Concepts of Sport

This research programme is currently in development and contributing scholars will be commissioned from autumn 2021 onwards.


The question of how minds and bodies interact is one that has long since exercised philosophers. Developments in contemporary neuroscience cast further light on the operation of the mind, or brain, and its effect on muscular movements. Competitive sport provides spectators, observers and more than a few gamblers with an arena in which the result of the mind-body relationship can be watched and experienced, applauded or excoriated. The exact nature of this relationship, however, varies from one sport to another and this, hitherto unexplored, area of research provides the focus of the programme. 

Some sports, boxing for instance as well as tennis and 'track and field' athletics, make individualistic demands on the mind: body fulcrum. Cricket combines communal or team discipline with the bravura of individual prowess with bat and ball. Association football, hockey and lacrosse allow skills in certain areas of play to meld with the ' team effort'. Rowing requires a more or less complete subordination of the individual to the group's concentrated mentality. The conventions that govern the behaviour of spectators and the rules to be followed by players themselves, codified for many sports in the late nineteenth century, build on conventions with ancient roots. Blooded gladiators and jousting knights may be discerned as shadowy presences behind the contemporary boxer in the ring. 


Our research programme extends to the contest between bodies and adversarial beasts, as in bull fighting's sacral rituals, the blending synergy between the jockey's mind and the empathetic horse, inanimate nature's rock formations and tidal waves- as they bear down on the climber and sailor, and the Formula 1 contest between human assertion and roaring machine.  


Social and cultural considerations make their own contribution to this area of research. How and why, for example, did horse-racing become so favoured a sport among the English from the late seventeenth century onwards.  Japanese classical culture has given us two great art forms in the history of the theatre: Noh and Kabuki. Might sumo wrestling be the sporting counterpart to these ritualised explorations of the human psyche? And what makes American football so very American a sport ? 

Terracotta amphora, Panathenaic prize, Euphiletos (attrb), c. 530 BC 

Muhammad Ali, 1962, Getty Images

Football Players, Henri Rousseau, 1908

Jousting, Paulus Hector Mair, c.1540

Native Americans Playing Lacrosse on the Ice, Edmund C. Coates, 1858 

The Epsom Derby, Théodore Géricault, 1821

Derby Day, William Powell Frith, 1858-8

Roman Mosaic female gymnasts, 4th century AD

The Finishing Line of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race at Mortlake,James Baylis Allan, c.1867

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