Action Replay: World of Sport

IT TAKES a Professor of Leisure Studies to write an atlas of sport. Alan Tomlinson’s World Atlas of Sport was published recently by Myriad Editions and New Internationalist. It contains sections on specific sports, on individual countries and, of course, on sports politics and economics.

One point that emerges is the way that globalisation has affected sport just as it has permeated many other aspects of life. This is not just a matter of the global dominance of football but of the undermining of more local sports, though of course many of these survive, such as pétanque in France and Gaelic football on Ireland. In other cases, changes can only be welcomed: pato in Argentina is no longer played using a live duck rather than a ball.

As European nations extended their power to new parts of the planet, they introduced their own sports. Polo is very popular in Argentina, while cricket is primarily played in Britain and former British colonies: it has been described as an Indian game accidentally discovered in England.

Some sports can be played by almost anyone with a minimum level of fitness, while others require a  lot more investment in financial terms. Skiing was once the preserve of the idle rich, though cheap travel and carefully-prepared snow areas have now widened its appeal to some extent. But polo remains the  sport of an elite, often an aristocratic one, while horse racing, as far as the owners are concerned, is still the sport of kings, capitalists and sheiks.

Not to mention those who flaunt their wealth in sailing – the have-yachts. In his introduction, Tomlinson remarks that sports matter because they express the hopes of billions. But, as he says in his section on merchandising, ‘Sports sell’. Even for a humble kickaround in your local park with jumpers for goalposts what are the odds that players will be wearing logo-covered gear?

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