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Explore social sciences

If the Olympic and Paralympic Games are the quintessence of sport and sport is a microcosm of society, it need hardly be said that social scientists are watching the unfolding of the London Games of 2012 with a great deal of interest. In these pages the British Library’s subject specialists - as well as external contributors - will be looking at the Games from a variety of social science perspectives. Follow your own subject interest by clicking on the links below and find out about vital Olympics and Paralympics issues and the resources we hold that can help your research.

The first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 was attended by only 13 nations; in 2004, when sportsmen and women from all over the world met in Athens for the XXVIII Olympiad, no fewer than 201 countries were represented, and the attention of millions of people was focused upon what can truly be described as a global event.

The modern Olympics are not – and were never intended to be – purely about the mechanics of winning or losing, When we contemplate the issues already raised by the preparations for the London Olympics and examine all the Olympiads that have gone before, we can see that we are looking at a very complex set of human behaviours and beliefs. Elite sport, and all the drama that accompanies it, has connections to many areas of our lives, from the economic and political sphere to the cultural and personal.

The Paralympic Games share all of these aspects, and pose particular issues of their own which we also hope to tackle. Questions about these Games are particularly pertinent to London 2012 since it was in the United Kingdom in 1948 that Sir Ludwig Guttman - widely considered to be the founder of the Paralympic movement - first set up his own competitions for disabled athletes: the Stoke Mandeville Games. The Paralympic movement is now a truly global event and has become the 'second largest multi-sport festival on the planet' according to their historian and analyst Ian Brittain(2010).

This site therefore presents the Olympic and Paralympic Games as global sporting events that tell us something about the way individuals, groups and institutions operate in society, and the ideas that drive them. It focuses on sport from the perspective of social science and its methodologies, spotlighting the British Library’s social science collections and asking how researchers might use these to find out more about the way sport and the Games operate.

Sport & life

Runners [5KB]

What social issues do researchers consider when they look at the Olympic and Paralympic Games and what methodologies do they use to research them? We highlight a selection of the significant themes such as issues of sustainability, gender and ethnicity.

Parliament & law

Big ben [10KB]

Explore the Olympics through the voices of parliament, legal writing and socio-legal research. Discover useful information sources in, and beyond the British Library collections.


Girls' football coach [9KB]

How will teachers exploit the staging of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to educate their students about sport and the values of the Games, and how will coaches be working to help athletes achieve their best? We discuss these and other relevant issues in the sphere of education.

Politics & protest

Germany Olympics 1936 stamp (detail) [10KB]

Explore British Library collections and recent research on political controversies surrounding major sporting events, how countries use events to promote a particular image of themselves, and the role of sport in international relations.

Business & economics

Stock chart and euros [10KB]

What types of business opportunities are created by the Games? What new inventions are inspired by them and what intellectual property issues do you need to be aware of? The articles in this section look at these questions and highlight sources you can use to find out more.

Help us to provide a research legacy for the London Olympics and Paralympics

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Related external resources

The Olympic Studies Centre

Social sciences at the British Library

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