At the end of May I attended a conference on ‘Sporting Bodies’ at the University of Leeds. I delivered a paper on the role of religion and sports within Jewish youth clubs using the title – ‘A Good Game of Ping-Pong is a Kind of Prayer and a Foul Game of Football a Kind of Sin’ which looked at the way in which sporting activities were seen to develop spiritual character and the sports which were considered religiously sound and which were not.
The variety of papers at the conference was really interesting. From the NFLs Brain Bank and sports injuries to medieval crossbow tournaments, from Sex Changes of Olympians to the spaces that football stadiums occupy, the one thing that really hit me over the course of the event was that sport is really quite powerful. In all of the papers presented the speakers talked about the power and the legacy of sports in a persons or a communities life. My own work looked at the ways in which sports could be seen to influence moral codes and personalities, in Medieval crossbow tournaments sports were used to emphasise peace and brotherhood (similar to the Olympic games). For a former athlete, the legacy of sports leaves behind a body that has to have a certain image as the power of a sporting identity is absolute in an athletes past, present and future. But also, sport is a powerful way of excluding minorities and outsiders. Certainly there are ways in which to combat this – opening boundaries, diluting rules and creating an ‘open’ atmosphere (and there was a paper delivered on this too). The football against racism project (I may have remembered the title wrong) does such a thing – using sports to break down social boundaries rather than enforce them.
What I took away from this conference was that sport has a lot of power over the individual, over society and over the landscape and that power is not always positive. Sports have the power to exclude people and to ensure that groups are prevented from finding a place in society. Certainly something worth bearing in mind in the present as well as for the past