State Formation, Diplomacy and Sport - The British Empire Games, Ireland, and Northern Ireland, 1930-1938

Katie Liston, Joseph Maguire

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This paper extends knowledge about the interconnected practices of state formation, national identity, and sport in three novel ways. First, we examine the British Empire Games of 1930, 1934 and 1938. These had a Janus-faced role in bolstering diplomatic relations between those who were committed to empire but also in expressing the aspirations of those who sought independence from it by degrees. Second, we explore the interconnected practices of state formation and diplomacy therein – which we term sportcraft. We do so in the distinctive context of a divided society, Ireland. In the period under examination, a gradual but significant hardening of ideologies and identities occurred in certain sports on the island, notably athletics. This hardening of ideological mortar mirrored the effects of partition and reflected British and unionist political actions and sportive interests. Third, we present original archival and documentary material from state archives, in Dublin, London and Belfast, and from official sports collections, in Birmingham, London, Melbourne and Hamilton. Together, these demonstrate that, by the late 1920s and 1930s, government officials and sports administrators had already recognized the propaganda functions and utility of sport for state formation purpose and for issues of political control, jurisdiction, and territorial boundaries.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIrish Historical Studies
Issue number173
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Apr 2023


  • Empire
  • Ireland
  • state formation
  • cultural diplomacy
  • Northern Ireland
  • sport


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