Western Militarism and The Political Utility Of Sport

Authored by: John Kelly

Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138792548
eBook ISBN: 9781315761930
Adobe ISBN: 9781317646679

10.4324/9781315761930.ch23

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Abstract

The historical connections between sport and the military are well established (Mangan 1981, 1998; Holt 1995; Mason and Rieda 2010) with self-defence (and physical attack) and military preparedness featuring in the formation or development of numerous sports: archery, biathlon, boxing, cross-country skiing, martial arts and shooting being obvious examples. Additionally, the inculcation of militaristic values in state schools through the teaching of physical training and subsequently physical education in various parts of the world has been charted (Hargreaves 1986; Mason 1988; Holt 1989) along with the intersection of military and sporting metaphors in media commentary (King 2008; Jenkins 2013). While these aspects of the sport–military nexus are fascinating and significant, revealing the often banal and latent military values embedded in culture and individuals through sport (as well as in sport) – such as sacrifice, duty, physical action, competitiveness, nationalism and sex segregation – this chapter focuses on military–civil relations and sport rather than the militarism of sports per se. It illustrates how sport has become one of a multitude of cultural practices employed in normalising, legitimising, endorsing and venerating militarism in general and Western state militarism in particular. It is argued that in so doing, the ideological and political justifications/excuses for acts of military violence are irrevocably mired in the sacred traditions of nations, with sport representing one of the most prominent and potent sites for performing such ideological work given its dual role as a floating signifier of national sentiment and an apolitical arena of untainted, virtuous commodified spectacle. This potent combination helps neuter political opposition to Western militaristic violence while appearing, on the surface at least, to reinforce some degree of apparent public support. 1

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