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cover of Embodied Sporting PracticeEmbodied Sporting Practices: Bodies in Sport

Sport is all about bodies. It might seem to be stating the obvious. All definitions of sport include some kind of physicality; the whole point is to get physical. Sports are organised around what people do with their bodies. There are different bodies involved in sport though; the athletes in the field, the pool, the ring or the gym, on the pitch or track, and the bodies that regulate the practices of those bodies that do sport. The bodies that participate and compete are implicated in the processes through which they are regulated, for example, through who is allowed to compete and who is not and through all the measurement of competition such as times, space, location, record keeping and body size. The bodies that take part regulate themselves in trying to achieve personal best performances or in competition, and influence the bodies that regulate sport through its governing organisations and structures.

The Olympics Games are a prime example of the interrelationship between sporting body practices and the bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, the IOC and National Olympic Committees, NOCs as well as the individual sports’ bodies through which athletes train and participate. Women have been excluded from some sports because they are classified as female; boxing is still not resolved for 2012 although the IOC has stated that it will consider the  International Amateur Boxing Association’s request for the inclusion of the women’s sport when the board meets in August 2009 and make recommendations to the IOC executive.

The official IOC website has sections devoted to the promotion of women’s sport which shows how change can and has taken place through the responses of regulatory bodies to the collective embodied selves who do sport. The Paralympics movement is another excellent illustration of a  collective action which links bodies in sport to sports regulatory bodies, although, this is another area where classificatory systems have proved troubling.

Sport is all about measurement too; sometimes the measurement is of what bodies can achieve, sometimes it is of the bodies that take part, to check weight, age, height (more through practice than actual rules), levels of dis/ability and, probably most obviously, gender. Women athletes  have been subjected to gender testing , conducted by visible assessment which was then replaced by DNA testing,  all expressed within a discourse of ‘fair play’, in case some men tried to succeed by passing as female and in the language of science, which was particularly evident at Beijing. Sex testing, introduced in 1968 by the IOC, was dropped for all women athletes in 2000, but those who are deemed to pose questions for the IOC are still subject to testing and were at Beijing. Body mass and strength would make it unlikely that a woman would attempt to pass as a man, but the example demonstrates the entanglement of corporeality and regulatory bodies and the ways in which people regulate themselves and are regulated in sport. Gender reassignment raises all sorts of dilemmas in the field of sport which is so characterized by a binary classificatory logic that has endeavoured to limit sex to the possession of particular chromosomes. Intersex presents problems in sport.  Drug testing is problematic but gender testing is even more contentious and troubling. New rules have to be formulated; male to female transsexuals can now compete in women’s events if they delay at least two years after surgery. The materiality of all the bodies in sport involves a complex interplay of social, political, cultural and corporeal practices.

To find out more go to:

Embodied Sporting Practices:
Regulating and regulatory Bodies
Palgrave, 2009
Kath Woodward


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