Social Science blog

4 posts from July 2010

27 July 2010

Recognition at last!

I’m absolutely certain that one of the results of London 2012 will be that sports which have not been seen as mainstream or ‘interesting’ by the Press will become enormously popular in the UK as a result of their exposure at the Games. My guess is that one of the greatest beneficiaries of this process will be Triathlon, which has grown exponentially as a sport for grass roots athletes and professionals alike over the past 5 years but which has never really been given the media exposure it deserves, even though British competitors are right at the top of the game. This struck me particularly when Norfolk-born Chrissie Wellington became World Ironman Champion for three successive years (in 2007, 2008 and 2009) breaking world records right, left and centre in a sport which demands almost superhuman effort and dedication. Blowed if I could find anything much on the back pages of the UK Press at the time, though! (Chrissie’s blog is at ). The good news is that she was the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year for 2009, so belated recognition finally arrived.


Sunday saw an incredibly exciting finish in the Hyde Park international triathlon event when Javier Gomez of Spain won a tremendously hard fought final leg against the two Brownlee brothers from the UK. Alastair Brownlee’s faltering approach to the line as he succumbed to exhaustion was caught dramatically on BBC television, and need it be said that all this was ten times more thrilling and moving than England’s progress through the FIFA World Cup which earned all those column inches.


My secret spectator sport addiction is handball, which is enormously popular on the Continent but rarely - if ever - gets a look-in here. I first saw this sport on the Eurosport channel in a hotel in Cologne, and found it amazing to watch the players hanging in the air while taking aim at the goal.


So all power to the elbows of those sports, and to those neglected world champions

who languish away from the media glare. I’m banking on 2012 to give them their chance to shine.

20 July 2010

Making the Paralympics visible

I’ve spent the last few days reading up on the Paralympics, in preparation for some materials for the website, and I soon discovered - and became absorbed by -, an online television channel which was set up by the International Paralympic Committee to showcase disability sports and to broadcast more widely and in greater depth the Paralympic Games themselves. Although I saw some of the Beijing Paralympics coverage on terrestrial TV, I wasn’t aware, at the time, of the existence of an alternative source of coverage, or much about the range of international sporting events for disabled people that take place throughout each year, many of which are also publicised on the website. The channel is purely Internet based and is available at its internet domain or via its Youtube and Facebook pages. Today it was showing videos of a variety of sports from goalball to seven a side football and swimming.

Things like this are gradually making it possible for the Paralympics to build up a brand identity of its own - arguably a precondition for the winning of sponsorship, influence and exposure. Everyone knows, of course, that media coverage of the Paralympics has increased enormously over the last few years, but it might well be about to take off in a very big way. Ian Brittain’s fascinating recent book The Paralympics explained shows how the number of accredited media at the Paralympics rose from under 2000 at Barcelona 1992 to nearly 6000 at Beijing 2008 and the TV rights to the London 2012 Paralympics were fiercely contested. According to the online Guardian (8 Jan 2012), Channel 4’s chairman designate, Lord Burns, celebrated the winning of the contract by saying that: "for Channel 4, the London Paralympic games will be the main event, not a sideshow to the Olympics; the games will define our year in 2012 and take over Channel 4 for their duration”. Which is about as unequivocal a statement of support as you can get.

All this media attention will come at a cost for the athletes in the form of the welcome and unwelcome trappings of fame: money, celebrity, gossip, notoriety, controversy, scrutiny. Are they ready for all that?

Ian Brittain The Paralympic Games explained London: Routledge, 2010

London reference collections shelfmark: SPIS.796.0456

Lending collections shelfmark: m09/30402


15 July 2010


There’s much talk in the press at the moment about the 2012 volunteers, as the LOCOG website has announced that volunteering applications for specialist roles open on 27 July this year, and for generalist roles in September. Reading this, I immediately took a look on the BL catalogue, wondering if the experiences of the volunteers of previous London Olympics had been recorded, and if so how. Using ‘volunteering’ as a keyword in the catalogue, it instantly became apparent that there is a huge body of literature on the broad subject itself, which covers volunteers of all sorts, be they students on gap years in developing countries or unpaid sports coaches (and there are enormous numbers of the latter, without whom a lot of grass-roots sport clearly would not take place at all).

But there’s more to volunteering for the Olympics than that. According to David Brettell, writing in the Olympic review about the experience of the Sydney 2000 Olympic volunteers, the work of these 62,000 individuals during the games ‘linked the community to the event and provided a lot of people with direct ‘ownership’ of [it]’ (the full text of this article is available on the LA84 website; see the link below). Their efforts also contributed to a legacy of volunteering in the community, a hoped for outcome of the volunteering project for the London 2012 games. As LOCOG puts it on their website, London 2012 will leave a legacy of  “a new volunteering spirit, an improved volunteer network with more opportunities and better training for those who want to give their most important commodity – time’.

What is striking about Brettell’s article is the emphasis he puts on the importance of how the Sydney volunteers were trained, and treated. People were forbidden to characterise themselves as ‘only’ a volunteer, and it was made clear to them how much their contributions were valued. It all came down to ‘respect’ seemingly.

Anyhow, it will be interesting to see how the volunteering side of 2012 pans out. Personally, I hope the volunteers will record their experiences in some way, and that a few may even write books which will find their way here!

David Brettell ‘The Sydney volunteers’ in Olympic review 2001, vol 27, no 42

Volunteers, global society and the Olympic Movement (International symposium) (1999 Nov : Lausanne, Switzerland)

Lending Collections shelfmark: m00/45458


Max Walker and Gerry Gleeson

The Volunteers : how ordinary Australians brought about the extraordinary success of the Sydney 2000 Games

Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2001.

London reference Collections shelfmark: YA.2002.a.10825

06 July 2010

Sport & Peace



What power does sport really have to increase international understanding and to promote peace? I ask this having just read Theodore Cook’s ‘The Olympic Games’ which was published in 1908 and which looks back on the events of the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. In his preface to the book, Cook, who was one of the British representatives at the IOC on behalf of the British Olympic Council, mentions the truce between the warring Greek states which prevailed during the period of each of the ancient Games. For Cook, a sportsman and an aesthete in the old tradition, this was one of the most significant justifications for resurrecting the Olympics, and he reflects that “of all the influences now at work to stay the cruel hand of war, who shall say that any single one is more potent in its effects than the increase of international athleticism which is the most significant factor in the intercourse of modern nations?” Knowing what we know about the rapidly approaching cataclysm of 1914-18 (one of the minor results of which was the cancellation of the Games scheduled to take place in Germany in 1916), his remarks seem all the more poignant.


The concept of a truce brokered by sport is something which is resonating more and more with modern commentators. The IOC now has observer status at the UN, and one of the latest UN agencies to be set up: the United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace, sees sport not only as a powerful tool for international understanding, but also as a basic human right which empowers the individual. That empowerment transforms sport into a ‘low cost, and high impact tool’ for development (click on ‘Resource Centre’ for lots of full text content).  


The UN’s Inter-Agency Task Force - which was set up in 2002 to review activities involving sport within the UN system - concluded that “well-designed sport-based initiatives are practical and cost-effective tools to achieve development and peace objectives…sport is a powerful vehicle that should be increasingly considered by the UN as complementary to existing activities”.


I find this really exciting and encouraging, because it seems totally do-able.


International Olympic Truce centre


Theodore Andrea Cook


The Olympic Games: being a short history of the Olympic movement from 1896 up to the present day…

London: Constable, 1908

London reference collections shelfmark 7907.ff.57