One of the challenges facing Europe is how to direct people towards physical activities, whose benefits for health, for instance, appear well established. But no one seems to know how to do this. Approaches to sports are indeed torn between professional performance which seems to attract the public’s attention, personal practice which is unquantifiable beyond membership of clubs and general surveys, and the role played by national and international organisations and federations.
Researchers have studied sports from a historical, sociological, and physiological point of view. But we have never really thought through the place of sports in our cultures. In particular the contribution of literature to the understanding of sports has been largely ignored. It is partly to remedy this state of affairs that I have developed an interest in the relationship between literature and sports. I work in particular on the ways in which literary texts contribute to a definition and to the focus of sports. I have worked on sports such as cricket, football, running, tennis, etc. These inquiries into given sports have yielded publications in internationally peer-reviewed sports journals.
Over the last three years, I have started to organise a network of scholars interested in the relationship between literature and the arts. This has taken the form of alternating conferences in Paris, Leeds (where John McLeod has been the partner in this enterprise) and Kolkata in India (where Supriya Chaudhuri coordinated research on the subject). A couple of publications have emerged from such work, in particular a special issue of the International Journal of the History of Sport, which I co-edited (first editor), and a special issue of Moving Worlds, co-edited by John McLeod and Shirley Chew.
Because I share a special interest in the eighteenth century and in sports with Daniel O’Quinn (University of Guelph, Canada), we put in a successful bid on the cultures of sport in the early modern period. This programme was funded over the last two years by the France Canada Research Fund. We organised an international conference in Paris as well as panels at the 2014 Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the 2015 American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. This research is coming out in an edited volume, published in December 2017 by the University of Toronto Press.
I am hoping to take these interests much further and to develop an ambitious and ground-breaking programme in the study of the cultures of sports in Europe.