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Sport Heritage Trails

Here in the United States, we have seen an increase in the ways that heritage is presented, marketed, and sustained – particularly in rural regions. Many small towns and communities have museums, historic sites, and heritage markers that – individually – may have challenges attracting visitors and interest. The new approach – which is also seen in broader forms of heritage designation, including at the World Heritage level – is to view heritage more holistically, at least in terms of geography.

As such many sites are linking together as part of theme-based heritage “trails” in order to both adequately reflect connections between sites as well as pool resources for marketing and promotion. Theme-based trails have demonstrated some success in rural economic development and can be important catalysts for identifying, recognizing, and sustaining important aspects of culture, heritage, and industry in rural and peripheral regions. Typical themes for trails include religious and pilgrimage routes, migration and trade routes, as well as industrial, cultural, and literary routes, although food-based trails have also become popular trail theme in recent years. It is assumed that all members of trails share common goals as to the purpose and outcomes of trail development, although this may not always be the case.

In any event, though many other forms of heritage – particularly those specific to popular cultures like music, literature, and food – have embraced the heritage trail concept, there appear to be relatively few sport heritage-specific trails that link sporting attractions, sites, places, and markers together. Perhaps the best local example of this concept might be the Packers Heritage Trail in Green Bay, that links important sites in the community to the heritage of the Green Bay Packers football team. On a broader regional basis, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama is one example of a sporting trail, though the actual historical/heritage component this trail is perhaps not as prominent as would exist in other regional heritage trails like the Virginia “Crooked Road” music trail.


The seemingly limited use of sport heritage in trail development begs a few questions. First, are there other trails besides the ones listed above that are exclusively sport-based, particularly those that are regional driving trails (i.e.: require a car) rather than a local walking trail? Second, if sport heritage is not being used as a theme for trail development, why is it not being used? Has it not been considered, or has it been considered and dismissed? Third, if sport heritage has been considered and dismissed in trail development, what were the reasons? Does it have to do with marketability, or lack of sites/attractions in a region, or something else (e.g.: competition between sites)?

Sport heritage seems like it could be a strong theme for some kind of trail development – particularly around a common theme like particular sports (baseball, basketball, hockey) or famous athletes. Yet, there are apparently few examples of sport heritage being used in trail development, and I am curious as to why this is the case.


Sport Heritage in 2014

2014 is setting up to be a banner year for sport heritage – both in terms of events and published research.  Perhaps, as we begin the new year, we should take a look at what is happening in sport heritage, and also consider what needs to be done.

There are a number of events with a sport heritage angle in 2014.  This is hardly an exhaustive list – so, please feel free to add others you see as important sport heritage markers for the upcoming year:

  • One of the more important anniversaries is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.  As I wrote about in my previous post, there are some clear sport heritage aspects to this conflict – not the least of which was the Christmas Truce in 1914, but also the many athletes and sports administrators that were casualties in the War.  I imagine there will be many books, research projects and events that will recognize and commemorate the sport heritage connections to the First War.
  • September 30 is National Sport Heritage Day in the UK.  There is both a Facebook page and Twitter feed with more information.
  • Several infamous sports venues are celebrating anniversaries this year – most notably Lord’s Cricket Ground in London celebrates 200 years, while Wrigley Field in Chicago is one hundred years-old.
  • Of course, 2014 is also an Olympic and World Cup year – each of which generates many sport heritages.

There are also a couple of upcoming sport heritage publications coming out in 2014 (again, please let me know of others):

Some of the sport heritage-related projects I am working on in 2014 include:

  • Examining the creation and dissemination of subaltern sport heritages as a form of resistance;
  • Sport heritage and rural tourism development in Belgium;
  • Understanding existential approaches to sport heritage.

One of the aspects that makes sport heritage research so exciting is that there are so many interesting topics and perspectives that haven’t been explored, or have been hinted at but not yet examined and disseminated.  Here are a few of from my sport heritage “wish list” that I hope I or others explore in the coming years:

  • Consumer behaviour/motivation and sport heritage;
  • The connections between sport heritage and public health, a-la the fascinating work done by the Sporting Memories Network;
  • The connections between active sport tourism and heritage sport tourism;
  • Sport heritage and globalization, particularly the mobilities of sport heritage;
  • Dissonant sport heritages (e.g.: rival claimants for the same sport heritage);
  • Sport fantasy camps;
  • “Performing” sport heritage.

Happy 2014 to all – and, please, keep sending ideas, suggestions, comments or critiques.  I feel that 2014 will be a top-notch year for sport heritage, and I hope that we can make our knowledge and understanding about this fascinating topic grow.

Olympic Bids and Heritage

In light of the announcement that Tokyo has been awarded the 2020 Olympics, I was reminded of a recent paper in the International Journal of Heritage Studies that examined the impact Olympic bids have on urban heritage.  “Non-events and their legacies: Parisian heritage and the Olympics that never were” by Ulf Strohmayer considers not only Olympic bids themselves a kind of sport heritage, but also examines what the Olympics means for cities with a significant and recognizable built heritage inventory.   From the paper’s abstract:

This paper examines three failed bids by the French Olympic Committee and the City of Paris to host the summer Olympic Games of 1992, 2008 and 2012 in an attempt better to understand the role of heritage designations in the context of urban change. Introducing the various sites earmarked for the Games, the paper explores the relationship between planning as a political tool and its impact on the built environment within the context of a complex web of local, national and international demands, needs and aspirations. Based on archival research, the paper explores the dialectical relationship between the demonstrated ability of city councils to declare designated ‘Olympic’ spaces as functionally ‘ready’ to absorb massive new infrastructures and questions posed by whatever physical infrastructure remains after a bid has failed. Since the timeframe chosen for the paper (1986–2006) coincides with a move by the International Olympic Committee to prioritise ‘sustainable urbanism’ as a key legacy of ‘successful’ Olympic Games, this relationship between presences and absences is mediated not just with the help of possible futures in the form of Olympic sites but has had to validate and justify the choice of terrain as well. The paper concludes with a brief meditation on the relationship between present urban heritage and possible futures in the context of mega-events like the Olympic Games.

One of the interesting tensions that Strohmayer highlights is that contemporary Olympics – that emphasize place identity as a legacy – may be incompatible with cities like Paris that have a large built heritage core.  While London managed to somewhat blend both heritage/place markers with an Olympic games (through events at Whitehall, the Maritime Greenwich, and Lord’s Cricket Ground among others), one wonders how many heritage cities could absorb such a large scale event without either a) razing heritage districts, or b) situating the events in the suburbs and, thereby, omitting the important “setting” shots for television.

Not knowing anything about Tokyo’s built heritage, and following on Strohmayer’s argument, I wonder whether the city was better able to absorb an Olympics more than either Istanbul or Madrid was.  While I doubt built heritage conservation was a  major concern for the IOC, it will be interesting to see whether many heritage cities bid for future Games given the space/place commitment.    

(Note: Strohmayer’s paper – and other heritage/Olympic perspectives – are available in Heritage and the Olympics: People, Place and Performance)

The Purpose of Olympic Museums

An article in The Guardian in late April mentioned that plans for an Olympic Museum in London have been scrapped.  In some respects, this is a surprising development given the role the Olympics have played in London’s sport history and heritage.

What remains unclear is what purpose the organizing committee hoped a museum would serve post-Games. Certainly there may be some in tourists and locals wanting a place to remember and re-live the Games experience?  However, a repository for Games relics and memories doesn’t appear to be enough to sustain such a museum long-term, particularly given London’s very competitive museum and heritage market.

Some research I published in the Journal of Sport & Tourism a few years ago about the Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum in Calgary suggests the role a post-Games Olympic museum.  Mangers at the museum and its host site, Canada Olympic Park (C.O.P), were adamant that their museum was not just about the 1988 Winter Olympics.  Rather, they saw it as a way of promoting the sports and athletes of Olympic sport, as well as emphasizing C.O.P. as vibrant and active athlete training centre – and not simply a relic of a distant Games.  Certainly, the museum played a role in C.O.P.’s tourism development initiatives (it remains the most visited tourist attraction in Calgary) and artifacts from the 1988 Olympics remained a part of the museum displays. However, the museum’s role was much more tied to the current operations and mission of C.O.P. and its managing organization (at the time, the Calgary Olympic Development Agency or C.OD.A.) – that of athlete training and development.  The museum has since been replaced with the more extensive Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, suggesting the significant role sport heritage plays in the current operation of C.O.P.

Perhaps the proposed Olympic museum in London didn’t have these legacy outputs and, as such, was scrapped?