Political order and sports order

To deal with the complexity of the various themes under study, it seemed essential to apply diverse theoretical and methodological approaches. To explain the relations of and towards power in the universe of sport, the analyses developed rely on the notion of order (Chevallier, 1983), calling it “sports order” at a rather general level or “football order” for a more specific usage. This notion suggests the existence of a close link between the properties of a sport universe – sociologically characterised by experts in the activities taking place in it – and the regulation of this area through a set of institutions, practices and ideas the layout of which, more or less stabilized, makes up its originality. The notion of order conveys this link because it suggests the whole set of standards proceeding from essentially social principles and aiming at ensuring a modus vivendi that is stable enough to promote the development of sports activities under the aegis of approved intermediaries. Actually, our studies try to explain the stability and instability of this order in relation with the historical setup it is fitted into. Thus, this method comes within the scope of a socio-historical approach of politics (Noiriel, 2006; Buton & Mariot, 2009) through qualifying actions by the contexts of their achievement and searching for the relational networks and alliances which make it possible to understand the structure of this universe. This socio-history of politics and sport powers is made possible through undertaking the restoration of a past – sometimes quite recent – relying on two types of aspects: the actors’ memory and the media of the time which offer an initial source of information, but also on the work papers of the administrative and political authorities which give the richest and surest historical sources.

Socio-history of sports policies


Coming within the scope of a socio-history of politics, this research theme aims at developing studies about the relations to power and to politics which develop between sports institutions and stakeholders of the sport world.
The preoccupations as regards the beginning of a politico-administrative organisation are noticeable in the studies on doping developed within the Social Science and Doping group. Categories of public intervention have been one of the lines of analysis pursued in these studies: categories concerning questions or social problems, categories designating groups, categories concerning means of action (Le Noé, 2000). By emphasizing the beginning as “study moments”, the analysis is interested in the historical flexure where the notions used to apprehend and assess the state of the subject – thus called in order to be dealt with – are “invented” or reorganised. The point of these “moments” is that they offer the possibility to study the creation of places of action and public debates, arenas where various groups – including State representatives – meet around an issue presented as a political challenge (Le Noé, 2005).
Our attention is focused on one of the dialectical motives of State intervention: orders and disorders. By working on the State and its policies, we are led to distinguish the disorders that public authorities are trying to control through defining “sports reasons” in the name of which they could step in and bring an end to them or at least restrict them.
While focusing on the State’s “sports reasons”, that is to say forms of justification and appropriation of sports activities, we mean to analyse how, according to historical configurations, a wide range of public actors, social groups and institutions contribute to spread a certain conception of the sports practice which put it at the service of maintaining, reinforcing – and also at times protesting against – political order. Thus in opposition to sport at the service of a pedagogical project, sport endowed with the attributes of tradition to make it a factor of social order, or sport submitted to diplomatic perspectives (Defrance, Chamot, 2008), we now have sport as a mode of subversion from political order, either head on when extreme right-wing movements tried to exploit it during the interwar period in France (Mendiague, 2007), or on the fringe when the colonized people of the Empire turned it into a way of bypassing the administration and cultural standards. Even though the sports event, conceived as a way to unify a nation around a fragile regime does not offer an opportunity to mobilize and protest against this very regime at an international level.
Studying these State “sports reasons” also means questioning the spreading and continued existence of these conceptions. How and under what conditions are these modes of justification conveyed? How do they travel through history and cross borders? How can we appreciate whether or not a political actor is in line with a tradition, mobilizes, reacts or conveys these representations and the way he does it? It also means questioning certain Eliasian hypotheses (Elias, 1986) regarding the development of sports practices and events. To what extent can sport be considered as a form of expression as well as a place for building more peaceful social and political relations? And conversely, to what extent do some of its characteristics – the brutal, binary nature of the result, the tendency to crystalize identities, etc. – contribute to making it a catalyst of more ambivalent effects?
This questioning implies showing how these justifying modes of state intervention and their practical corollaries can be made up, advance, cease or be reactivated according to the many configurations they come in. This requires underlining how these very conceptions have sometimes been rethought by other actors. Thus described, our analyses express the existence of a strong intricacy between State action and the forms of disorder it entails as much as it tries to restrict them.

Sport, politicization and depoliticization


This approach has also been developed within a set of studies that have a certain historical depth on the themes of the politicization and depoliticization going on around the organization of sports events (Contamin & Le Noé, 2010, 2011) or public policies (Le Noé, 2002; thesis in writing by Sébastien Joubert).
The current approaches are being extended by an analysis of the power relations in top-level sport with regards to the triptych Exit, Voice and Loyalty (Hirschman, 1970). They aim at re-questioning this triptych and in particular its third aspect, often neglected (Lehinge, 2011) based on various fields studied in the course of researches. Indeed, the sports universe, and more particularly the top-level sports universe, is often represented as being very little politicized and where a form of loyalty toward specific rules predominates. As a consequence, this characteristic makes it a particularly apt ground to carry out and study the model suggested by Albert O. Hirschman. To this end, the study aims at gathering material about the rather vague sense of the word “loyalty”, giving it a social texture and questioning the variety of meanings of loyalty in the universe of top-level sport as well as the ways it is integrated. Indeed, the study of the practical functioning of the sports institution reveals the effects of the ritualization mechanisms of domination that interactionist sociology allows us to question (Goffman, 1961). The continuation of this study should enable us to show how, at the end of a process of integration mixing fascination, confinement and disillusion, the institution is integrated by top-level sports- men and women through a conversion process followed by a reconversion process during an athletic career. Earlier researches underline the essential role played by time management in this acculturation process of athletes to the rules of sports subjection. Despite the construction of these predispositions to loyalty, the sports environment cannot be reduced to silence and inaction: speaking up and leaving also happen, but in specific ways (horizontal voice or noisy defections). Confronting varied situations could lead to the modelling of forms of (de)politicization of this environment based on a combination between the three notions of the Hirschmanian trilogy. Empirical investigations are founded on fields related to diverse sports disciplines studied in recent years: the attempt to boycott the 1978 Football World Cup in Argentina, the day to day conditions of measures organising the control of sport excellence (INSEP, Pôles France and Espoirs), the disorders related to supporters (Le Noé, 1998, 2001, 2004) or the relations of the federal powers with the State administration of sports (Le Noé, 2007).
More generally, the aim of this reflexion on the foundations of sports order is twofold. On the one hand, we intend to clarify the place and specificity of the emotional constituent in power relations within this environment. To what extent does a relation based on trust create a motive for power within it? On the other hand, this reflexion participates in a debate on the modes of articulation between forms of politicization from below and the institutionalized executives of political action.

Updated on 17 décembre 2014