colonialism

Everton’s Ademola Lookman battles for the ball with Joash Onyango of Gor Mahia during the SportPesa Trophy match in November 2018
Everton’s Ademola Lookman battles for the ball with Joash Onyango of Gor Mahia during the SportPesa Trophy match in November 2018 (Getty Images)

One of the most interesting sociological phenomena to occur at the 2018 FIFA men’s World Cup was the diverse, multi-ethnic and migrant composition of many playing squads. Teams representing former colonizers (e.g., France and Belgium), settler-colonial nations (e.g., Australia), and former colonized territories (e.g., Algeria), all illustrated how histories and legacies of empire continue to shape patterns of citizenship, belonging, and representation in the (post)colonial sporting landscape.

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Savage Race participants struggle through an obstacle named “Sawtooth.” (Photo by Mac Stone / Daily Burn)

The racist and historically problematic myth of the “savage” lives on within contemporary North American discourse. A prominent example of this is found in the rising popularity of adventure races, such as Savage Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, in which sporting companies reproduce traditional notions of masculinity and comradery through environmental and obstacle conquest. In at least one of the events, a historically racist term like “savage” is frequently employed to sell customers an opportunity to push themselves to their physical, mental, and emotional limits by running a purposefully rural, physically-taxing course filled with predesigned obstacles and stressful natural environments (running through mud and near dangerous elements like fire and barbed wire, for example). It is symptomatic of the enduring ubiquity of racial ideals within American society that, through a company like Savage Race, customers pay for a chance to be physically active, have fun and “get savage.”

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