Rule Britannia: Nationalism, Identity and the Modern Olympic Games [book]

Matthew Llewellyn
As the cradle of modern sport, Britain's rich sporting history contributed significantly to the nation's identity both at home and abroad. Through their governance and control of leading bureaucratic organizations and clubs, the British established and maintained a position of leadership both on and off the field. Britain's early sporting dominance, coupled with the use of sport as medium for shaping the abilities, values and character of a British governing class, cultivated a belief that
more » ... played a crucial role in the acquisition and consolidation of British hegemonic power. After an initial period of unrivalled dominance, Britain's monopolistic position as leader of modern sport eventually came under serious assault. Britain's historical sporting supremacy-similar to her imperial and economic power in general-was relative, not absolute; a position predicated more on the weaknesses of her opponents rather than her own strengths. Like the example of industrialization, a -catch-up‖ phenomenon quickly occurred. As foreign nations gained experience and established sporting institutions and customs of their own, free from the restraints of Victorian notions of -true‖ amateurism and often with direct governmental assistance, British prowess diminished at an alarming rate. Perceiving an unwelcome deterioration in their country's relative position as a military, economic, imperial, and sporting power, the predominantly elite and politically conservative members of the British Olympic Association (BOA) naturally embraced the Olympic Games as a platform for promoting British interests. Throughout the two decades following the establishment of the BOA in 1905, Britain's Olympic leaders pursued an administrative policy designed to stem the tide of British decline, both iv perceived and real. Within the framework of the Olympic movement, BOA chiefs fought bitterly to maintain a sporting union with Ireland, endeavored to foster a greater sense of imperial identity with her white dominions, and even undertook an ambitious policy of athletic specialization designed to reverse the nation's waning fortunes in international sport. The BOA's nation-building efforts faced strong opposition in the face of political squabbling between the constituent parts of the British Isle, the rising political independence of the dominions, and unwavering British public and governmental aversion to the Olympic Games.
doi:10.4324/9781315872773 fatcat:mz5t53fay5ghphj3hkqgl5e4qa