Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture

August 5, 2010

This book is a valuable contribution to the burgeoning study of sport in a global perspective. Focusing largely on the "Big Four" sports in the US (baseball, basketball, American football and ice hockey) and football (soccer) in Europe, Andrei Markovits and Lars Rensmann attempt to tease out the relationship between the local and the global in a variety of cultural contexts.

The work's six chapters focus on the changing dynamics brought about by increased globalisation of the sports industry. In covering a variety of issues, the authors do a fine job of trying to explain the ways in which these various sports are similar yet also different. Subjects include the transatlantic transfer of sport, the unique positioning of collegiate sport in the US and the counter-cosmopolitan backlash to cultural change.

One of the book's most valuable contributions is in developing an analysis of the inter-relationship between various football codes within a locale. The presence of any hegemonic code of football within a particular space shapes the sporting landscape and has a significant impact on the positioning of all other codes of football. In different parts of the world, a dominant code also serves as a key marker of masculine identity, which in turn has a marked impact on shaping the opportunities for females to play that particular form of football.

In their wider analysis, the authors use the cases of high-profile male athletes such as basketball player Dirk Nowitzki and footballer David Beckham as a means to explain the different strategies employed by organisations to improve a sport's cultural standing.

Rather than falling into a simplistic local/global dichotomy, the work succinctly emphasises the ways in which different sporting hierarchies are created and contested. They also refer to the "Anna Kournikova syndrome" when discussing the overt sexualisation of female athletes, but wrongly state that the Russian never won a Women's Tennis Association event, when in fact she saw considerable success as a doubles player, including winning the 1999 WTA Chase Championship.

While there is much to commend, it is clear that there are some subjects that could have been developed further. The authors, who are based at the University of Michigan, aim to compare US college sport with collegiate sport in Canada and Britain, but they offer just a brief discussion of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge when looking at the British case. A comprehensive comparison would also need to acknowledge the national student tournaments in Britain, and while many matches in these competitions may be played in front of the proverbial one man and a dog (in other words, about 107,498 fewer spectators than the crowd for an American football game at Markovits and Rensmann's institution), they are arguably more representative of British collegiate sport as a whole than the Oxbridge duo.

From a stylistic point of view, the frequent use of footnotes is sometimes distracting and at times occupies more of the page than the text itself. The index entry for England that reads "See Britain" is indicative of the unproblematic coupling of these two words - an approach that is too often present in discussions of sport in a global perspective.

On the whole, this work does make an important and timely contribution to the subject, as we witness an increase in the movement of athletic labour between nations and a marked push in the internationalisation agendas of many sporting organisations.

Markovits and Rensmann's erudite analysis presents many of the key issues and offers interesting points to consider as the sports world continues to change at a remarkable pace.

Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture

By Andrei S. Markovits and Lars Rensmann. Princeton University Press 368pp, £20.95. ISBN 9780691137513. Published 7 July 2010

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