Throughout the centuries, in cultures around the world, people have played games. But it has only been in the modern age, in the last 250 years or so, that people have competed in and watched sports. Modern sports are distinct in practice and purpose from the ball games of Mayan Central America or the chaotic scrums of medieval European villages. Historians have specified these traits and plumbed their origins, typically finding the hearth in England of the 18th and 19th centuries. What was it about England that gave rise to modern sport? Was it the emerging political liberty and notions of rights? The freedom of men to join clubs and associations, or the expansion of the popular press? Was it the decline of feudalism after the revolutionary events of the 1600s, or even the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, who posited that all of life is competition? Tony Collins points to all of these factors as significant for the birth of modern sport in England. But at the root of all this, the fundamental driver of sport’s development, then as now, has been money.
Tony’s book, Sport in Capitalist Society: A Short History (Routledge, 2013), shows how the drive for profit has been central to modern sport, in England and around the world, from the 18th-century gentlemen who instituted uniform rules for various competitions to ensure fairness for their betting, to the gentlemen of today who exchange billions in media contracts, franchise fees, and stadium deals. The book is more than the work of a scholar who has spent two decades researching the history of sport. Along with his colleagues at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at DeMontfort University, Tony took part in the production of a BBC Radio 4 series on the history of British sport, to accompany the 2012 London Olympics. As he explains in the interview, the three-year process of writing the series prompted much discussion among the center’s scholars and brought new clarity to his own interpretations. There are few writers on sport who can move convincingly from one continent to another, but Tony does it with insight and eloquence. His short history hits far above its weight.
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