Sport and Society

A game changer


About the British Library’s sport-related collections and how they can help researchers to find out more about the Olympic Games, and especially the London Olympics of 2012.

Written by Gillian Ridgley of our Social Science Research and Collections team, and her guests.

13 December 2012

Sport that's so gay!

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Simone Bacchini writes:

It sometimes feels like the case for sport as a vehicle for social change is a bit overstated. Yet, the announcement that London has bid to host the 2018 Gay Games ( might be, well, a game changer.

The Gay Games was started in San Francisco, in 1982. Originally, it was called “Gay Olympics” but a lawsuit filed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meant that the name had to be changed. To date, there have been eight editions, mostly held in North America. The Gay Games is the world’s largest sporting and cultural event organised by and for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) community. Participation, however, is not restricted to athletes who identify as LBGT and, according to its statute, the label includes transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer, questioning people, and of course, an essential constituency for change: straight allies.”

Sporting events for minority groups, some of them facing varying degrees of discrimination have a double function. The strengthen in-group identity, by bringing together those who might feel isolated in the wider society in which they live. They also offer a chance of visibility, often helping dispel negative stereotypes.

Sport is one of the favourite arenas in which socially approved norms of gender behaviour are displayed, learned, and reinforced. So, it is often the case that gay men are not associated with sporting prowess, while women who engage in sport, especially the more “unfeminine” ones – such as boxing – are more or less overtly thought of, “accused”, I am tempted to say, being lesbians. Which of course may or may not be true.

Obviously, for many LGBT people sport has never been an issue: they simply aren’t interested. But for many others the world of competitive sports has been a difficult, often frightening one. For the non-heterosexual person, especially when young, the playing field and the locker rooms can feel like no-go areas, unless you’re not open about your sexuality or this is not obvious. And that’s a shame, frankly.

The Paralympics has been an important tool in changing views of and attitudes towards disability. Could the Gay Games do the same for homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, etc? More visibility would certainly be good, although it remains to be seen the extent to which the media would be covering the event. And would attitudes be changed in Britain, if London were to win the bid? Well, that’s a research topic for existing and aspiring social scientists and sociologists of sport out there. The future of sport may look a bit pinker, after 2018!


H3: References - Heading out of sequence test


Journal of Homosexuality. Binghampton: Haworth.

London Reference Collection: SPIS Journals Display (open access)


Anderson, E. (2009). Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinities. London: Routledge.

General Reference Collection: SPIS306.7662 (open access)


Symons, C. (2010). The Gay Games: A History. London: Routledge.

Document Supply: m11/.11320


02 November 2012

Did the Olympics do the trick?

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At last! The Olympics are over but not for yours truly! My BBC DVD of the event arrived on Monday and since then me and the cats have been reliving it all. Now I can stop watching my ‘England wins the Ashes’ DVDs when the TV is too full of soaps, antiques programmes and reality shows (i.e most of the time) and switch to some multi-sports. And it’s almost better the second time around: Bert le Clos enthusing about his son’s gold medal in the swimming; our first gold medal in the women’s coxless pairs; Bradley Wiggins; Jess Ennis. How fab it all was!

Now there’s other good news: after five years of zero growth the UK economy has been reported as coming out of recession, with a 1% growth rate for the last quarter. This has taken pundits by surprise, and has been partly put down to the Olympics, ticket sales for which contributed approximately a fifth of the increase in GDP. No only this, but there was a reported £500 million underspend on the Olympic budget.

The economic cost/benefit analysis of the Olympic & Paralympic Games is clearly well under way. And it is obvious - anecdotally - that there have been winners and losers already: the BBC & NBC saw viewing figures and potential revenues shoot up; some retailers, on the other hand, lamented the lack of people on the high street during Games time. It’s still early days though and the final analysis – if there can ever be such a thing - will take ages to complete with numerous factors having to be taken into account.

The DCMS helpfully explains the process on its website: According to the Department “a post Games initial evaluation will be published shortly after the Games, in spring/summer 2013. Prior to this, a number of interim outputs will also be published. Further research will be commissioned separately to look at the effect of the Games up to around 2020”. The Government has taken an optimistic view already and has estimated a potential £13 billion benefit to the UK economy in the next five years:

The many reports coming out of this research are keenly awaited, and DCMS has asked that anyone undertaking legacy research should let them know by filling in a form to be found on the webpage above. That way, track can be kept of what findings exist, where they are, and who has worked on them. With luck, that information will be available to researchers many years hence. And that’s what real legacy is all about!

19 October 2012

Marmalade United

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So what is the connection between Seville and Dundee? Heard of James Keiler? If you’ve just answered ‘marmalade’, well done! Form a team, and apply to BBC TV’s 'Only Connect'.

And in that exotic connection (the export of bitter Seville oranges to Scotland for boiling with sugar and water) may lie the origin of association football in Andalusia - indeed perhaps in the whole of Spain.

This has come to light in a rediscovered report in the Dundee Courier, dated 17 March 1890, now digitised and available through the British Newspaper Archive website (see Note below).

On 25 January 1890, a group of ex-pat British traders based in Seville decided to get together for regular football practice. After a few 5-a-side training games, they invited some friends from Huelva over for a proper match, played under FA rules. Seville won 2-0.

The Dundee Courier report is entitled ‘First Football Match in Spain’. While this may or may not have been the case (how could we know?), the revelation is in the following sentence:

After a deal of talk and a limited consumption of small beer, the Club de Football de Sevilla was duly formed and officebearers elected.

And that’s what getting Spanish football fans, especially los aficionados de Sevilla, excited. The explicit mention of a constitution means that FC Sevilla was founded in 1890, rather than 1905 as previously thought: evidence that makes Sevilla the oldest football club in Spain (Real Madrid was founded in 1902, for example). The research, undertaken by the history department of FC Sevilla, was quickly picked up by Spanish blogs (such as La Palagana Mecanica) and on Twitter, which is where we saw it.

You can read about this story in detail, and see the original newspaper article, on the official blog of the British Newspaper Archive.

So here's an example of what you can discover from online digitised material, provided that it’s fully searchable and you know what you are looking for.

Colin Wight


The British Newspaper Archive is a partnership between the British Library and brightsolid online publishing to digitise up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library's vast collection over the next 10 years.

Read more on the BNA blog