Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Sports in Africa, Past and Present

Edited by Todd Cleveland, Tarminder Kaur, and Gerard Akindes

Shortlisted for the 2021 North American Society for Sport History Book Prize (anthology)

“An extraordinary volume…. Not only is the writing empirically driven, but, more importantly, the theoretic content is grounded in prose that is fresh, vibrant, and something not always associated with what is a university textbook, fascinating. Cleveland, Kaur, and Akindes are to be congratulated for putting together a team that explores complex identities and the dynamic nature of African sport…. Hats off to the Ohio University Press for not only supporting the venture but publishing a book that looks like, and reads like, a classic.”

Scott A. G. M. Crawford, Journal of Sport History

“A long-overdue project by scholars committed to building African sports studies as a humanities subject. It presents close studies of sports like cycling, surfing, track and field, ultra-marathoning, and weightlifting, which are often neglected in favor of bigger and more popular sports such as soccer, rugby, and cricket. Scholars of social history, nationalism, popular culture, social anthropology, media, and cultural studies will appreciate this book.”

Sean Jacobs, author of Media in Postapartheid South Africa: Postcolonial Politics in the Age of Globalization

“The Sport in Africa collective, active since 2004, has helped kick-start a movement. Here it adds seventeen more topics to the growing corpus of works on African sports history—from surfers in Transkei and women in Nigeria to Kenyan athletes and the football migrations to Europe (happening alongside desperate refugee journeys in the Mediterranean)—showing what a rich field of study sport is becoming.”

André Odendaal, coauthor of Pitch Battles: Sport, Racism and Resistance

Sports in Africa heralds the arrival in sports studies of an empirically rich, theoretically informed, methodologically rigorous, and incisive African-focused genre. The volume demonstrates the centrality and complexity of sport in the daily rhythms and social fabric of life on the continent, across time, and in the formal and informal economies. It challenges longstanding racial, ethnic and cultural stereotypes pertaining to Africans, and dispenses with any notion of fixed and prescribed social and cultural identities.”

Douglas Booth, dean, Faculty of Adventure, Culinary Arts and Tourism, Thompson Rivers University

These groundbreaking essays demonstrate how Africans past and present have utilized sports to forge complex identities and shape Africa’s dynamic place in the world.

Since the late nineteenth century, modern sports in Africa have both reflected and shaped cultural, social, political, economic, generational, and gender relations on the continent. Although colonial powers originally introduced European sports as a means of “civilizing” indigenous populations and upholding then current notions of racial hierarchies and “muscular Christianity,” Africans quickly appropriated these sporting practices to fulfill their own varied interests. This collection encompasses a wide range of topics, including women footballers in Nigeria, Kenya’s world-class long-distance runners, pitches and stadiums in communities large and small, fandom and pay-to-watch kiosks, the sporting diaspora, sports pedagogy, sports as resistance and as a means to forge identity, sports heritage, the impact of politics on sports, and sporting biography.

Todd Cleveland is an associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas. His books include these Ohio University Press titles: Sports in Africa, Past and Present (2020), Following the Ball: The Migration of African Soccer Players across the Portuguese Colonial Empire, 1949–1975 (2018), Diamonds in the Rough: Corporate Paternalism and African Professionalism on the Mines of Colonial Angola, 1917–1975 (2015), and Stones of Contention: A History of Africa’s Diamonds (2014).   More info →

Tarminder Kaur is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Anthropology, University of Johannesburg. Her research is particularly concerned with the everyday sporting lives of South African laborers and working-class peoples, who are often characterized as “in need of development.” She is currently working on a monograph that explores the role of soccer and violence in the legacies of oscillating labor migration between apartheid’s Bantustans and the commercial agriculture centers of the Western Cape.   More info →

Gerard Akindes is a senior program specialist with the Josoor Institute in Qatar. His research interests include the migration of African athletes, the political economy of sports broadcasting in Africa, and African sports management. His most recent work examines football academies and education in Senegalese football development.   More info →


Review in the Journal of Sport History, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2021)


Order a print copy

Paperback · $26.36 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $32.95 · Save 20% ($26.36)

Hardcover · $48 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $60.00 · Save 20% ($48)

Buy from a local bookstore


US and Canada only

Buy an eBook

Amazon Kindle Store Barnes & Noble NOOK Google Play iBooks Store

Availability and price vary according to vendor.

Cover of Sports in Africa, Past and Present

Share    Facebook icon  Email icon


To request instructor exam/desk copies, email Jeff Kallet at

To request media review copies, email Laura Andre at

Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center




Retail price: $32.95, S.
Release date: July 2021
11 illus. · 256 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $60.00, S.
Release date: October 2020
11 illus. · 256 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: October 2020
11 illus. · 256 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Sports in Africa, Past and Present

“This collection of essays opens up the debate on the influences of social history, subaltern studies, and postmodernism in stimulating new research and pedagogical approaches to sport studies in Africa. It offers exemplary studies of mainstream sports (athletics, cricket, football, and rugby) and those on the margins (cycling, surfing, and wrestling) and reflects on the contributions and trajectories of those sporting pasts and their present impacts and meanings across the African continent. A go-to volume for those seeking a solid introduction to the politics, poetics and practices of the fascinating life-worlds of sports in Africa.”

Glen Thompson, research fellow, Stellenbosch University

Related Titles

Cover of 'Football and Colonialism'

Football and Colonialism
Body and Popular Culture in Urban Mozambique
By Nuno Domingos
· Foreword by Harry G. West

In articles for the newspaper O Brado Africano in the mid-1950s, poet and journalist José Craveirinha described the ways in which the Mozambican football players in the suburbs of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) adapted the European sport to their own expressive ends. Through gesture, footwork, and patois, they used what Craveirinha termed “malice”—or cunning—to negotiate their places in the colonial state.

Anthropology · Social History · Soccer · Colonialism and Decolonization · African Studies · Race and Ethnicity · Mozambique

Cover of 'Following the Ball'

Following the Ball
The Migration of African Soccer Players across the Portuguese Colonial Empire, 1949–1975
By Todd Cleveland

With Following the Ball, Todd Cleveland incorporates labor, sport, diasporic, and imperial history to examine the extraordinary experiences of African football players from Portugal’s African colonies as they relocated to the metropole from 1949 until the conclusion of the colonial era in 1975. The backdrop was Portugal’s increasingly embattled Estado Novo regime, and its attendant use of the players as propaganda to communicate the supposed unity of the metropole and the colonies.Clev

African History · Emigration and Immigration · Soccer · Colonialism and Decolonization · African Studies · Portugal

Cover of 'African Soccerscapes'

African Soccerscapes
How a Continent Changed the World’s Game
By Peter Alegi

From Accra and Algiers to Zanzibar and Zululand, Africans have wrested control of soccer from the hands of Europeans, and through the rise of different playing styles, the rituals of spectatorship, and the presence of magicians and healers, have turned soccer into a distinctively African activity.African Soccerscapes explores how Africans adopted soccer for their own reasons and on their own terms.

African History · Soccer · African Studies · Africa