Books interview: Helen Jefferson Lenskyj

The author of The Olympic Games: A Critical Approach discusses seeing sport through ‘a feminist, anti-racist lens’, anti-doping efforts and Outback Noir

四月 27, 2020
Helen Jefferson Lenskyj

What sort of books inspired you as a child?
When I was very young, Enid Blyton’s books were my favourites, and I particularly liked George (Georgina), the “tomboy” in the Famous Five series. As an adolescent, I read dozens of non-fiction accounts by and about RAF pilots in the Second World War – somewhat non-traditional reading for a girl growing up in Sydney in the 1940s and 1950s.

Your new book examines the Olympic Games ‘through a feminist, anti-racist lens’. Which books piqued your interest in the Olympics and the (sexual) politics of sport?
When I started writing my dissertation on gender and sport in 1981, there were very few books on the topic. Two that were particularly relevant were Ann Hall’s Sport, Sex Roles, and Sex Identity (1981) and Eleanor Metheny’s Connotations of Movement in Sport and Dance (1963). The catalyst for my interest in the Olympic industry came from investigative journalist Andrew Jennings’ two ground-breaking exposés: The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics (with Vyv Simson, 1992) and The New Lords of the Rings: Olympic Corruption and How to Buy Gold Medals (1996).

What general accounts of race and gender in sport would you recommend?
Jaime Schultz’s 2018 publication, Women’s Sports: What Everyone Needs to Know, is an excellent overview – comprehensive and accessible. I’m looking forward to forthcoming books by and about women of colour, to be published in the series Emerald Studies in Sport and Gender, which I edit.

What books offer the most useful pointers for those seeking to ‘clean up’ sport and end endemic discrimination?
Paul Dimeo and Verner Møller’s 2018 publication, The Anti-Doping Crisis in Sport: Causes, Consequences, Solutions, presents an incisive critique of anti-doping campaigns and calls for “a total rethink” of the problem. On the question of discrimination, rather than focusing on affirmative action and other liberal notions of equality, I recommend work that addresses how interlocking systems of oppression based on gender and sexuality, “race” and ethnicity, and other social identities can be resisted and challenged, for example, Heather Sykes’ The Sexual and Gender Politics of Sport Mega-Events: Roving Colonialism (2017).

What is the last book you gave as a gift, and to whom?
I recently gave my daughter Inside Broadside: A Decade of Feminist Journalism, edited by Philinda Masters and the Broadside Collective (2019), a collection of short articles on issues and events of the day. Broadside, a Canadian feminist newspaper (1979-89), represented the unpaid work of a small group of women who were responsible for every step of production, from writing and fundraising to paste-up and mailing. For me, this was a wonderful learning experience and the beginning of my writing career.

What books do you have on your desk waiting to be read?
Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain (1999), by the late British nature writer Roger Deakin, is an eloquent account of his slightly eccentric goal: to sample every waterway and beach in the country. As a swimmer without access to swimming at this moment, I’m finding his book an enjoyable diversion. For pleasure reading, mysteries are my first choice, especially the Australian genre Outback Noir – Jane Harper and Chris Hammer, for example. Hammer’s latest book, Silver, is next on my list. These books accurately capture the atmosphere – the good and the bad – in small rural towns.

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj is professor emerita at the University of Toronto. Her latest book is The Olympic Games: A Critical Approach (Emerald Publishing).

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