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Towards a New History of European Sport

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2011

Alan Tomlinson*
Chelsea School, University of Brighton, Hillbrow, Denton Road, Eastbourne BN20 7SR, UK. E-mail:
Christopher Young*
Pembroke College, Cambridge CB2 1RF, UK. E-mail:


The European Commission has invested much symbolic capital in sport's potential contribution to European identity, recently stating ‘that sport has a role in forging identity and bringing people together’. Yet such claims must be strongly qualified. Whilst sport is conspicuously present in Europe as an everyday activity, it is elusively variegated in its social and cultural forms and impacts, and historically informed scholarship points to a more sophisticated approach to the understanding of the subject. At the same time, national histories – conceived largely within national frameworks – hold sway in the field of sports history. There is little truly comparative work and this lack allows the European Commission to put out its statements unchallenged. This article proposes a number of ways in which European sports history might be conceived comparatively. It outlines four different models of European sport (British, German, Soviet, Scandinavian), whilst highlighting the problems inherent in such modelling; argues for greater historical depth (e.g. the importance of Italy in the early modern period); warns against the dangers of presentism (e.g. highlighting the proximity of dance and gymnastics in earlier periods); challenges the hegemony of British sport; and champions the cause of a serious consideration of Eastern Europe.

Focus: Sports
Copyright © Academia Europaea 2011

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