentale, 1920–1965. Collection “Espaces et temps du sport.” Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997.

    Documents in great detail the institutional development of sport in francophone West Africa. Examines the role of various institutions, including the military, religious orders, colonial administration, and education. Highlights in particular the contradictions, tensions, and prejudices encountered.

  • Giulianotti, Richard, ed. Sport and Modern Social Theorists: Theorizing Homo Ludens. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230523180

    Embracing theoretical diversity, evaluates the work of various theorists, including Marx, Weber, Gramsci, Bourdieu, and Foucault, as it relates to the social understanding of sport. Several contributors—Guilianotti, Booth, Hargreaves—have written on African sport.

  • Vidacs, Bea. “Through the Prism of Sports: Why Should Africanists Study Sports?” Africa Spectrum 41.3 (January 2006): 331–349.

    Eloquently contextualizes the role of sport in African life, explores the relevance of sport studies to understanding African social realities, offers an overview of the field to date, and provides an insightful example of how sport reveals insights into broader social and political life via a comparison of Cameroon’s World Cup participation between 1990 and 1998.

  • Wagner, Eric A., ed. Sport in Asia and Africa: A Comparative Handbook. New York: Greenwood, 1989.

    Includes chapters describing the development of sport, with an emphasis on formally sanctioned structures, in Egypt, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

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