British Sports on the Global Stage

Prof Alan Tomlinson and Dr Lincoln Allison

This module explores British influences upon the making of the contemporary sports landscape, and the growth of selected sports from their origins in Britain to their place in a globalized and increasingly marketized sporting culture. The course is aimed at undergraduates from any discipline who are interested in interdisciplinary study of modern British sport, its origins and growth and intensifying relationships with sporting cultures worldwide. In combining humanities and social science methods and approaches, and employing and utilising a range of interpretive approaches and forms of evidence, it cultivates valuable academic, analytic and presentational skills.

The module concentrates upon four core themes, comprising four interrelated module units. These are, first, the contribution that sport cultures made to both the Victorian and early twentieth-century expression of British identity, on both the home front and beyond, considering amateur and professional values and distinctions in this process, and the deep influence of social class and gender upon British sporting formations. Second, we consider the changing profile of the sporting heroic in a globalizing and post-colonial world, selecting single sportsmen and women and reading their life-histories, trajectories and profiles as evidence of sport’s changing place in international and world culture and events.  Third, the persistence of nationalist values, amateur principles and forms of social organization are assessed, in relation to the media and market-led global growth of sport. Finally, we study the ways in which Britain’s profile at a globalized Olympics and men’s football World Cup has changed through respective phases of the globalization process, focusing in particular upon how the 1966 World Cup in England, and the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, embodied contrasting balances of the national and the global in their representation and outcomes; and upon debates concerning the diplomatic role of sport in the modern and contemporary period.

Many of the sports that have dominated the international sporting landscape were first played in their modern form in Britain. Team games such as soccer, rugby and cricket, and sports such as rowing, athletics and boxing, were formalized, codified and modernized in the elite schooling institutions of Britain (its public schools for boys) and the ancient universities of Cambridge and Oxford. Many were then diffused in both the new urban communities of the industrializing society, and the far reaches of the expanding British Empire and the trade networks of the informal Empire. Physical activity and sports for women were also cultivated to fit with contemporary ideals of Victorian femininity, confirming the male dominance of the sporting sphere, though also challenged in some of the earliest forms of physical education in specialist women’s colleges, and among progressive sportswomen at Cambridge colleges such as Girton and Newnham. The module tracks the continuities and changes that have sustained these sporting practices and institutions in an increasingly globalizing yet not wholly globalized world.

The module draws upon documentary, historical, cinematic and literary sources and forms of analysis. Case studies and themes that students can develop in writing and studying in depth for their assessment include: the contribution of Rugby School to the development of sport in Britain and worldwide; the place of Cambridge and Oxford in the formative philosophy of Olympism; evocations of the source of British sporting excellence, and its juxtaposition with US performance sports culture, such as that shown in the movie Chariots of Fire; soccer’s export to the US, and its relation to both the Big 3 US sports of grid-iron, baseball and basketball and the globalized spectacle of international soccer; the construction of sports celebrities and heroes in both Britain and the USA; the shifting media landscape that has reshaped sport as a global commodity; the peripheral place of women champions in the canon of British sports stars; and the making of the London 2012 Olympics.

 Pre-arrival reading: To be compulsorily read before the start of the course:

Tomlinson, A. 2014, FIFA – The men, the myths and the money, London: Routledge, chapter 1, pp.12-26, on the origins of FIFA, the world governing body of football/soccer, and Britain’s relationship to other countries in this narrative.

Recommended additional pre-arrival reading

Rowe, D. 2011, Global media sport: Flows, forms and futures London: Bloomsbury Academic, chapter 2, pp.12-33, on ‘markets in movement: economic dimensions of the media sport spectacle’

Bibliography (selective, indicative)

Allison, L. 2001, Amateurism in sport – An analysis and a defence, London: Frank Cass.

Holt, R. 1989, Sport and the British – A modern history, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Horne, J., Tomlinson, A, Whannel, G., and Woodward, K. 2013, Understanding sport: A socio-cultural analysis, Second Edition, London: Routledge.

Hughes, T. Tom Brown’s school-days, London: first published 1857.

Hornby, N. 1992, Fever pitch, London: Victor Gollancz.

Jarvie, G. 2006, Sport, culture and society – An introduction, London: Routledge

Rowe, D. 2011, Global media sport: Flows, forms and futures, London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Tomlinson, A. (ed.) 2007, The Sport Studies Reader, London: Routledge.

Tomlinson, A. 2010, Oxford Dictionary of Sports Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tomlinson, A. 2011, The Atlas of sports: Who plays what, where, and why, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tomlinson, A. 2014. FIFA: The men, the myths and the money, London: Routledge


1 Final Exam: 45%

1 Final Essay: 45%

Participation, progress and attendance, mid-term essay: 10%

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)