Geography Geography of Sports
Neil Conner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0067


Karl Marx is remembered for having stated: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature. . . . It is the opium of the people.” In recent years, scholars of sports and society have made the claim that, in today’s world, sports rather than religion should be considered the “opiate of the masses.” Yet, this paraphrase of Karl Marx’s famous statement does not completely capture the pervasiveness of sports within society. What these authors discuss goes well beyond sports as being simply a form of recreation or leisure activity or a type of frivolous endeavor that has no consequence or meaning. Rather, sports have become so engrained within the very fabric of society that they extend from the everyday banal experiences of fans to the global sporting mega-events that mesmerize and draw together billions of people around the world. As such, extensive research on sports has been undertaken within many fields of academia, including history, sociology, economics, and psychology. Yet, despite the wealth of knowledge on the subject in general and the many geographic relationships that are inherent in sports, geographers have historically not recognized the study of sports as a serious academic topic within their field. This absence is made most apparent by the nonexistence of any sports-specific geography journals (with the exception of Sport Place: An International Journal of Sports Geography, which was in publication from 1987 to 2000). Consequently, contemporary articles about the geography of sports are dispersed across a wide range of academic sources. This reality indicates the potential for a range of research topics that are, in most cases, understudied from a geographic perspective. In many of the sources cited in this article, the authors make similar claims that geography as a discipline still has much to contribute to sports-centered discourses. This article demonstrates the pervasiveness of sports in society by highlighting many of the diverse themes that sports geographers have or with which they are currently engaged. In this way, it also provides a framework for further critical engagements on the intersections of sports and geography.

General Overviews

The field of sports geography began in the 1960s and 1970s with the work of American geographer John Rooney (Rooney 1974). Rooney is referred to as the “father” of modern sports geography by British geographer John Bale in Bale 2003, in part because Rooney was the founder of the now defunct sports-specific geography journal Sport Place, to which Bale was both a contributor and an editor. Bale is currently considered by many to be the most influential sports geographer, and his Sports Geography is the most cited book in the field. A final general overview textbook includes an edited volume, DeChano and Shelley 2006, which demonstrates how sports can be used to teach geographic issues. All three books are perfectly suited to undergraduate audiences.

  • Bale, John. Sports Geography. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2003.

    This textbook is the most influential and theoretically comprehensive source in the field of sports geography. Bale demonstrates the importance of geographic analysis in the study of sports through several key themes: space and place; location and landscape; geographic diffusion; globalization; economics, the community; and geographic imaginations.

  • DeChano, Lisa M., and Fred M. Shelley, eds. The Geography-Sports Connection: Using Sports to Teach Geography. Jacksonville, AL: National Council for Geographic Education, 2006.

    This edited volume contains essays that examine many of the subheadings in this article, including political geographies of sports, globalization, location and relocation, race and gender issues in sports, and, finally, sports and the environment.

  • Rooney, John F. A Geography of American Sport: From Cabin Creek to Anaheim. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1974.

    This book explores the regional variations and geographic diffusions of sports in the United States. It identifies certain regions that are especially productive athletically (e.g., American Football in Texas) through a cartographical/statistical approach that compares per capita levels of production between regions and the nation as a whole.

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