Expert Opinion

How Close are Sport and the Arts?

In this blog post, Professor Jonathan Long reflects on a recent event held in Bristol, as part of a national research network led by Leeds Beckett University examining the potential economic, social and cultural benefits of bringing together sport and the arts more effectively.

For the second in our AHRC seminar series we swapped the National Football Museum in Manchester for Bristol’s Watershed to consider aesthetics and representation in sport and the arts. The seminars have been bringing together practitioners, professionals and policy makers with academics from different disciplines who share an interest in examining the benefits that might be derived from bringing together sport and the arts.

In the first of our seminars, Professor Lynn Froggatt, for example, had illustrated how sport and the arts together could create something new to the benefit of different participants and audiences. However, while we may have just watched the opening ceremonies for the Olympic and Paralympic Games that brought sport and the arts together, otherwise they are more typically seen as separate worlds. Indeed, Professor Stephen Mumford (University of Durham) kicked things off by asserting that however aesthetically appealing some sporting moments may be this is fundamentally different from the arts. Unlike the arts, he said, in sport competition takes primacy; the aesthetic is not the motivating force. Jo Longhurst,[1], a practising artist, whose work seems to demonstrate the benefit that can be derived from art engaging with sport, also commented on some of the distinctions. The gymnastics group she had worked with in Rio were quite insistent that their performances had nothing to do with samba despite their coming from the favela that gave birth to the Rio Carnival.

Jo is not interested in ‘representing’ sport, but like Dr Mike O’Mahony (University of Bristol) is interested in how photographers seek to do that: smiling women, strong men, peak performance... Most of the iconic sports photographs, Mike suggested are not works of art in their own right, and their significance can only be properly understood when placed in their social/cultural political context. Although the prime role of sports photography is to document, Mike demonstrated artifice and inauthenticity through its history.

The subsequent discussion took up some of these themes and considered the impacts on both sport and the arts of changing technology/materials and the growing influence of business. More positively, one of the arts workers argued that, in the course of their practice working with the community, the same principles applied whether the subject was sport or the arts so it was not difficult to bring the two together.

The challenge we face is to consider dispassionately whether some of the cost claims we might be lured into making about the benefits that might flow from integrative projects can really be substantiated.  Our goal is to produce a declaration on the subject that might even become a manifesto for the relationship between sport and the arts.

If you can’t wait for the next seminar in Leeds you can join an email group to correspond with people who share these interests by subscribing (free) to our network:

There is also a Fields of Vision web site:


[1] Some of Jo’s work can be seen at:

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