Natalie Koch

Critical Geographies of Sport

Space, Power, and Sport in Global Perspective

Routledge 2017

New Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in GeographyNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books in SportsNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network March 12, 2019 Keith Rathbone

Today we are joined by Natalie Koch, Associate Professor of Geography at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and...

Today we are joined by Natalie Koch, Associate Professor of Geography at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and editor of Critical Geographies of Sport: Space, Power, and Sport in Global Perspective (Routledge, 2017).  In our conversation, we discuss the growing field of critical sports geography, the role of sports in authoritarian regimes, and the neo-liberalization of sports.

In Critical geographies, Koch joins other scholars to address a wide range of sports issues, including the demolition of South Korea’s Dongdaemun baseball stadium, professional wrestling in the territorial era in the United States, and the identity politics of the Gaelic Athletic Association.  An emphasis on space and the ways that space embodies power and power relations, underpins the volume’s diverse offerings and draws them into fruitful conversation with each other.

The collected essays fall into two categories: the first half of the book examines sports, geopolitics, and the state.  Here Koch offers her own fascinating analysis of authoritarian leaders – including Mao Zedong, Vladimir Putin, and Sheikh Zayed – and their use of sports to promote the legitimacy of their regime and their own cult of personality.  Koch is especially careful to differentiate between the distinct masculine discourses at work in China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates and the way those discourses made use of the divergent topographies of their countries: tundra, desert and massive river delta.

The second half of the book deals with sports, community, and urban space.  Here authors address the opportunities and limitations offered by sports as a tool of social assimilation and integration; the role stadium projects play in the neo-liberalization of public spaces; and the problematic politics of megaevents.

In a coda, Koch and David Jansson provoke further questions by gesturing towards the role social justice can play in critical sports geography.

Each one of these essays in this volume offers enticing insights into the ways that power and space intersect in the sports sphere.  Geographers interested in the field of critical sports geography should read this book but scholars generally interested in questions of sports, power, and space are also encouraged to check out this compelling work.


Keith Rathbone is a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.  He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His manuscript, entitled A Nation in Play: Physical Culture, the State, and Society during France’s Dark Years, 1932-1948, examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime.  If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at [email protected]