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Heroes as heritage: the commoditization of sporting achievement

I am pleased to announce the online publication of Heroes as heritage: the commoditization of sporting achievement by Sean Gammon of the University of Central LancashireThis paper is part of the special “Sport, Heritage, and Tourism” issue of the Journal of Heritage Tourism, available in its entirety this autumn.

From the abstract:

The paper aims to explore and develop discussion relating to sports heritage by introducing the proposition that sporting heroes can be equated to forms of both tangible and intangible heritage. It begins by identifying the nature and function of sports heroes, while delineating a basic sports hero typology based upon a dialectic process that drives the emotional responses of the spectator and/or fan. Furthermore, the paper explores the commoditization process of the sporting hero that reframes them into heritage “objects”. These “objects” are, in turn, responsible for the intangible heritage achievements produced during their careers. It is argued that sports heroes represent a hitherto unexplored source of tourist interest (specifically related to authenticity and motivation) which may add to our understanding of heritage studies in general.

My thoughts on the paper, from the forthcoming editorial:

While sport heritage, and the tourism it generates, shares many similarities to other forms of heritage, Gammon reminds us that there are some very distinctive features to sport heritage, namely that much of the fabric of sport heritage – and, indeed, much of what attracts tourists to experience it – are the athletes themselves and the sporting feats they have achieved. Few cultural processes are celebrated like sport and, as Synder (1991) reminds us, few activities are as widely disseminated, replayed, and relived as sport. The heroes and the sporting moments they create then, as Gammon argues, become artefacts, and though we can relive and replay the achievement (and, in a sense, preserve the moment(s) in time, perhaps through both personal memory and vicariously through media) we cannot preserve “the object” in the same way that we might other forms of tangible heritage. The relationship between the achievement and the athlete, in fact, demonstrates a paradox in sport heritage. Athletes age, change, and are no longer what they were – indeed, athletes are some of the few heritage “objects” that are not aided by the patina of age. However, their achievements may become more glorious – or heroic – as time goes on. Similarly, if athletes are to be thought of as a “living heritage” (Ramshaw, 2010), then we must understand them as a very dynamic heritage – where their past successes will be determined by present needs, concerns, actions, and opinions. Star athletes still competing today are frequently judged as to their potential “legacy” – that they might help to shape and determine where they and their achievements might fit in the pantheon of a sport’s heritage – and that there is an understanding that future behaviour may colour opinions about sport-related legacies. In many respects, and for many athletes, maintaining a legacy – and having a saleable heritage pedigree – is vital for their post-athletics career, and not just for the vast sports memorabilia market but, as Gammon notes, as commodities for the heritage sport tourism market as well.

Sean is one of the leading lights in sport heritage, so I am thrilled that his work is part of this special issue.


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