Sport Heritage Review

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Dark Sport Heritages Revisited

I was mentioning to one of my students the other day that, when I moved to the US a few years ago, one of the things I noticed most was the near obsession with Hallowe’en.  It seemed that there were advertisements for haunted houses of some sort every two or three miles along major highways and interstates, and that the celebration (if that’s the right word) of Hallowe’en started sometime in late September and went through to early November.  October 31 was merely the epicentre rather than the end date.  

In any event, driving to the university this morning, as the city was shrouded in fog and the leaves were beginning to look properly autumnal and Hallowe’en-esque, I thought I might discuss a seasonally-relevant topic and revisit a subject I briefly raised a few months back – the notion of dark sport heritages.  The topic of dark tourism or thanatourism has been around for close to twenty years now, the idea being the exploration of visitation to sites of death and disaster.  Normally, there are some parameters to dark tourism – depending on the source, it has to be within living memory, has to have some immediacy through a space-time collapse (i.e.: we watch it happen live on television), that it has to be a human-to-human event (i.e.: direct human involvement in the event, such as in war or terrorism or murder, rather than a natural disaster), and that it must address some unease about our current lives (e.g.: such as our faith in the democratic process, our trust of science, or the rule of law, etc.) – though, of course, there is much flexibility in these preconditions. 

It comes as little surprise that dark tourism often intersects with what would be termed heritage, particularly at sites of war or through memorials.  As I raised in my previous post, sport has many dark heritages – perhaps through its often poor legacies when it comes to equalities in race, gender, sexuality, and ability to name but a few – as well as through the various sports scandals as well as when sport has played a role in the death of spectators (football riots and at motorsport races to name but two).  However, the topic has not been addressed in research to date, as far as I’m aware.

There was another wrinkle in this dark sport heritage topic that was, perhaps inadvertently, addressed yesterday by Dr. David Fennell from Brock University who was visiting our department as part of a research trip.  His latest research involves the intersection of tourism, ethics, and use of animals.  He mentioned that, perhaps, the unethical use of animals could, potentially, be a subsection of dark tourism.  This may be a bit of a stretch, as I’m not certain there are many who would purposely go to view animal abuse – or, conversely, travel to pay homage at, say, an infamous animal cull – though there may be an angle through sport heritage.  For example, fox hunting is a rural sport in many places – and is strongly tied to heritage and tradition, and could be part of a heritage tourism itinerary.  The tension, it seems, would be in part by witnessing (or participating in) a traditional sport heritage activity that may, depending on your viewpoint, have dark consequences.    


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