Coming to Terms: 'Race', Ethnicity, Identity and Aboriginality in Sport




Tatz, Colin

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Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)


Notions of genetic superiority have led to some of the world's greatest human calamities. Just as social scientists thought that racial anthropology and biology had ended with the cataclysm of the Second World War, so some influential researchers and sports commentators have rekindled the pre-war debate about the muscular merits of 'races' in a new discipline that Nyborg (1994) calls the 'science of physicology'. The more recent realm of racial 'athletic genes', especially within socially constructed black athletic communities, may intend no malice but this search for the keys to their success may well revive the old, discredited discourses. This critical commentary shows what can happen when some population geneticists and sports writers ignore history and when medical, biological and sporting doctrines deriving from 'race' are dislocated from any historical, geographic, cultural and social contexts. Understanding discourses about race, racism, ethnicity, otherness, identity and Aboriginality are essential if sense, or nonsense, is to be made of genetic/racial 'explanations' of sporting excellence. Between the two major wars boxing was, disproportionately, a Jewish sport; Kenyans and Ethiopians now 'own' middle- and long-distance running and Jamaicans the shorter events; South Koreans dominate women's professional golf. This essay explores the various explanations put forward for such 'statistical domination': genes, biochemistry, biomechanics, history, culture, social dynamics, the search for identity, alienation, need, chance, circumstances, and personal bent or aptitude.





Australian Aboriginal Studies


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