Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Thanksgiving: the relationship between sport, society and oppression

To coincide with Thanksgiving in the US last week, my colleague Greg Hollin invited a handful of present and previous members of the School of Sociology and Social Policy to contribute short posts around the theme of the social relations of sport. You can download the full collection of posts in pdf form here, and they've also been posted on the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CIGS) blog as individual posts. The collection explores questions of gender, race, religion, "taking the knee" and globalisation in relation to sport - please visit the CIGS blog to read more. In the mean time, I've pasted my contribution below.


Sport, or at least some sports, enjoy extraordinarily privileged status. At the level of elite sport, national pride, vast sums of money, the passionate belonging of team loyalties and the spectacular feats of extraordinary bodies create a privileged domain which can dictate TV schedules, mark holidays and capture national headlines. At the amateur level, sport provides a means of demonstrating bodily discipline through practices normatively coded as healthy and is a source of pleasure to many; the sporting subject is the good citizen par excellence.

But the public endorsement of sport and its subjects is also premised on exclusions that should give us pause for thought. Sport remains determinedly demarcated on gendered lines, with men and women rarely allowed to compete directly with each other. The boundaries between men and women’s sport are closely regulated and policed, with women at risk of exclusion if their hormonal or genetic profiles exceed arbitrarily defined boundaries of acceptable femininity. And even when women can compete, they still experience systematic exclusion and discrimination: women’s sport receives only a tiny fraction of the media coverage that men enjoy, women are frequently limited to fewer and shorter events and they receive lower rewards in prize money and sponsorship. Other exclusions persist alongside the rigorous and hierarchical gendering of sport: sporting participation is constrained for many by lack of access to facilities, prohibitive costs, the absence of childcare or the failure to accommodate the needs of disabled athletes. And for some, participation in sport is simply too shaming a possibility to face; it is hard to be a fat body, for example, in an environment so strongly oriented towards the elimination of fatness, and where access to size-appropriate equipment and clothing may not be available. 
Race also serves as an axis along which discrimination persists, with ideas of sporting ‘fit’ closing off opportunities and limiting choice. For example, the whiteness of my own sport of swimming remains mired in notions of the incompatibility of blackness and swimming, and in particular, the myth of higher bone density as a precluding factor; it is a prejudice of significant consequence when we realise that young black boys are far more likely to drown than their white peers.

Motel manager James Brock pours acid into a pool in 1964 after learning that black swimmers were in the water. 
Sport, then, can be understood both as a mirror of the social and a means of its reproduction. Attempts to figure sport as outside of politics (for example, in the Olympic movement, or in recent debates about ‘taking a knee’) obscure its status as an intensely political site, not only in national and international settings, but also at the level of individual bodies as they variously challenge and sustain what counts as the ‘good body’ in contemporary society.  

Monday, 6 November 2017

Recovery drinks....

Since becoming a vegan, I've been struggling to find a good substitute for the High 5 Chocolate Recovery shake that I used to use after training (and which contains milk products). I generally get all of the protein I need from my everyday diet - something that's pretty easy as a vegan, in spite of the myths that persist about the need for meat and dairy to get adequate protein. But if I'm doing swims of more than a couple of hours, I need something extra post-swim to maximise recovery and to stop the weird night-time arm-twitching that I get if I don't refuel properly (a problem I had long before I switched to vegan). Most recovery shakes are far too sweet and sickly for me and over the last couple of years, I have experimented with the small handful of vegan options out there with little success. I also tried soya chocolate milk which is tasty but doesn't really do the it's quite sugary, and there's a lot of wasteful packaging for each individual drink box, including plastic straws, which are disastrous for the environment:

So then I tried this vegan blend of pea, rice and hemp protein, which I blend up in shakes with banana, blueberries, strawberries, almond milk and maybe some spinach; it's also nice if you add in some coconut or almonds, or a dollop of peanut butter. It's flavourless so requires plenty of other ingredients to make a tasty shake, and consequently, also requires access to a blender - it's not something you can just shake up in the van or the car after swimming. It's £19 for 30+ servings, so it's a good deal and a great option for when you have easy access to a decent blender, especially if you've got some frozen fruit to hand to make a nice thick shake. This is my go-to when I'm at home. 

For out and about, I tried a couple of vegan post-exercise products that you can shake up in a bottle, but they were utterly undrinkable - either sickly sweet or disturbingly grainy. But then last year, I stumbled across this product by Amazing Grass

I'm not so keen on the more 'green' products in their range (literally....very green), but this flavour hit the spot perfectly. It's sweetened with stevia, but isn't sickly, and the chocolate taste isn't overbearing or too plasticky. It's entirely drinkable blended up just with non-dairy milk, and add in a banana and maybe a strawberry or two, and you've got a top notch recovery drink on your hands. It's not cheap (about £22 for 10 servings...although I stretched my last tub to 15 servings by skimping on the scoops a bit and maybe subbing in a few almonds), but it goes down a treat after a hard training session. I also have it for breakfast sometimes, blended with lots of frozen fruit and a big handful of spinach. The downside is that it doesn't really do well without a blender, and although I tried mixing it up in a shaker, this was a grainy and unpleasant non-starter. However, last summer, I acquired one of these portable blenders to keep in the van to get round the problem:

The bottom portion houses the motor, battery and blade, and it's rechargeable via a USB port, meaning that you're not tied to the need for mains electricity. It's not very powerful and can't really manage nuts or frozen fruit, but it can accommodate a scoop of powder, a cup of almond milk and a some bits of soft fruit quite easily - the perfect solution to the problem of the vegan post-swim recovery shake on the move. Problem solved. 

The other product I've started to use is Ultima Replenisher, particularly if I've been running or am somewhere warm. 

I picked up on this from journalist and accomplished marathon swimmer, Elaine Howley, who is a strong advocate, and this is now a standard part of my swimming kit - it shakes up easily in a bottle and is a quick route to rehydration and electrolyte replacement. There are lots of flavours, although the grape flavour is the only one that really works for me (you can buy mixed packs of individual sachets to test them out). It provides zero calories, so you'd need to intake energy in addition if you were mid-swim; but I also imagine this would also be a good option if you had stomach issues during a swim and would keep you on an even keel while everything settled down. A 90 serving tub is £39, which is a bit of an outlay, but pretty good value (and not as wasteful in packaging as individual stick sachets). 

At the moment, this is all rather academic for me as I'm still inching my way back to full fitness after my summer of injuries and am not really able to do enough to even require recovery shakes and electrolyte drinks. But when the time comes, I'll be ready.