Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Anglophone Africa in the Olympic Movement: The Confirmation of a British Wager? (1948-1962)

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Anglophone Africa in the Olympic Movement: The Confirmation of a British Wager? (1948-1962)

Article excerpt

Introduction: Research topic, framework for analysis and archives

In July 2010 I discovered the National Archives (Kew, London) while working on a dual project: my doctoral thesis, and a grant awarded by the Olympic Studies Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland. My goal was to conduct a comparative historical analysis of the administrative and political colonial situations of the United Kingdom and France. I wanted to understand their influence on the integration of the former British and French colonies into the Olympic movement between the end of the Second World War (1945) and the hosting of the Olympic Games in London (1948) on the one hand, and colonial independence in Africa in the 1960s on the other, reflected at the IOC by the creation of the Committee for International Olympic Aid (CIOA) to help the new countries in the Third World.

Political and cultural conditions of an Olympic black Africa emerging from the British Empire

Sports were a part of the colonizing process, and have remained in most colonized countries following independence. Given the presence of neo-colonial relationships, however, there is clearly no unambiguous division between colonialism and postcolonialism, and it can be argued that postcolonialism is something that has yet to be achieved, that is, indeed, a scenario for the future. Indeed, the international governing bodies of sports are often still intent on a colonizing mission.1

Between the wars, the United Kingdom (UK) helped open the way to the universalisation of sport arising from its colonial empire. The British Empire Games (1930)2 drew their logic from British imperialist ideology, and shine a light on the constitution of National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in British colonial countries such as Egypt (1911), South Africa (1912) and Southern Rhodesia (1934). While others, with a smaller proportion of settlers, did not have the opportunity to create NOCs, the administration of the British colonial territories that accessed the Olympic Movement was based on self- government and a high settler presence. The fact that the British Empire Games were only open to the self-governing white dominions (Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and the creation of NOCs in colonial enclaves with a high proportion of British settlers, encouraged the creation in response of the Pan-Indian Games in New Delhi (1934).

After the Second World War, according to John Darwin (2006), both the French and the British colonial empires entered their "second colonial occupation" or "fourth colonial empire" phase3, taking action to advance the colonies through economic and social development plans4 based on the capitalist model and the principles of the United Nations. British and French colonial strategies after 1945 aimed to take account of the new geopolitical order and to respond to indigenous peoples' demand for self-government.

British members of the IOC in August 1947 were not in favour of increased autonomy for African sport or the organisation of African Games. They feared that sporting organisations in their African and Asian colonies would signify independence from the Empire and the Commonwealth, following the example of India and Pakistan. The British members of the IOC followed the conservatism of the British colonial doctrine of "indirect rule".5

In this context, the Olympic integration of the former imperial colonies would become an area of competition and control for the IOC, with an active role played by the British Foreign Office.6 The UK gained a head start by hosting the 1948 Olympics in London7. The choice of England's capital was firstly a symbol of resistance to the Nazi invader and a sign of economic renewal, involving the reconstruction of a country and of Europe8. Secondly, the rebirth of the Olympics in a western country historically linked to the United States of America reaffirmed the Olympic Games through the development of sport according to the capitalist model, confronting the Soviet Spartakiads and their anti-bourgeois and anti-Olympic ideology. …

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