Sports, Spectacle and (Soft) Power I: Economies

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Political Geography Specialty Group, Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Specialty Group, Economic Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Natalie Koch, Glen Norcliffe
Chairs: Natalie Koch


This session highlights the intertwining of sports, spectacle, and (soft) power, with a focus on contemporary case studies from around the world. We invite papers that address sport as a major cultural industry that unites the political, the economic and the cultural at multiple scales. Sport has always been deeply commodified, but the political, social, and cultural geography of the divides wrought and sought by sports entrepreneurs and athletes themselves are clearly in flux, especially as global media connections more tightly bind spectators and the spectacle. Across North America, for example, public sports facilities are increasingly replaced with private facilities or public-private partnerships, where “governmental austerity” is used to justify tax dollars being invested in often overly-optimistic boosterist schemes around major new sporting venues. Large metropolises, for instance, frequently subsidize the construction of major sports league stadia. These endeavors have become subject to pushback in some cities, but elsewhere they are actively embraced as sport has become interwoven with local tourism and activities geared to the growing cohorts of active retirees, and spectator tourism based on major sporting brands. Training and scouting for promising youngsters is also reaching to ever younger cohorts and recruiting at a larger geographical scale – both within countries and across state borders. Qatari recruiters, for example, are now going straight to Jamaican high schools in search of talented youth to run for their national team, when they stand little chance of doing so at home.

The confluence of commodified sport with nationalism and soft power agendas in many countries has historically played a major role in state-led doping schemes, with the recent Russian doping scandals suggesting that these issues cannot be relegated to a Cold War past. Meanwhile, the intersections of commodified sport and nationalism/state-building agendas have defined new international migration patterns, as well as creative new legal schemes for fast-track citizenship – working through and around the regulatory frames of international sporting bodies and the ideals of state sovereignty and territorial belonging. Those same Jamaican recruits to Qatar are, for example, offered only temporary citizenship – stripped of its benefits once the state is itself stripped of the benefits of the prestige they are imagined to endow the country’s image-conscious leaders. The recent proliferation of populist rhetoric and exclusivist identity politics has further complicated the situation, with high-profile athletes like Mesut Özil, Diego Costa, and Marcus Stroman becoming lightning-rods for public rancor and debate about the meaning of national identity, fueled by social media, demagoguery, and the spectacle of sensational media surrounding sport.

How should geographers approach sport, spectacle, and power – soft or otherwise – in the wider context of resurgent nationalism, populism, and exclusivist identity politics around the world? Does the increasing marginalization of former sporting seedbeds in rural hinterlands in favor of metropolitan sports dominance exacerbate regional disparities? Is there resistance to the exploitation of the human body in the name of winning? Sport is a bellwether activity that illustrates and often leads the major socio-cultural shifts of our times – a dynamic that this session aims to engage through rich theoretical and empirical case studies from around the world.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Glen Norcliffe*, York University, Stefan Decosse, Colgate University, New York, Global Production Networks for Elite Sportspeople: The Case of Hockey. 20 2:35 PM
Presenter Siyabulela Nyikana*, University of Johannesburg, Tembi Maloney Tichaawa, University of Johannesburg, Sport tourism as a vehicle for leveraging local economic development in Cameroon 20 2:55 PM
Presenter Andy Walter*, University of West Georgia, “The Crew Belongs to Columbus”: Save the Crew as a Politics of Economic Possibility 20 3:15 PM
Presenter Michael Friedman*, University of Maryland, Crediting the Rooster for the Sunrise – Nationals Park and Neighborhood Redevelopment 20 3:35 PM
Presenter Christopher Gaffney*, New York University, The Extraordinary Rendition of Circulation 20 3:55 PM

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