Why do we need the Critical Sport Network?

The Critical Sport Network developed out of a recognition that there were some important commonalities and differences between the way the social scientific study of sport  is currently positioned in Taiwan and the UK. We identified three core issues:

research agendas;

organisational formation;

academic-media-public engagements.

1. Research agendas. Scholars of sport in Taiwan and the UK have many overlapping research interests. Here we identify two that are particularly well-established and two which are emerging issues.

National identity. From 1949 Taiwan’s relationship with the global sport community was dominated by the ‘two Chinas’ issue and China continues to contest the use the name ‘Taiwan’ in international sporting events. Within the UK, sport has historically provided a forum in which the separate identities of the four home nations have been kept alive and played out. These relations have become increasingly strained with the advent of Brexit and the strengthening of the Scottish independence movement.

Gender The UK and Taiwan occupy different but equally distinctive positions in relation to the study of gender and sexuality in sport. The UK has been prominent in international movements promoting gender equality in sport, with the UK Sports Council initiating the 1994 Brighton Declaration and UK-based academics active in gender scholarship and advocacy. However, women in the UK continue to have fewer opportunities to take part in sport, receive lower economic rewards, and experience a quantitative and qualitative disadvantage in media coverage. Conversely, the treatment of female athletes in Taiwan has much improved and women both enjoy a higher social profile and are now the major driving force of the sport industry. In 2019, Taiwan legalised same-sex marriages and, in President Tsai Ing-wen, has one of the strongest advocates of LGBT rights amongst leaders in the Asia Pacific region.

Immigration. UK scholars have a long tradition of addressing migration related research, particularly around issues of Empire, race and ethnicity. Taiwanese scholars in comparison have focused on elite sport migration both into Taiwan and outwards, driven by the greater financial power of China. In both countries, however, immigration remains a wider social issue. While the Taiwan indigenous population has historically been dominated by 20th Century Chinese immigrants, it has been numerically superseded by those classed as “new immigrants” e.g. from Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. In the UK immigration from North Africa, the Middle East and Asia is a major political issue and the role of sport in relation to assimilation, multiculturalism and the amelioration of the disruptions caused by migration are just being addressed. In both countries, and in very different ways, sport can be examined through the lens of postcolonialism.

Transnational flows of capital. In Taiwan concerns focus on Chinese investments in grassroot physical activity organizations, where local cultures – which are often both religious and distinctly Taiwanese in character – are perceived to be under threat. In the UK, football fans have been vocal in their resistance to overseas investment in clubs which is perceived as a threat to what have traditionally been viewed as community assets and key foci for local identity formation. Building on these parallel concerns, there is potential for collaborative work combining Taiwanese scholars’ knowledge and familiarity of China in general and football in particular, and greater access to information and UK researchers’ understanding of the process of Chinese economic penetration into English football.

2. Organisational formation. The social sciences of sport in both countries are constrained by organisational fragmentation. Globally, the combined impact of the neo-liberalisation of higher education and kinesiology and the increasing orientation of STEM subjects in sport science have weakened the presence of, and blurred the disciplinary distinctions within, the social sciences of sport. Additionally, due to the global demand for management-based education, sport scholars from various disciplines have become incorporated within (sport) management programmes and schools/departments. Consequently, non-management sport scholars frequently work in relative isolation and experience metrics-driven institutional pressures to pursue particular types of research. These combined pressures lead to the increasing neglect of more critically-oriented social scientific analyses. 

Consequently, social scientists in both Taiwan and the UK experience organisational divisions. Within the UK, scholars are divided between ‘mainstream’ and sport-specific organisations and lack an umbrella body comparable to the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Taiwanese scholars are similarly represented by an array of organisations; the Taiwan Society of Sport Sociology; the Taiwan Body Culture Society; and the Chinese Communication Society (which has a sub-section for sport scholars). Greater intra-national organisational coherence and connectivity will ameliorate one of the potential barriers to UK-Taiwan collaboration.

The Organization of Critical Sport Studies in the UK and beyon

3. Academic-media-public engagements. Public intellectualism has been identified as a key strategy for enhancing the societal impact of social scientists. There are, however, fundamental differences in the way UK and Taiwan scholars have engaged with this agenda (While UK researchers have evaluated existing and future opportunities for the enhancement of a public sociology of sport, Taiwanese scholars have become more actively involved in media activities. The cross-fertilisation of the theory and practice of public intellectualism will enhance the impact of the social sciences of sport on civil society in both the UK and Taiwan.