The holding of the Athens Olympic Games in September 2004 was marked by a series of visible alterations to the urban landscape, sports facilities, public transport and the image of the city in general, which underwent a 'face-lift' in order to welcome the 'mega event'. At the same time, many activities related directly or indirectly to the Olympic Games were favoured. Among these fortuitously favoured activities were research into sport and the writing of studies on the subject. Research programmes were funded, books were published and conferences held. Thus the occasion of the Athens Olympic Games provided the opportunity for us to conduct an international academic debate in Greece, about issues, moreover, which had not attracted the interest of Greek social scientists for reasons I will deal with later.
FHW's conference can be viewed as part of this international dialogue, as a product of this Olympic occasion, but also as a landmark in Greek sport studies. Thus, I would like to place the papers and discussions of this conference within a wider context which is defined by the following pivotal points:
There is no doubt that the undertaking of the 2004 Olympic Games by Greece served to encourage relevant schoraly activity. We could, of course, point out that something similar occurs in every host country every four years. Research interest in the Olympic Games is generated and cultivated as the occasion arises. It is a type of short-lived fashion which takes hold of every host country and city before the Games, only to be abandoned by it immediately afterwards. However, I am not using the term 'fashion' in any pejorative sense. On the contrary, for those of us who serve the human and social sciences, such a fashion can be beneficial, given that our sciences under normal conditions, in an environment of increasing competitiveness and the continuous intrusion of the 'market mentality', do not possess the academic prestige they used to have for prospective students, nor do they attract sponsors.
Consequently, in Greece from the moment that it assumed the organisation of the Olympic Games, but particularly after the Sydney Olympics and with increasing frequency as the Games were approaching, there was a proliferation of publications, of conferences and other activities (for example exhibitions) related to the study of sport. This production is manifestly uneven since the greater part of it is not even scholarship. Most of the works that filled the bookshop windows were popularising, reproduced a general bibliography without any element of original research and were usually lavishly illustrated. Moreover, many of them were publications which I would call 'collateral': children's books with ancient Olympic victors as the leading characters, guides (usually in a foreign language) for the visitors who would be arriving in Athens on the occasion of the Games, editions of ancient Greek authors. Finally, a series of articles and special supplements on the Olympic Games could be found in the daily and Sunday newspapers, where usually texts which had already been published in books were recycled.
To the printed media we must now add the electronic. A number of documentaries were shown on Greek TV about sport and the Olympic Games with original subject-matter, for example, the history of sportswear. I would say, indeed, that electronic productions outstrip the printed word in the field of theoretical thinking. I believe that this is due to the fact that the printed production on the modern Games is trapped in traditional patterns, unlike the electronic production, where the leading role is played by young people, artists and journalists sensitive to contemporary political and social issues, such as commercialisation, globalisation, social inequalities, gender roles, etc.
It is obvious that all this activity which I have just described concerns us only as evidence of the largely opportunistic and superficial interest in the study of sport and the Olympic Games. That is why it will not form an object of the presentation I would like to attempt. Thus I will now try to give a critical account of the scholarly activity, as this finds expression in research programmes and publications. This activity is obviously favoured by the occasion of the Athens Olympiad, but it cannot be described as absolutely a matter of the particular occasion. It is based on a research tradition which pre-existed either in the field of human and social sciences or in that of sport studies. What, therefore, is of interest to us is to investigate to what extent all this activity for the occasion is part of a pre-existing academic tradition. In order to answer this question, we should first examine what the tradition was that pre-existed.
Very schematically, this tradition can be detected in two different fields, which had -and still have- minimum contact between each other: archaeology and physical education. Moreover, there is a separate tradition in the field of historiography, which flourished during recent decades in Greece, under the influence of the French 'Annales' school, as well as in the field of the other social sciences, a tradition which is not, however, related to the study of sport, but which at some point incorporated sport into the wider range of its interests. The present speaker follows this trend and therefore the remarks which are presented here are derived from the viewpoint of history.
The predominance of antiquity is also confirmed by the publications brought out on the occasion of the Athens Olympic Games. Even in publications which attempt a review through time, antiquity takes up the most important part of them. This predominance is not of course exclusively a Greek characteristic. In the West, any reference to athletics and Greece almost automatically conjures up a vision of antiquity. The cause and the result of this ideological predominance is the lack -or more correctly, the rarity- of original research into the modern history of sport in Greece. Even the research which is carried out, because of the language barrier, rarely reaches the Western public. Thus to a large extent it is a production restricted to a small domestic market. An awareness of this fact has led many writers and publishers to produce bilingual publications -in Greek and English.
At this point it is necessary to make a general comment about the problem of communication between Greek and foreign academic production. To a large extent, knowledge of ancient and modern Greece is filtered through the 'eyes' of foreigners. Although such an approach is undoubtedly beneficial and grafts the comparative approach on to the Greek perspective, because of the language barrier that I mentioned above, the foreign bibliography is largely ignorant of the modern Greek production and this leads to many inaccuracies and misunderstandings1. Conferences, like that organised by FHW, provide precisely this opportunity for international dialogue, which cannot be carried on through publications.
2. Physical education
Before the 1980s and since the time of the 1896 Olympic Games, the history of physical education and sport, as it developed in Greece, was marked by the reproduction of the schema of uninterrupted continuity of physical exercise from antiquity to the present day. Despite the unquestionable predominance of antiquity in this case also, the notion of continuity requires the incorporation of less 'athletic' periods into the narrative, such as Byzantium and the Greek War of Independence in 1821. This field of Greek historiography, consequently, continues the nineteenth-century romantic tradition. The relevant publications are marked by an absence of theoretical thought, amateurism, Hellenocentrism and lack of academic autonomy. As to the content, we can pick out the general history of gymnastics, the individual studies of a specific sport or an athletic club and local sport histories.
This situation was the product of the general indifference of historians and other social scientists in Greece to the study of sport. This indifference is due to the devaluation of sport as a 'non-serious' and 'non-rational' aspect of human activity and an unimportant element of social and cultural processes. The contempt of men of letters for sport is, of course, not solely a Greek phenomenon, but goes hand in hand with the value system of the Western world. However, it was only recently that Greek research followed the course of the social sciences in the West, which from the 1970s and 1980s had turned towards the study of new subjects, such as women, urban centres, workers' movements, leisure, sport, etc.
Consequently, sport has only marginally attracted the research interest of social scientists in Greece. Individual studies of the history, sociology and anthropology of sport can be counted on the fingers of one hand, taken all together. To dwell upon history, a discipline I know best, during the last 25 years, a breaking-down of subject- matter generally, but also an internal lack of contact between the various fields, for example, economic with political history and both of them with cultural history, has been observable. The history of sport as part of so-called 'new history' -by analogy with the French school of 'nouvelle histoire'- is not even a special field. This marginal position of the study of sport has, I think, also been confirmed at this conference, where only six papers by Greeks2, as compared with 17 by non-Greeks3, have been included, in spite of the fact that it is taking place on Greek soil.
However, these observations -as I have already suggested- do not mean that there is a complete absence of studies of sport and the Olympic Games in Greece. Very briefly, we could note that there is relatively extensive research with new evidence into the revival of the Olympic Games in Greece in the nineteenth century and the development of physical education and sport, an interest on the part of sociology in issues of the sub-culture of football fans and of violence in the stadiums and, finally, an interest on the part of anthropology in issues of gender identity in relation to sport, particularly football. Archives of sports clubs have been classified and their content has become publicly known, while the Hellenic Olympic Committee has also had its archives classified and recorded electronically. A number of books from the foreign bibliography have been translated recently into Greek, a fact which testifies to the Greek reading public's interest. It is worth mentioning here that every summer in ancient Olympia the International Olympic Academy holds conferences and postgraduate seminars on issues relevant to Olympism and the Olympic Games, attended by scholars of every discipline from all over the world.
3. The conference
Having formulated these general observations, I would now like to go on to a synthesis of the conference papers, bringing out, wherever possible, the points of contact and drawing attention to the overall lines of thought which emerged. In this synthesis I will not follow the order of the papers as they were presented at the conference or its units of subject-matter, but rather I will try to unearth hidden threads and directions. Moreover, most of the papers cannot be strictly pigeon-holed into a single category, but there is overlapping in the theoretical tools.
Very schematically, the conference papers dealt with issues of identity, gender, representations and politics. The issues of globalisation and cultural conflicts also ran through a number of presentations. There is also a distinction between two groups depending on the period which they chose to examine: on the one hand, the papers dealing with athletics in antiquity and, on the other, those dealing with the modern era. However, this chronological distinction does not significantly influence the method. We note, that is, that the tools of analysis are similar, whether women's athletics in antiquity (Eva Cantarella) or in modern Hong Kong (Patricia Vertinsky) are being studied.
I will start from the paper which posed overall issues regarding the study of sport. Jeffrey Hill's paper in fact raised two essential, 'institutional' questions: 1) why do we study sports and leisure? and 2) how do we interpret their function in contemporary society? The answers he provided were exceptionally clear. As to the first question, he answered that the study of sport and leisure is 'politics' in the wider sense of the term and it is exactly this political dimension that gives it value. Regarding the interpretation that he suggests, he follows post-modern thinking, placing emphasis on the experience and the subjectivity of athletic activity. Thus there are no large explanatory patterns, such as that of social control, but small narrations and different experiences. According to this approach, sport and leisure are processes in which meanings are created and disputed and which at the same time contribute to our understanding of the world.
In the matter of the definition of modern sport, while J. Hill's paper contributed to a 'history of appearance', Henning Eichberg's presentation dealt with a 'history of disappearance'. From the perspective of the anthropology of movement or cultural sociology, Eichberg provided us with a fascinating tour on the paths of the labyrinth. If the 100 metres is the paradigmatic epitome of modern sports, the labyrinth -an exercise that existed in the German gymnastics tradition of Turnen- is the alternative of this myth of modernity, a third dimension to the sport/record - gymnastics/discipline bipolarity. But the most important dimension of the labyrinth, as it emerged from Eichberg's analysis, is the quest for identity, not only as an intellectual but as a physical process.
Eichberg's paper introduced those papers at the conference which dealt with issues of identity, which linked athletic activity with the construction and reproduction of identities. There were several presentations which referred to issues of gender identities; first of all, those which spoke of issues of male identity and representations of masculinity.
First there was James-Anthony Mangan's paper, in which representations of the martial male nude in art were treated as metamorphoses of the Aryan superman and a political metaphor. Athanasios Sideris' paper, through a semantic approach, analysed through time, from the Archaic kouros to Brad Pitt's Achilles, the various representations of the male athlete's body as expressions of power - not only political but also social and economic. The connection between war and sport made by Mangan was also present in Gregory Nagy's paper about the 'Apobates contest'. Here as well the male figure symbolises the (complacent?) warrior, while, on the other hand, the female figures mourn, begging for peace. Nagy's conclusions regarding the female role can be compared with the observations by Eva Cantarella about female competitiveness in a paper which I will deal with below.
To remain with ancient athletics, Dimitris Paleothodoros attempted a social history of ancient boxing, demonstrating the aristocratic character of the sport, while at the same time he analysed the ambiguous image of the boxer of the Archaic and the Classical periods, simultaneously 'heroic', gigantic, skilful but also potentially dangerous for civic values. Generally, the representations of athletes in ancient art, as became apparent from all the papers that referred to antiquity, should not be treated as a realistic depiction but in the light of aesthetic rules. This hypothesis was confirmed by Fr. Lissarague's paper.
In the group of papers on male identity we can also place those of Pantelis Kyprianos and Manolis Houmerianos, and Thierry Terret. In the presentation of the first two, the activity of football fans was analysed as a factor in the creation of male identity, while in Thierry Terret's paper, the Tour de France was discussed as a metaphor of hegemonic masculinity. Terret's paper had the distinctive characteristic that it dealt simultaneously with masculine and feminine identity and the stereotypes which go with them, thus serving as the link with three other papers which spoke exclusively of issues of female identity.
I shall begin with Cheryl Cole's paper because it poses the question of the limits in connection with the definition of gender in the modern reality of doping and the various chemical and medical interventions for the creation of the super-athlete. Similar questionings, but regarding moral consequences, arose in the paper of Konstantina Gongaki, who, however, did not touch upon issues of identity. We could mention at this point the decision of the International Olympic Committee that trans-sexuals could participate in the Athens Olympic Games. To return to the paper of Cheryl Cole, the second extremely interesting issue mentioned is the connection of the debate over the 'pure' gender of athletes in the USA with collective ideological and political attitudes towards the 'communist danger'. Seen in this light, this paper raises issues not only of gender but also of national identities.
Patricia Vertinsky examined the content of women's physical education in modern Hong Kong. The example chosen allows her to study the dynamic interaction of a local Chinese culture with the British colonial culture. I think that her observations lead us to ask several questions regarding cultural identities more far-reaching than that defined by gender. Focusing her research on Greek antiquity, Eva Cantarella also investigated issues of women's athletics, that is, if women's 'education' (paideia) was, like that of males, related to competitive values, to conclude that there were women's Olympic Games analogous to men's games.
Christian Bromberger's paper also raised issues of identity, but was not limited solely to that. Football is analysed here as a 'ritualistic war' in which national and local identities -and consequently conflicts- find expression. At the same time, on the basis of Geertz's work, Bromberger interprets football as 'deep play' producing emotions with cognitive purpose. If according to Bromberger football embodies the basic values of modern societies, then according to Andrew Stewart, nude athletics, historically determined and dated, was the main component of the Greek culture of the democratic polis which differentiated it from the world of the barbarians. Moreover, during the Hellenistic period, this athletic culture, with all its political, educational and social connotations, expanded as the dominant, conquering culture to the East. Manfred Laemmer, focusing his research on Hellenistic Palestine, highlighted precisely the resistance of Jewish culture to the acculturating action of Greek athletic institutions such as the gymnasium. Mutatis mutandis, cultural conflicts with social and political repercussions were also described in other papers which dealt with modern times, but with anthropological or sociological tools.
I will conclude this review with the theme that was the reason for holding this conference: the Olympic Games. The study of the Olympic Games could lead us to two different lines of thought: nationalism and the nation-state on the one hand, and internationalism and globalisation on the other.
It is a well-known fact that the Olympic movement was one of the internationalist ideologies which developed in the nineteenth century, which, however, did not ignore nations, but was based upon them. In the twentieth century, Olympic internationalism became engulfed in the turbulence of national rivalries at a regional or international level, for example, during the Cold War. James Riordan's paper demonstrated exactly the Cold War climate of the Moscow Olympic Games, but also the potential subversive function of the Olympic Games as a place of cultural meeting, communication and interaction. This observation leads us to the questions posed in the papers of Maguire, Jinxia and Roche. Joseph Maguire, examining the reasons why the 2008 Olympic Games were given to Beijing simultaneously with the negative reactions this fact provoked in the USA, dealt with more general questions regarding the relationship between the Olympic Games and geopolitical factors, but also cultural conflicts at world level. Dong Jinxia's paper, which examined how female Olympic champions in China are regarded as 'national icons' and as means for enhancing 'national pride', highlighted the political use of the Games. Thus it in a sense complements Maguire's paper, since it gave an account of the way that China defines itself in relation to the mega-event of the Olympic Games. Maurice Roche in his turn suggested that we study the Olympic Games in the context of the study of globalisation. Through this perspective the Olympic Games are analysed in terms of 'global culture' and 'global civil society'. In the latter case, an important role is played by the proposal for an Olympic truce, as was shown by the paper of Antonia Zervaki.
Roche's paper could be considered as a kind of closing of the conference, since he proposed a research agenda for the Athens Olympic Games but also for those to follow. Indeed, it would be extremely interesting if a team had been created, like those at Barcelona or Lillehammer (winter Olympic Games, 1994) which would carry out an ethnographic or sociological study of the Olympic Games of 2004. Perhaps it is not a matter of chance that we had instead the first interdisciplinary study of the Athens Olympic Games Athens of 18964. In the end, then, is it true that in Greece the past outweighs the present? Instead of providing an answer, allow me repeat the words of the great French historian Fernand Braudel: "history's secret objective, its profound motive, is the study of contemporaneity". I will simply add: and the quest for self-knowledge.
1I refer mainly to a knowledge of modern Greece, on which I am familiar with the relevant bibliography, and not ancient Greece.
2With the exception of my own and that of Prof. Despotopoulos.
3With the exception of the paper by Prof. Vernant.
4Christina Koulouri (ed.), Athens, Olympic City 1896-1906, Athens: International Olympic Academy, 2004.
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