The sports commentator Ron Atkinson's recent resignation after the racist comments he made during post-match analysis of the Monaco-Chelsea Champions' League game is but the latest high-profile example of how the issue of race is embedded in sport. Other examples include the anti-apartheid movement's utilisation of sport as a vehicle to campaign against racist policies in South Africa and the outlawing of racist chanting at football grounds in the Football (Offences) Act (1991).
There has, of course, been much academic analysis of this relationship, although it has dealt largely with the US. Significant exceptions include Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald's " Race ", Sport and British Society (2001), an excellent recent addition to the literature beginning with Ellis Cashmore's Black Sportsmen (1982).
Black and Asian Athletes in British Sport and Society is a welcome newcomer. Its innovation is the use of empirical data in the form of interviews with athletes of Asian and African-Caribbean origin and having a focus broader than merely elite athletes. Patrick Ismond also seeks to "challenge the notions that sport in Britain currently exists as a realm of equal opportunity, free of race and sex prejudice". We may wonder whether anyone truly believes that sport exists in such a realm, but Ismond provides much useful material to support his assertions.
The book is basically divided into two parts - the first dealing with race in the context of male sport, the second looking broadly at the issue of females in sport. Each part is subdivided into chapters looking at context and background to the area before focusing in depth with the material from the interviews.
The reviews are useful orientations in themselves, but it is the interviews, analyses and comment interwoven within these that are most interesting and illuminating. For example, chapter three deals with expectations created and reinforced at school and within the family; to have perceptive recollections of these from athletes gives a real context to the theoretical debates. Similarly, in terms of female sport, chapter six provides some very useful contextual examples of "difference" and gender construction, and the issue of patriarchal restraints placed on women and the quest for legitimation within their sports.
Overall, the book adds usefully to the specialised literature. There are some gaps and areas that could have been covered in more depth, but Ismond's use of original source material more than makes up for these. The book will be helpful to students in fields as diverse as sociology, history and cultural studies, yet its readability is such that it is worthy of a wider audience.
Guy Osborn is senior lecturer in law, Westminster University.
Black and Asian Athletes in British Sport and Society: A Sporting Chance?
Author - Patrick Ismond
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 204
Price - £45.00
ISBN - 0 333 92061 9