International sport facing decolonisation

Officials, networks, organisations (1945-1975)

Date: 31 August 2017, 02:30–05:00

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 391



The process of internationalisation of sport accelerated like never before during the interwar period, facilitated by the structural consolidation of international organisations such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) or the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). This internationalization also benefitted from the increasing involvement of nation-states and the exercise, and manipulation, of sport as a soft power  by totalitarian governments in the 1930s.

At the end of the Second World War, sport experienced a second phase of internationalization, coinciding with the emergence of the Cold War. The politics of national antagonisms, starting particularly with the participation of the Soviet Union at the 1952 Olympics, extended the politicisation of sport. At the same time, effects of the political independence of the former British, French, Spanish or even Portuguese colonies must also be considered in terms of the political fallout of integration of emergent nations into world sport administration. Indeed, the expansion of the international sports scene (Giulainotti, Robertson, 2009), and thus the formation of national teams and rivalries often significantly affected fledgling national histories. (Bale, Cronin, 2003). Furthermore, international sport organisations felt the impact of decolonisation sooner than most other comparable world bodies as the new members arrived with new, often conflicting issues which required the sport administrators to possess an extensive knowledge of global geopolitics to be able to manage. A consequent step was to expand the support structure, co-opting local informants from all over the world, in order to develop a specific sport, a situation that favoured (particularly in the context of FIFA) the creation of continental confederations (Vonnard, Quin, 2016).

After the initial euphoria of arriving at the world stage died down, from the late-1950s the newcomers began to uncover (post-)colonial inequalities in international organisations, which remained largely Eurocentric. The quest for equal status and the subsequent cycles of acceptance/denial led to alliances being formed or broken along political, geographical, or racial lines, manifest in, for instance, the South African issue (Cornelissen, 2011) or  the motion for solidarity with colonised countries (Carrington, McDonald, 2002). At the continental level, new political organisations often tried to manipulate the performances of the new states within sports organisations (eg, the Organisation of African Unity through the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (Charitas, 2016)). Thus, the evolution of postcolonial power relations changed international sports organisations and numerous confrontations between European officials and African or Asian leaders started taking place since the 1960s (Darby, 2006).

This panel aims to analyse the some of the uncharted terrains in which the political and cultural encounters between decolonisation and international sport, and especially among the administrators of international sporting bodies, were played out. The presentations will take prosopographical approaches to examine the careers of officials coming from the decolonised states and the new networks set up at continental or international levels. Finally, the panel offers young scholars the opportunity to present their research and exchange ideas with peers.


Grégory Quin (University of Lausanne)

Claire Nicolas (University of Lausanne)


Matthew Taylor (De Monfort University - Leicester)


Claire Nicolas (University of Lausanne)

Philippe Vonnard (Institut des sciences de la communication, CNRS/Panthéon-Sorbonne/UMPC Paris)

Grégory Quin (University of Lausanne)

Amanda Shuman (Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg)



Claire Nicolas: An ambivalent position? From revolutionary Panafricanism to international sport administrations

As some scholars have already noted, the majority of African countries joined the FIFA during the 60’s. Regarding this point, the case of Ghana is quite original, since the country was accepted as member (under the name of Gold Coast) in the beginning of 50’s. In fact this country was one of the most active African countries in football. The aim of this paper is to give some preliminary information about one of the men who played a major role in this situation: Ohene Djan (1924-1987). Djan is probably one of the most important sports leader’s in Africa during the 60’s but his trajectory is still under-known. Director of the Central Organisation of Sports (1960-1966) of the First Republic of Ghana, he may be seen as the “Sports Man” of the Panafricanist and Socialist policies promoted by Kwame Nkrumah. His trajectory within the African and Worldwide Football administrations (FIFA, West Africa, Supreme Council for Sports in Africa), until the overthrown of Nkrumah by 1966, is very interesting to study. In fact, if Djan was globally successful in his activities how could this man deal with two ambivalent positions: the revolutionary stances of the Ghanaian regime (fight vs apartheid, promotion of the African Unity, solidarity with colonized countries, role-model of the USSR) and, at the same time, the integration within a Western European-oriented administration?

Philippe Vonnard / Grégory Quin: Africa and Asia’s rise within the FIFA and the FIG: A nearer postcolonial history?

At the end of the Second World War, sport experienced a second phase of internationalization. One the most important changes for the international organization was the arrival of numerous extraeuropean countries. Generally we accept this fact for all the federations and explain it principally regarding the national sport’s politic of the new countries that used sport as a possibility of recognition in the international scene. But does this explanation true for all of the international organization? In fact, the possibility of entrance in the organization is not only explained by political reasons but has also to be understood regarding the “culture” of the sport himself. By a comparison between FIFA (Fédération International de Football-Association) - the governing body of football - and FIG (Fédération International de Gymnastique) - the governing body of gymnastic - the aim of this paper is to point out this situation still underresearched in the postcolonial sport studies. More globally this case could permit to discuss the idea of the “relative autonomy” of the international sport organization in the international relations.

Amanda Shuman: Struggling against colonialism and imperialism: China, decolonization, and the world of international sport, 1949-1966

This paper tracks the active role played by Chinese leaders in propagating new, non-Olympic-sponsored sports organizations in the wake of decolonization efforts worldwide, arguing that this involvement was closely tied to Sino-Soviet relations and the nation’s efforts to establish itself as a leader in the “struggle against colonialism and imperialism.” The “two Chinas” struggle in the International Olympic Committee and China’s lack of Olympic participation during the Cold War is well-covered in the scholarship, but less discussed is Chinese involvement in two prominent sports movements: the World Festivals for Youth and Students (WYFS) and the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO). In the 1950s, the PRC adopted Soviet-inspired sports models and frequently participated in exchanges with the Soviet Union and socialist bloc. The centerpiece of these were the WFYS, held every two years and sponsored by the International Union of Socialist Youth and the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which included a robust program of athletic competitions and invited the participation of youth worldwide. The Soviet Union, China, and socialist bloc nations sent large delegations to the WFYS; they also encouraged and helped sponsor youth from newly decolonized nations. With the rise of new Afro-Asian organizations after Bandung and the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations, however, China shifted its attention towards forging its own path in the world of sport. Sino-Soviet competition for influence in the decolonized “Third World” blossomed. As Jeremy Friedman has recently argued, this battle was really between two different revolutions: an anti-capitalist one (Soviet Union) and an anti-imperialist one (China). At the heart of this was the GANEFO movement, established in 1963, in which Chinese leaders used international sport to wield their authority and marketed anti-imperialist revolution to newly decolonized nations.

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