Football & racism: (2) Political discourse

30 Jan

This post is a follow-up to the previous one, where footballer Kevin-Prince Boateng’s walking off in protest at racist chanting, during a friendly match in Italy, gave me the opportunity to search LexisNexis for related English-language news, thus renewing my exploration of the international database of news resources. In order to switch from LexisNexis to other scholarly search tools, I decided to refocus the theme (‘football and racism’) on ‘political discourse’.


As showed by such initiatives as UK’s Show Racism the Red Card, there has been in recent years a growing concern in football (and other sports as well) about supporters’ discriminatory attitudes becoming more and more aggressive, not infrequently even against one’s own players: whereas my personal memories of Dutch middlefielder Aron Winter being booed by the (extreme-right) fans of his own Lazio Roma (1992-96) might only be vague (being myself not into football but always quite attentive to discriminatory issues), news from Russia are as recent as last december, with Zenit St Petersburg fans wanting black and gay players excluded from the team.

showracismtheredcard homophobiaWhat makes Boateng’s case specially interesting in this context is that, amongst the supporters responsible for the racist chanting against the German-Ghanaian player, the Councillor (NB: Youth affairs & Sport) from a nearby town has been identified: Riccardo Grittini, who has by now resigned from his position, is a member of the federalist and anti-immigration Northern-Italian party Lega Nord, whose overtly discriminatory language (both racially and sexually) distinguishes the party rhetoric from its very beginnings in the late 80s.

By which I come to the subject of the post: what kind of relation, if any, can be established between the use of discriminatory language in both (Italian) political rhetoric/propaganda and football/sport fandom? Has there any research been done on these possible relations?

For the sake of this blog’s scope I chose:

1) to translate the key concepts of my topic into the following (combination of) search terms (the search strings I used can be seen here):
“discriminatory language”
football OR sport
“political language” OR “political discourse” OR propaganda OR “political rhetoric”

2) to search with the above terms the following sources (access restrictions may apply outside the UvA-network) for peer-reviewed articles:
Communication & Mass Media Complete
Web of Science
ERIC, Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts (through ProQuest search platform)

3) to mention here only the ten most relevant articles (judging from their abstracts) out of a total of about seventy I retrieved from the whole set of databases, preferring those available online through the UvA-Library (again, mind possible access restrictions). Newest to oldest:

Gripentrog, J. (2010). The transnational pastime: baseball and American perceptions of Japan in the 1930s. Diplomatic History, 34(2), 247-273.

Van Hilvoorde, I., Elling, A., & Stokvis, R. (2010). How to influence national pride? The Olympic medal index as a unifying narrative. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 45(1), 87-102. DOI: 10.1177/1012690209356989

Bonde, H. (2009). The great male cycle: sport, politics and European masculinity today. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 26(10), 1540-1554. DOI: 10.1080/09523360903057559

Toohey, K., & Taylor, T. (2006). ‘Here be dragons, here be savages, here be bad plumbing’: Australian media representations of sport and terrorism. Sport in Society, 9(1), 71-93. DOI: 10.1080/17430430500355816

Brick, N., & Wilks, C. (2002). Les partis politiques et la féminisation des noms de métier. Journal of French Language Studies, 12(01), 43-53. DOI: 10.1017/S0959269502000133

Delgado, F. (1999). Sport and politics major league soccer, constitution, and (the) Latino audience(s). Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 23(1), 41-54. DOI: 10.1177/0193723599231004

Veri, M. J. (1999). Homophobic discourse surrounding the female athlete. Quest, 51(4), 355-368. DOI: 10.1080/00336297.1999.10491691

Muñoz, F. G. H., & Romero, F. G. (1996). Metáforas del deporte en los discursos políticos de Demóstenes. Cuadernos de Filología Clásica. Estudios griegos e indoeuropeos, 6, 107.

Semino, E., & Masci, M. (1996). Politics is football: metaphor in the discourse of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. Discourse & Society, 7(2), 243-269. DOI: 10.1177/0957926596007002005

Strenk, A. (1979). What price victory? The world of international sports and politics. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 445(1), 128-140.

Somehow it didn’t come as a surprise that by far the most often cited of these articles is Semino & Masci’s from 1996, dealing with (football) metaphors in the political discourse of Italian former Prime Minister (and president of football team AC Milan) Silvio Berlusconi. Neither was I much surprised by the sheer variety of research scopes – from Ancient Greek to 1930s America, from gender issues to the Olympic Games – that even such a limited search for literature revealed as far as sport, racism (discriminatory language) and political discourse are concerned.

The afore-mentioned variety is in fact a confirmation both of the richness of academic research and of the need for conceiving and developing an appropriate topic, keeping in mind that I can gradually rephrase it according to the resources I (don’t) discover, and knowing how important academic search tools can be in the process.


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