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Although the book covers most of the major areas, a notable omission is any extended discussion of hooliganism or the literature on this phenomenon. While the sociology of sport should not be limited to the activities of violent fans, the absence of any sustained discussion of this violence is curious, especially in an undergraduate textbook. Despite this, the book is likely to be a useful addition to reading lists on sports-related courses. Moreover, the book is littered with contemporary vignettes to illuminate the specific nature of contemporary sport which may engage the attention of students since many will be familiar with the incidents which are discussed such as Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick or the sad decline of Paul Gascoigne.
Ironically, the strong historical opening of the book and the interesting vignettes included in it also highlight the central weakness of the book. While the discussion of the original modernisation of sport in Britain in the nineteenth century is successful, the book never sustains the same level of historically specific analysis in the rest of the chapters, although the discussions of class, gender, ethnic aspects of sport, not to mention the political and economic structure of sport, are finally inexplicable without situating these issues in particular historical eras. Indeed, the authors themselves rightly emphasis the importance of such historical analysis: 'the historically sensitive study of the place, role and nature of sport in modern societies has the potential to enhance the analysis and understanding of wider society and culture' (p.77). Despite the authors' own historical sensitivity, no systematic historical framework is developed after the opening chapters and, consequently, the text tends to jump from interesting anecdote to anecdote without any serious consideration of the sociological relevance of, for instance, figures like Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal (discussed briefly on page 183). Given both the importance but also the complexity of recent transformations of sport, this constitutes a significant problem.
Significantly, Alan Tomlinson (with John Sugden) has provided exactly this kind of analysis of the transformation of sport in the new globalised environment with their excellent ethnography of the Byzantine politics of the World Cup (Tomlinson and Sugden 1998). That book highlights the wider economic and political realities which structure the World Cup and, thereby, genuinely deepens our understanding of this extraordinary ritual. Although publishing houses and academics are descending ever further down the road of text books and readers, the merits of a book like FIFA and the Contest for World Football highlights that the current bias of academic presses against research monographs in favour of student introductions, like Understanding Sport, may be somewhat misplaced.
University of Exeter