The 'Great Game' and Sport: Identity, contestation and Irish-British relations in the Olympic movement

Katie Liston, Joseph Maguire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Sport and war have often been used as metaphors for each other and that have tangible historical and contemporary significance. This paper focuses on the period when the armed force phase of war abated in Irish-British relations. In this, international sport was another (hitherto hidden) means, and a different manifestation of, the pursuit of political objectives. In focus is the 1948 London Olympic Games set in the context of the international Olympic movement. This movement was a zone of prestige, emulation and resistance. Paradoxically, it was used by those in power (the established) as a form of contested encounter, which promoted mutual understanding and tolerance but that imposed normative views of identity, jurisdiction and recognition (especially on outsiders). Such relations, we contend, comprised a ‘Great Game’ of Irish-British relations, whose relevance was significant to state formation in ‘Ireland’ and Great Britain. Here, for the first time, we elucidate the role of non-state sportive diplomats who, acting as cultural intermediaries, were involved in the production of ideas and held different views about their past and future: especially about the form of normative rules governing international jurisdiction and identity that prevented nations/states from being recognized on their own terms. Some of the intricate details are made possible here by presenting new insights gleaned from original documentary analysis conducted in an extensive range of archives (local, national and international) that also cast fresh light on the limits of existing analyses. The paper also makes two other important theoretical and empirical contributions: to sport in/and international relations, including the quest for soft power, and; to the politics of Olympic protests.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of War and Culture Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 4 Nov 2020


  • sport
  • national identity
  • Olympics
  • cultural intermediaries
  • war
  • propaganda
  • statecraft
  • sportcraft
  • Ireland

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The 'Great Game' and Sport: Identity, contestation and Irish-British relations in the Olympic movement'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this