Geographical Approaches and the Sociology of Sport

Authored by: Nicholas Wise

Routledge Handbook of the Sociology of Sport

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415829731
eBook ISBN: 9780203404065
Adobe ISBN: 9781134116621


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The study of sports geography has been underexplored in the academic literature until relatively recently. Broadly defined, geography is the study of space, place, movements and human/environmental interactions – and sociological research has much to benefit from particular geographical approaches and understandings. Part of the struggle with geography is many believe the discipline simply refers to identifying geographical features on a map. While knowing where places are located relative to another and associated physical features are important, geographers are interested in how such interrelations suggest why certain sports are played, or invested in and developed in some areas more so than others. Moreover, geographers seek to better understand the significance of a sports team in relation to the culture and political identity of a place or why athletes move to earn their professional salaries (Bale 2003). Such questions of geography become apparent when watching the winter Olympics or understanding politically contested histories, such as when England and Argentina meet in the FIFA World Cup. Alternatively, professional football clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona over the last several decades have developed extensive fan bases, not only through their brand, but also due to their ability to attract the best footballers from around the world. However, we may see a shift in power in future decades as countries in the East (particularly China) rise as emerging economic powers and seek to attract elite athletes to develop their national competitions. These are all perspectives and questions that concern geographers – whether linked to the physical features or designations of economic power. As I shall argue here, a geographical perspective also offers perceptive insight into the sociological imagination.

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