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Sport in Africa: History, Politics and the Archive

One of the side-effects of acquiring new collections is that they sometimes take your work in new and interesting directions. The recent deposit of the archives of the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland with the University Archives has led to a growing awareness of the fascinating work that is being done in the area of the history of sport. This years SCOLMA (the UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa) conference, held at the National Archives on the 29th June, was on the subject of Sport in Africa and it gave me the opportunity to promote our new sporting collection to an interested audience. Indeed, the SCOLMA conference is one of those very useful events which bring archivists, librarians and academics together to discuss current research and shared areas of interest.

My paper concentrated on the (unsuccessful) attempts to prevent a boycott of the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games led by African nations unhappy with the British government’s attitude towards the apartheid regime in South Africa. The archive holds detailed records of the planning, organisation and administration of the 1970 and 1986 Edinburgh Games and includes much material relating to the difficulties faced by the Games organisers in negotiating the choppy waters of sport and politics in the 1980s.

Cover of promotional brochure for the 1986 Commonwealth Games

The other papers presented on the day provided a very useful overview of the range of subjects being explored in this particular area of study. I came away from the day with an awareness of the central importance of cricket as a method of spreading the ‘virtues of Empire’ in the nineteenth century; the value of African newspapers (and in particular their sporting pages) for preserving first-hand, unmediated accounts of events; and the parlous state of the survival of records relating to community football in Senegal. The formal presentations and informal discussions throughout the day confirmed to me the research value of the latest addition to the University Archives.