'Greedy bastards' spoil the game for everyone

Sport and Society
February 24, 2006

This book is the equivalent of a 0-0 draw: you know the players are well prepared and have persevered assiduously throughout the game, but, at the end, you still feel less than satisfied. Swerving away from his more familiar medical sociology, Graham Scambler has effected a "critical sociology of sport" that is based on what he calls a "jigsaw model", the irregular pieces of the puzzle being "logics, relations and figurations".

Not that the whole game is played at this level of abstraction. In fact, the first section is, if anything, too fussy in its attention to detail.

We revisit the now-familiar history of sport, though with no new wisdom to enlighten us. Needless details distract and eventually annoy. Reference to the rules of athletics in 1880 is insufficient: the actual rules are pasted on the page verbatim. This is so tiresome that the overview of "feature of contemporary sport" is a welcome relief.

Here Scambler promulgates that in the "disorganised capitalism" of today: "Sports are being colonised at a growing rate and most notably by the subsystem of the economy operating through the steering media of money." And, while he later insists "no argument is being advanced for any form of economic determinism", you get the impression that there is one on offer nevertheless.

In the final third, Scambler brings on Roy Bhaskar and Jurgen Habermas, and their effect is immediate. Nothing less than "a new orientation to the sociology of sport" is promised and we are told that the task of sociologists is to "publicly disseminate the role of social structures in tempting, exhorting and occasionally cajoling us to think and act as we do".

Scambler deserves a yellow card for the tediously repetitious use of the term "greedy bastards" - as in "male, white Western dominance amongst the greedy bastards who make their money from sport" or "the hyper-commodification of English football has been driven by greedy bastards from outside the sport, by Murdoch, not Beckham".

As an exercise in "human emancipation through the exposure and countering of structured patterns of domination", this is an earnest and, in some ways, worthy effort to bring the impulse of critical theory to the study of sport. Yet it is a joyless treatise on something that, by its nature, brings joy.

Ellis Cashmore is professor of culture, media and sport, Staffordshire University.

Sport and Society: History, Power and Culture. First Edition

Author - Graham Scambler
Publisher - Open University Press
Pages - 211
Price - £60.00 and £18.99
ISBN - 0 335 21071 6 and 21070 8

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