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Politics & protest: overview

Germany Olympics 1936 stamp (detail) [10KB]

Public image

For the past 70 years, and longer, nations have been aware of the opportunities offered by international sporting events to help manage the ways in which others see them. Modern Olympic games provide some of the more obvious examples, in particular through increasingly-elaborate opening and closing ceremonies, and also through state of the art facilities. World and regional cup championships in specific sports also demonstrate these characteristics.

Public protest

What happens when other interests and campaigns organisations choose the occasion of a 'mega event' to push forward their own agenda? Non-state groups have used international sporting events as a platform to bring publicity and support to their campaigns. These can have an international or regional agenda, or can be levelled at criticising the state holding the event.

International disputes & boycotts

Sometimes states themselves can use the occasion of international events to exert political pressure on other nations. Notably in the 1980s, several national sporting bodies came under intense pressure from governments to boycott games or refuse to take part in certain tournaments. The sporting boycott of South Africa has been credited by several commentators with contributing to the end of Apartheid. In the Research Articles box to the right you can link to Karl Magee's article on the records relating to the boycott by some nations of the Commonwealth Games of 1986 in Edinburgh.

What’s at stake?

Aside from the financial considerations, the reasons for hosting a sports mega event cover domestic and foreign-policy aspirations. For example, building community cohesion, or projecting a 'modern' image to encourage inward investment. Where community development is a goal, events are sometimes criticised for remaining too elite, with the resources developed too few, too centralised and too expensive to benefit the wider community. Where there has been an aim to promote cohesion within diverse communities, there have also been criticisms of patronising the cultures depicted, or worse.

Getting started with the British Library's collections

Use our collections to study international relations and domestic politics across the world. Here are some examples of what you can find:

Recent books and journal articles, published around the world, on politics and international relations in sport. The following keywords will be useful in searching for books on our catalogue:
olympics political aspects
sport politics

To find recent journal articles, use BLDSS. If you are in one of our Reading Rooms, then you can choose from other dedicated journal databases, such as International Political Science Abstracts.

Newspapers – find reports on sporting events and controversies, published around the world. Our online and printed finding aids will help you locate stories of interest.

Official publications – use the Library’s collections from around the world to examine bidding and planning for major sporting events, and the official reports and publications evaluating those events. Our inter-governmental organisations collections contain reports both on boycotts and participation, and on the wider role of sport in development and peace-building.

Guide books produced for individual events. These contain rich imagery and commentary, showing how a host country wished to be seen. You can find many of these on our Library catalogue by a simple search using the city or country, year and the kind of event (eg 'games', 'football' etc). Remember that you should use the specific catalogues for Chinese and Japanese language titles.

Other collections in the Library which will be of interest include:
Sound Archive – amongst our collections, you will find the Oral History of British Athletics (C790). Issues relating to sport occur frequently through our other oral history collections, including the Millennium Memory Bank (C900) of interviews across the UK.

Philatelic collections – sporting events and achievements provide common themes for postage stamps, and can convey an image related to a country across the world

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Research articles

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.

Boycotts & bailouts (PDF 156.03KB) PDF file

Social sciences at the British Library

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