Sport heritage research has grown from a relatively obscure sub-sub-sub field of sport tourism to a growing field of inquiry in heritage studies, sport studies, and tourism studies. Until a decade ago, the research about sport heritage and sport nostalgia was fairly scatter-shot. The Sociology of Sport Journal had a sport nostalgia issue in the early 90s, for example, while Heather Gibson included nostalgia in her sport tourism typology in 1998 though, by and large, the ways in which the sporting past were created, commemorated, and commodified in the present went largely unexplored.
However, sport heritage now has a growing body of research. Initially, sport heritage was largely considered a tourism resource, though most of the recent work has branched out from these beginnings to understand sport heritage from a variety of angles. With that in mind, I give you some of my favourite recent sport heritage research. I have purposefully not included any of my own research (I feel it is up to others to determine whether my research has value), though some of the publications I list I was involved with as an editor.
Representing the Sporting Past in Museums and Halls of Fame edited by Murray Phillips (Routledge, 2012): I have written about this edited text both on this forum and in a review in the Annals of Leisure Research, and I can safely say my high opinion of it has not changed since I read and reviewed it a couple of years ago. Phillips understands the relationship between sport history and sport heritage better than most – he realizes that the aims and outcomes of each are different and that sports museums cannot, or should not, be history books on walls. Many of the contributions also push the boundaries of what constitutes a sports museum, what they might look like, and the power relationships determine their narratives. This book is essential for anyone wishing to study sport heritage.
“Heroes as Heritage: the commoditization of sporting achievement” by Sean Gammon (Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol. 9, Issue 3, 2014): Dr. Gammon is a frequent co-collaborator of mine, so I was well familiar with his work when he wrote this paper. However, this piece blew me away. Gammon took an idea that had been floating about for a few years – the idea that people (and, in this case, athletes) could be considered a kind of artefact – and took it in some provocative new directions. As I wrote in response to this article at the time:
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.
Sport heritage has a unique relationship with time – both in terms of how quickly sport becomes heritage, but also how it is different than many other manifestations of heritage. Gammon captures some of these issues, and more, in this wonderful paper.
“It still goes on: football and the heritage of the Great War in Britain” by Ross Wilson (Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol. 9, Issue 3, 2014). Dr. Wilson’s wonderful paper takes many different approaches to sport heritage – including tourism, memorialization, and commemoration – and views them through the lens of the Great War. As I wrote in response to this article at the time:
Football, Wilson argues, provides an emotive bridge as well as a marker for many British tourists. However, the emphasis on football also reveals much about contemporary British culture, as well as how the War is understood and remembered in Britain today. As such, this paper confronts many of the issues at play in contemporary heritage literature, albeit through a sports lens, including contestation over memory and memorialization, commodification and authenticity in heritage tourism, and the relationship between history and heritage.
The Great War has inspired many different types of heritages, including those in sport, and Dr. Wilson provides a thought-provoking look at how football, in particular, is mobilized in how we confront and remember the conflict.
Sport, History, and Heritage: Studies in Public Representation – edited by Jeffrey Hill, Kevin Moore, and Jason Wood (Boydell & Brewer, 2012): One of the aspects of sport heritage research that is sometimes overlooked is that there are real, practical implications to how the sporting past is created in consumed. This edited text combines both academic and applied perspectives and, though I found it sometimes conflates history, heritage, nostalgia, and memory, it does provide some very interesting case studies about collecting, managing, interpreting, and representing the sporting past.
“Non-events and their legacies: Parisian heritage and the Olympics that never were” by Ulf Strohmayer (International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 19, Issue 2, 2013): With Paris again bidding for the Olympics, Dr. Strohmayer’s paper is essential reading for anyone wondering about the many heritage implications of an Olympic bid. Firstly, this paper presents a kind-of counterfactual sport heritage – that is to say, it presents a sport heritage that was never actually realized, at least in space and time. Secondly, it considers that archival documents – such as Olympic bids – are a kind of sport heritage. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it considers how an Olympic games might interact – or potentially damage – existing built heritage. As we know, heritage icons often form the backdrop to Olympic venues (consider Westminster Palace/Big Ben as the pan-away backdrop to beach volleyball at the 2012 London Olympics), however what if there simply isn’t the room to accommodate Olympic venues in heritage districts? Is a Paris Olympics really “Parisian” if it is held in the suburbs rather than on the Champ de Mars?