Colonial and post-colonial sport

Head: Nicolas Bancel

Several researchers at the Centre for Olympic Studies & the Globalisation of Sport (CEO&GS) are working on the global diffusion of physical practices - sports, gymnastics, physical activities of youth movements, whether these practices are of European or non-European origin. They are particularly interested in the historical conditions created by European and American imperialism, and then in the development of these practices in a postcolonial context. The perspectives adopted are predominantly historical, but involve multidisciplinary approaches, notably in anthropology and sociology. This research is inspired in particular by Postcolonial studies, Globalization studies and Diaspora studies.

Concerning the practices of European origin exported during the colonial and postcolonial periods, this research aims to understand simultaneously their local acclimatisation by the social groups that took them over, but also the effects of these practices on the modifications/destructuring of local cultures and the actors who appropriated them, determining complex processes of acculturation, qualified here as asymmetrical hybridisation. It should be noted that the colonised social sectors appropriating European sports were also the spearhead of anti-colonial oppositions, thus creating a twofold process: a cultural rapprochement with the colonisers and a political opposition to them.

During the post-colonial period, we observe that these physical practices contributed - along with other cultural practices such as the consumption of goods, education or the appropriation of the coloniser's language - to the continuation of this process of cultural hybridisation, which challenges the narrative of decolonisation and post-colonial independence, which is based on the victorious struggle of the colonised peoples and their post-independence empowerment. The research undertaken also deals with the South-South circulation of sports practices, through the example of the migration of African Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters to South Africa, mapping out a new cartography of the Congolese and Zimbabwean diasporas in this country and making it possible to understand the processes of socialisation of these exiled fighters and their conditions of existence in an ultra-competitive sports system favouring economic and social insecurity.  

This research also aims to understand the historical trajectories of some non-European practices in contact with the West via colonial domination: how do they transform? To what extent do they allow for a socialisation - and sometimes a political socialisation - of the colonised through insertion into local societies and clubs? We also question the postcolonial destiny of these practices, and in particular their exportation to Europe, reversing the process of colonial export of European practices: how do they initially fit into the colonial and postcolonial diasporas? Do they reflect the desire to create a cultural conservatory for reciprocal identification within these diasporas? Are they being mobilised in the framework of the political action of these diasporas?

In direct connection with the CEO&GS, we also seek to understand how Olympism is involved in the relations between ex-colonial powers and ex-colonised territories and how the Olympic Games constitute a space for geopolitical confrontations. We are also interested, in this context, in the international migrations evidenced by the Games.


Researchers at UNIL Position
Pr Nicolas Bancel Full professor
Herrade Boistelle Doctoral student
Pr Thomas David Full professor
Mickaƫl Langlois Graduate assistant
Dr Claire Nicolas Post-doc researcher FNS
Kevin Rosianu Graduate assistant