Click here to skip to content

bl.uk > Sport & society home > Explore social sciences > Sport & life > Sociology > 'Race', ethnicity and sport

'Race', ethnicity and sport

Stamp depicting athletes of different races [10KB]

Race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably in everyday language, although it is important to understand that the two words have different meanings. Ethnicity refers to cultural characteristics, including nationality and language, as a means of differentiating between groups of people. Race, however, is used as means of defining groups of people by certain shared physical characteristics, especially skin colour. The notion of 'races' as a meaningful way through which to define people is heavily contested by scientists and social scientists. However, many societies have, at various points in their history, operated under the assumption that humans can be defined by their 'race' which has often led to the racial discrimination of minority racial groups by (usually) the racial majority.

Sport can be an extremely useful lens though which to examine the complexities of human ideas about ethnic and racial 'difference'. Not only have sporting events (and the Olympics especially so) become sites though which racial prejudice has been challenged, but they have also been spaces in which people from minority 'racial' groups (e.g. in the USA and Great Britain) have achieved enormous success. These issues are more fully explored in an article contributed by a graduate work placement student, Bridget Lockyer (see 'Research articles', right) which draws on a number of our resources.

There are a number of subtle and not-so-subtle racial prejudices and stereotypes that exist in sport. For instance, black sportspeople are popularly considered to make exceptional track athletes, boxers and basketball players. Meanwhile, white sportspeople are considered more likely to succeed in swimming, tennis and middle-distance events. Indeed, there was considerable media attention given to the 'black' golfing player, Tiger Woods, when he first achieved success. Woods has in fact often spoken of his mixed-heritage. His experience shows how a predominantly 'white' sport initially responded to the success of an athlete who was considered by many to be 'black'.

This page points you towards some of the items the library holds on 'race' and ethnicity in sport. We hope that you will find these items a useful point for exploring our collections and will encourage you to make contributions of your own which address this issue, particularly with regards to the Olympics!

Dr. Kevin Hylton, an academic at Leeds Metropolitan University, has contributed a synopsis of his recent publication to this website. His book is entitled 'Race' and Sport: Critical Race Theory' (see 'Research articles', right). Dr. Hylton specialises in issues of equality in sport.

Dr. Ben Carrington, an acacemic at Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of Texas at Austin has recently published a new book called 'Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora'. A sample chapter of this book is available to download via the Sage website.

We are very interested in collecting material from other academics and researchers interested in issues of 'race' and ethnicity in sport. We would like to make more such material available through this site. For more information visit our pages on Legacy.

Getting started with the British Library's collections

Bass, Amy. Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002
DS shelfmark: m03/10687

Hylton, Kevin. ‘Race’ and Sport: Critical Race Theory
London: Routledge, 2009
London open access collections shelfmark: SPIS306.483 

Ismond, Patrick. Black and Asian Athletes in British Sport and Society: A Sporting Chance?
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003
London reference collections shelfmark: YC.2007.a.10736 
DS shelfmark: m03/26725

Kemble, Jean. African American History and Life: 1877-1954. A selective guide to materials in the British Library
The Eccles Centre for American Studies
(Turn to page 137 for selections on sport)

Mangan, J.A. & Ritchie, A. (eds.) Ethnicity, sport, identity : struggles for status
London : Frank Cass, 2004.
London reference collections shelfmark: YC.2007.a.450
DS shelfmark: m06/.15761

Sports participation and ethnicity in England : national survey 1999/2000: headline findings
Sport England, 2000.
DS shelfmark: 8419.837875 1999/2000

Woods, Ronald. B. Social issues in sport
Leeds: Human Kinetics, 2007
London open access collections shelfmark: SPIS306.483
DS shelfmark: m07/.33795