Tag Archives: sport

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

By Kieran Phelan, University of Nottingham

It is remarkable that this summer marked four years since London played host to the world’s Olympians and Paralympians. ‘London 2012’ was arguably one of the most exciting opportunities in London’s recent history, to showcase to the world the very best of competitive sport. Whilst the opening ceremony’s fireworks, theatre and show-biz pizazz certainly laced the event with an almost-perfectly staged veneer, London’s Olympic Games were also politically, quite contentious. Despite providing the world’s avid sports fans with just under a month of high-quality sport, its mobilisation, organization and promised legacy have since been marred by questions of worth and value.  In times of austerity, some have argued that the London Olympic Games were a gigantic waste of time and money that not only excluded local residents, but stoked London’s rapidly gentrifying transformation. As Bridget Diamond-Welch aptly describes, with the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the Olympics, we easily can forget just one thing. In the very location of the Olympic Games, not too long ago, were businesses, factories, residents and homes.

This summer’s Olympics and Paralympics were no different. In fact, it was memorably political. Just hours before the opening ceremony, thousands of activists marched along Copacabana seafront protesting the government’s decision to host the Olympics at a time when Rio’s government is cash-strapped. Local people seized the international limelight to publicly question the appropriateness of the Olympics, and mobilise around their shared grievances. By public disruption, protesters were scratching off the event’s polished façade to re-narrate the sporting mega-event. They wanted to air their frustrations with the way the Olympic Games were organised, which adversely affected poorer communities. Exclusion and eviction were the necessary costs of ‘getting ready’ for the Games.

Sporting mega-events such as the Olympic Games are really interesting. Not only do they provide opportunities to plug into great sport, but they also serve as a lens through which to find international commonality. Sport enables cultural exchange and establishes bonds of friendship. They are, importantly, not just about what happens on the field but what happens off it too. Of course, they are about professional competition, but often, they also seek to achieve broader goals; engagement, participation and legacy. In striving for these aspirations, it is important to ask not only who is engaged and taking part, and ultimately who isn’t. Susan Fitzpatrick’s recent article in Area directly attends to this issue, reviewing how the political subjectivity of local residents were shaped and influenced by another sporting mega-event; Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Using the preparations for the Games as a starting point, Fitzpatrick prises open discussion about how political subjectivities are necessarily placed. Urban mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games are viewed as important catalysts for political articulation. They provide the impetus for communities to focus their opposition and articulate their anxieties, excluding and including in equal measure. Finding spaces for discussion and political organization are necessary parts of this process. Fitzpatrick goes on to discuss how Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games drew into view placed political struggles. Interestingly, the Games were also presented as their solution. Fitzpatrick draws upon the disconnection between ‘event time’ and political time; timescales that forever seem incongruous with one another. ‘Official’ opportunities for engagement can be, simultaneously, temporally-bound sites of dialogue, subversion, resistance and re-narration. Official discourses frame and contextualise resistance, and have real material effects on how people criticise and engage with sporting mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games.

When reflecting upon these ideas, I thought back just a few short weeks ago to the discussion surrounding the Rio Games. I asked myself what are the things that most of us will remember; the colour of the water in the diving pool? The outfits of the Olympians? The night-time antics in Copacabana? Unsurprisingly, the salient thoughts lack depth or substance. Whilst it’s exciting to plug into a month of sport, perhaps we all too easily plug-out, change channels and forget, once it’s all over? It’s just great sport for most of us. We must not forget however, the Games are also people lives and livelihoods too. Fitzpatrick’s (2016) article perfectly sums up the importance of inclusion, valuing the mega-event’s associated political questions that are too readily dismissed. It would seem, sporting mega-events are not always about the winning, but it truly is the taking part that counts.

books_icon Diamond-Welch B 2012, August 20. The Olympic Transformation: Regeneration or Gentrification. Sociology in Focus Retrieved October 7, 2016

books_icon Fitzpatrick S 2016. Who is taking part? Political Subjectivity and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. Area doi: 10.1111/area.12295

60-world2 Hunt E 2016, August 10. Why is the Olympic diving pool green? The good news is it’s not urine. The Guardian Online Retrieved October 10, 2016

60-world2 Morby A 2016, August 8. Fice of the best outfits sported by Rio 2016 Olympians during the opening ceremony. Dezeen Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 NBC News 2016, August 5. Olympic Tourists, Athletes Enjoying Nightlife Ahead of Rio Opening Ceremonies. NBC News Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 Watts J 2015, July 19. Rio 2016: ‘The Olympics has destroyed my home’. The Guardian Online Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 Williams R 2016, July 22. Why the London Olympics were a gigantic waste of time and money. The Guardian Online  Retrieved October 7, 2016


The beautiful game? Violence, security and safety at Euro 2016

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of whether you have been following the football or not, you won’t have been able to escape the disappointing reports of crowd violence at this year’s Uefa European Championships in France. Since the turn of the century, sports mega-events like the Euros have come under the academic radar, with research drawing attention to issues surrounding surveillance, security, governance, and control (Foucault, eat your heart out!). Geographers in particular have been keen to kick off enquiries into the inherently spatial nature of both surveillance and violence across a variety of spaces. One such paper, published almost a year ago, is Fonio and Pisapia’s (2015) investigation into security and surveillance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Whilst this paper considered the approaches to surveillance – and their impacts on the community – in Johannesburg, a formerly hazardous city in a developing country, there are some striking comparisons which can be drawn with the disruption at this year’s Euros.

England fans were involved in some of the earliest instances of unruly behaviour in France. Before the tournament had even begun, fighting broke out between England fans and locals in Marseille, causing French riot police to step in. Furthermore, in the build-up to England’s first group game against Russia, Police were forced to use tear gas and a water-cannon, when English, French, and Russian supporters clashed. On the day of the much-anticipated game, the violence continued, this time inside the stadium. Russian fans set off flares during the game and, after scoring a last-minute equaliser, proceeded to charge at English supporters, forcing some to climb over fences to escape.

What is worrying is that this was not an isolated incident. Reports of violence at this year’s tournament have been disturbingly common; fans from Northern Ireland, Hungary, Turkey, Croatia, Belgium, and Portugal, just to name a few, have been charged for violent and racist behaviour. Uefa have tried to curb violence by fining the national football associations involved, and has also threatened clubs with expulsion from the tournament. But what is being done by the French authorities to deal with the violent scenes? And how does their approach relate to the precautions taken for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa which, despite concerns about the safety of fans and players, was praised for being a safe tournament for all involved?

The terror attacks in Paris in November, in which the Stade de France was one of the targets, meant that this year’s Euros had a heightened level of security. The French packed their defence, employing 90,000 security staff (42,000 national police officers, 30,000 local gendarmes, and 10,000 soldiers) and 12,000 stewards, and erecting 42km of temporary fences (26km of high fences and 16km low barriers). Security checks were undertaken on entry to every stadium, with a long list of prohibited items, and regular bomb sweeps and body checks in fan zones and stadiums were in operation. This year is the third time that France has hosted the Championships – ‘Le Rendez-Vous’ is the tournament’s very fitting slogan – and French Authorities were determined to make this year’s tournament a success.

Such a high level of surveillance is vital to ensuring the safety of everyone affected by such a major sporting event. However, preparation is just as important. Preparation, Fonio and Pisapia (2015) argue, is what contributed to the success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The tournament, they state, represented a shift in FIFA’s approach to security, from reactive security provisions to more proactive policing. In preparation for the World Cup, South African officials visited the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece; the South Africans had done their homework. During the 2010 tournament, security and surveillance were practised by multiple parties; local police, people within the community, nationally-appointed security forces, and FIFA officials. Focussing on Johannesburg, Fonio and Pisapia (2015) identify two main approaches to security that were used, both of which emphasised the highly spatial – and visual – nature of security at major football tournaments. Firstly, Geographical Information System (GIS) technology proved vital to Johannesburg police, who compiled all the relevant event-information into geographical layers – facilities, transportation hubs and routes, security, traffic black spots, road closures – which could be laid over each other to identify high-risk areas for congregations of people. Such technology was also used to analyse physical and social disorder after the events, which was captured and recorded by policemen using GIS handheld devices. The second approach was to use surveillance cameras, South African authorities developing a network of CCTV systems across the host cities. The use of such surveillance technologies, Fonio and Pisapia (2015) claim, created institutional ‘knowledge networks’, in which knowledge about how to tackle disorderly behaviour was shared and transferred, helping the authorities to prepare.

So what went wrong in France? Whilst the French authorities were seemingly prepared, English eyewitnesses have identified gaps in their defence; they were simply not prepared enough. For fans inside the Marseille stadium watching a rather dull game, waiting for England to inevitably concede a last-minute equaliser, it was obvious that trouble was brewing. The perpetrators were renowned Russian ‘ultras’, hardened hooligans who plan and choreograph violent acts. They were wearing logos identifying their allegiance, well-known to the rest of the world, and, as a result, the French police have been heavily criticised for not being more on the ball. There was also a lack of crowd segregation within the stadium, something unheard of even in most English non-league grounds! It is really disappointing that ‘the beautiful game’ has taken such an ugly turn, but let’s hope that the continued work of geographers into understanding both the socio-spatial dynamics of violence and the use of surveillance technologies, will help turn the game around.


books_iconFonio, C. and Pisapia, G. (2015). “Security, surveillance and geographical patterns at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg”, The Geographical Journal, 181(3):242-248.

60-world2BBC Euro 2016: Who is to blame for the Marseille violence? BBC online. 14 June 2016

60-world2Nurse H 2016 Euro 2016: How is French security ensuring fan safety? BBC online. 14 June 2016

60-world2BBC Hungary fans clash with riot police inside Marseille stadium BBC online. 18 June 2016.

60-world2BBC Euro 2016: Hungary, Belgium and Portugal federations charged BBC online 19 June 2016.



Against tough opposition: the local impacts of sports stadia

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

The City of Manchester Stadium Source: Wikimedia Commons

The City of Manchester Stadium
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Our nation is one transfixed by sport; be it the climax of the Premier League season, or the impending Rugby World Cup, sport is on a lot of people’s lips at the present time. But have you ever stopped to think about the implications of our great (and not so great!) stadia on their surrounding areas? Sport is complexly entwined with contemporary society, both socially and economically, and the fortresses in which they are played are certainly no exception.

Two examples in the news recently – FC United of Manchester’s proposed new football ground and the Cornish Pirates’ proposal for a rugby stadium – have highlighted the complications of building new sports stadia, and the importance of considering their impacts on the local community. They also ring true with some of the issues raised in Davies’ (2005) article, which, although a decade old, is still relevant today.

Residents living in close proximity to proposed sports stadia often protest, highlighting potential negative impacts; team NIMBY can be tough opposition to beat! Davies (2005) considers the use of sports stadia as catalysts for socio-economic regeneration in declining areas. A sports stadium development brings with it pros and cons. Firstly, there may be positive economic outcomes; jobs may be generated and commercial activity increased, as well as potential for tourism and interest from businesses. There may also be improvements for the community in infrastructure, communications, and transport links. Stadium 1 – 0 NIMBYs. Whether these outweigh the cost of building stadia is, however, often debateable. Stadium 1 – 1 NIMBYs. Secondly, there is potential for positive social impacts; stadia may generate civic pride, increased community identity, and an improved image of the area. Thus, both the external and internal perception of place can be enhanced. Stadium 2 – 1 NIMBYs. On the other hand, there are potential negative social implications, such as traffic congestion, graffiti, vandalism, noise, and litter. Stadium 2 – 2 NIMBYs. Davies’ main focus, however, is on house prices. Contrary to much research previous to her study, Davies argues that sports stadia do not reduce real estate values. In fact, she observed quite the opposite in the cases of the City of Manchester Stadium and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Stadium 3 – 2 NIMBYS. The verdict? A close match, with little separating the two sides; by no means a convincing victory.

Now to turn to current stadium debates. FC United of Manchester’s proposal for a new football ground in Moston was approved by the local council after they received 5,635 letters in support of the application as opposed to 2,226 letters objecting to it. The development is predicted to bring in £4m of investment to the area. The benefits to locals appear to be extensive; the club – itself owned by local fans – has raised £2m from community shares to build the stadium, which will also provide community sports facilities.

On the other hand, the Cornish Pirates’ application for a new stadium is yet to be converted. Initial plans by Cornwall County Council were for a new community stadium on the outskirts of Truro, to be shared by the Cornish Pirates rugby union team, Truro City football team (who themselves have submitted plans for a new ground elsewhere in the city), and the local college. The stadium would provide facilities for concerts, conferences, businesses, and catering, as well as a community sports hub and leisure facilities. Whilst the new stadium would bring jobs and wealth to the county, the local council are not onside, and there are concerns that all the other residential and commercial development that it may bring would be too much for this small city to cope with.

This is clearly a difficult one to call. There are many positive impacts of sports stadium developments for their local communities, although it is not clear whether they outweigh the potential negative impacts and, indeed, the initial financial cost of building them. It seems extra time and penalties may be needed to decide this one!

books_icon Davies, L.E. (2005). “Not in my back yard! Sports stadia location and the property market”, Area, 37(3): 268-276.

60-world2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-29759774

60-world2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-31653461

60-world2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-31753504

60-world2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-32049073

Geography of Sport

By Catherine Waite

By Markbarnes (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Geography of Sport is a topic close to my heart as it is the theme of my PhD research. Despite sport being a central theme of research in sociology, economics and anthropology, it has subject to little geographical research. However today’s reports into the “State of the Game”, considering the composition of professional English football teams by nationality and the debates regarding how you define who can play for the England national football team, have clear geographical themes.

National identity has been widely discussed in the geographical literature in relation to migration (see, for example, Antonsich 2010 & Gilmartin 2008), and in this case the media and social media debates, have extended the discussion to migrant athletes.

The “State of the Game” report, can perhaps be more directly deemed to be geographical. The report maps the countries from which footballers, playing in England, come from. The most significant finding is that, whilst English players do still play the greatest percentage of minutes of Premier League football, their contribution only accounts for less than a third of the total minutes played. The maps demonstrate that the Premier League truly is a global league with players coming from across the world to play in England. Football is a widely recognised as “Global Game” both in general culture and in academia (see Giulianotti 1999). So does geography need to progress and carry out more research dedicated to sport?

books_iconAntonsich, M. (2010), Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework. Geography Compass, 4: 644–659

books_iconGilmartin, M. (2008), Migration, Identity and Belonging. Geography Compass, 2: 1837–1852

60-world2Arsene Wenger defends Jack Wilshere’s ‘English’ comments BBC Sport

60-world2Jack Wilshere says only English players should play for England BBC Sport

60-world2State of the Game: Premier League now less than one third English BBC Sport

60-world2 State of the Game: How UK’s world football map has changed BBC News


The decay of glory

By Kelly Wakefield

There have been two stories in the media within the past few weeks that have shown the darker side of major global sporting events.  The first story was that of the decline and decay of a once famous stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.  The legendary ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between the heavyweight champion George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.  History tells us that Ali became champion for the second time that night, defeating the younger Foreman in the eighth round.  The sad decay, as Andy Kershaw writes for the BBC, is witnessed first hand, the stadium now a crumbling and gloomy space with litter and excrement occupying this iconic place.  Squatters have occupied one of the changing rooms with the Ministry of Sport turning a blind eye.  This sad story begs the question as to what happens to stadiums and sporting venues built for purpose for global sporting events once the games are over?  If stadiums such as the Tata Raphael Stadium  (it’s original name) can be left to fade , with history and into history, what about those others spaces that do not capture such worldwide imagination?

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Schooling sport geographies: the case of cricket in France

by Fiona Ferbrache

The Tarn Cricket Team - 2009 League & Cup champions SW France

As an avid supporter of cricket, where I live in southwest France, I was delighted to read that the sport in France is to be given a boost with a state-recognised diploma in professional cricket coaching.  This accompanies the ambition of France Cricket to see the sport taught formally in schools.  At present, approximately 40% of cricketers in France are French, and multinational teams tend to comprise Britons, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and West Indians – players from countries where cricket is part of childhood.  However, the future of cricket in France cannot depend upon immigrants in the wider community, but needs to nurture enthusiasm among the country’s youth.

Bringing cricket into schools is part of a long-term plan for its prosperity in France.  Collins and Coleman (2008), in Geography Compass, argue that schools play central roles in shaping children’s identities, values and aspirations, and connecting them with the wider community.  A different version of the quintessentially English game, le kwik cricket, is promoted to French schools, and elsewhere in the country the game has evolved as something unique (i.e. its pitches, players, languages, organisation, and tea-breaks), but not absolutely different from cricket played in other countries.  Subsequently, schools have the power to propel pupils towards a game that adopts a cosmopolitan attitude in France; it is open to, and accepting of, multinational diversity and cultural difference, which I have seen come together on the transcultural French cricket pitch.  Hence, the case study of France Cricket provides one example of the way in which Collins and Coleman argue that “schools are places of considerable social [cultural] and political significance.

Adam Sage The TimesOnline 05 June 2010 “Et Alors: How French cricketers arim to beat us at our own game”

Collins, D. & Coleman, T. (2008) Social Geographies of Education: looking within, and beyond, school boundaries, Geography Compass. January, 2008

ACCSO (2010) Covering cricket in the southwest of France

Olympic Legacies: Branding the London 2012 Olympic Games

Sarah Mills

The official mascots of the London 2012 Olympic Games were unveiled this week.  Wenlock and Mandeville are animated characters who are supposed to be fashioned out of the last two blobs of metal during production of the Olympic Stadium frame at a factory in Bolton.  In their accompanying story, written by children’s author Michael Morpurgo, they are brought to life by a retired factory worker and embark on a journey to London.  The decision to choose these mascots over others (including an animated Big Ben and pigeons from Trafalgar Square) raises questions over whom or what represents the UK.  It is also an example of how branding and marketing (mascots, logos) are used to promote and remember both the Olympics and host cities.

In Geography Compass, John R. Gold and Margaret M. Gold examine the implications and significance of being an Olympic city.  The concept of urban regeneration here is crucial, as they note that “Winning the right to host the Olympic Games is widely regarded as the most significant prize on offer in the never-ending contest between the world’s leading cities for prestige and investment.”  The authors illustrate their discussion through the example of London’s East End – the site for the Olympic Park in 2012 – and the notion of ‘legacy’, a powerful metonym for the way in which Olympic games are discussed and judged in terms of ambition and success.

Read John R. Gold and Margaret M. Gold (2008) ‘Olympic Cities: Regeneration, City Rebranding and Changing Urban Agendas’, Geography Compass, 2 (1): 300-318

 Read The Guardian news story on the unveiling of the official mascots.

 Watch the story of Wenlock and Mandeville on the official London 2012 website: