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Open Anthro Vol 2-2 Sport - Pleasure and Violence



open anthropology


Niko Besnier, Guest Editor

2014, the year in which this issue of Open Anthropology is being published, may be remembered for two key events in which sports, state power, money and violence all came together. The first was the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi (Russia), an extravagant event that at a reputed cost of $51 billion, broke all records for Olympic Games expenditures, easily surpassing the prior record of $43 billion that the Chinese government had spent on the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. The Sochi games were held in a climate of state authoritarianism in Russia in the form of human right violations and the repression of gay and lesbian people, drawing widespread criticism from Western nations, which sent few high-profile representatives. A few weeks later, Russia invaded the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, an act that some believe to have been in partial retaliation for criticisms of the Sochi games.

The second event is the soccer football World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, which will be followed two years later by the first Olympic Games ever to be held in South America. Preparations for both events in Brazil have involved considerable state expense and authoritarian actions such as the forced relocation of poor people and the “pacification” of slums deemed to be controlled by narco-traffickers. The costs and the actions drew widespread criticism, with thousands of people taking the streets in protest in various parts of Brazil. Anthropologist Erika Robb Larkins documents what she calls “The Spectacle of Security in Olympic Rio de Janeiro,” the title of her contribution to the “In Focus: Olympics” collection of essays in Anthropology News, the newsletter of the American Anthropological Association edited by Amy Goldenberg, and which is included as the first item in this issue of Open Anthropology (4–8). Jules Boykoff’s and Thomas Carter’s article “The Olympics and Its Discontents” on the 2012 London Olympics in the same issue show that these problems are not specific to Rio (17–19).

The realization that money, power, competition and violence are deeply intertwined with sport is nothing new. At the same time, there are other aspects of sports that point in an entirely different direction: just as they can be deeply embroiled in some of the less savory aspects of human relations, sports can just as easily produce pleasure and fun, cooperation and belonging, as well as sociality, the very quality that make us capable of living at peace with one another.

The twelve articles and two book reviews gathered for this issue of Open Anthropology, which represent a selection from the collection of journals published by the American Anthropological Association, illustrate how anthropology in its various forms can shed light on these complexities. They demonstrate that the unique tools of anthropology can help us understand how sport can take on radically different and in some ways contradictory qualities depending on the historical time, the social and cultural context, and the perspectives involved.


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