Professor Peter Alegi
Michigan State University
Black Sport Matters: Sporting Subalterns’ Quest for Social Justice in African History
Ever since the Ancient Games at Olympia temporarily halted wars, sport and politics have been deeply intertwined. It is a relationship marked by disempowerment and empowerment. The 1934 FIFA World Cup staged by Fascist Italy and the 1936 Nazi Olympics are well known cases of sporting events serving as propaganda triumphs for totalitarian regimes (despite Jesse Owens’ marvelous slaps in the face of Aryan supremacy). On the other end of the political spectrum, the international sport boycott against apartheid fueled South Africa’s broader quest for national liberation, as did the Algerian National Liberation Front’s touring football team during the war of independence against France. More recently, Caster Semenya has waged a difficult battle to assert her human dignity in pursuit of athletic excellence on the track. In the U.S., San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has received death threats for kneeling quietly during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans. Clearly, whether driven by individual conscience or collective solidarity, there has never been a time when sport was free of political implications.
In this keynote address, I draw on my two decades of research and writing about South African football history and culture, as well as on the growing Africanist literature on sport and social change, to tell stories about African athletes, administrators, and fans who used their visibility and influence to make powerful claims for equal rights and to advance a variety of social justice causes. These stories cover the longue durée of history, from the colonial era right up to the contemporary period, and address the following questions: Which structural and ideological factors motivated sports activism? Which strategies and tactics were deployed and why then? What explains their success or failure? How do we account for unintended consequences and contradictions? How does this complex history speak to some of the most important struggles being waged in African sport? In other words, why does black sport matter?
About the Speaker
Peter Alegi is Professor of History at Michigan State University, Director of Digital History Projects at Matrix, and Research Associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His books include Laduma! Soccer, Politics & Society in South Africa (UKZN Press, 2004; 2010); African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (2010); and Africa’s World Cup: Critical Reflections on Play, Patriotism, Spectatorship, and Space (with Chris Bolsmann, 2013). Alegi teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses on South African history, African Studies, and global football. He hosts, with Peter Limb, the Africa Past and Present podcast (afripod.aodl.org); blogs at Footballiscominghome.info; and convenes the Football Scholars Forum (footballscholars.org). Alegi is Series Editor of MSU Press’s “African History and Culture” book series and serves on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of African Historical Studies and African Studies. Follow him on Twitter @futbolprof