POLS 497: Floor Class (Spring, 2006)

The Politics of International Sports

Class Time: Mondays, 7:00pm-8:15pm

Location: Big Blue

Instructor: Blake Klinkner

E-mail: (z125449@niu.edu)

Office Hours: [Wednesdays 3:30pm-5:00pm] and [Thursdays 2pm-3pm] in the Poli Sci Graduate Assistants Office (DU 476)


Class Background: Beginning in the 1800’s, national governments have realized the immense political purposes which programs for sports can play. State-sponsored programs for mass sports began as a way of building armies, preparing for war, and channeling the powers of nationalism. Over time, as sports movements became internationalized, they gained importance as vehicles for rewarding war victors and punishing/humiliating war losers, gaining international recognition for newly-formed states, and attempting to mislead world opinion and gain international respect and recognition for controversial governments. The Cold War catapulted international sports movements, primarily the Olympics, into the role as a major tool for political propaganda and weaponry, as international sporting events and organizations served as battlegrounds for “proxy wars” between the world’s superpowers. Even after the end of the Cold War, the Olympics and similar international sport movements still remain a tool of national governments and non-state actors, used to manipulate public opinion, as a world stage for delivering propaganda and political messages, ignite feelings of nationalism and pride, and serve diplomatic purposes.

            In this course, students will learn how international sports and politics have gone hand-in-hand throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and how they still form a symbiotic relationship today. The course will move in a chronological order, and along the way students will learn many interesting facts, such as:


-How the modern Olympics were created to prepare France for war in Europe, not out of desires to promote international peace and understanding.

-How the Olympics were used by the Allies after World War I to celebrate their triumph, while at the same time punish and humiliate the losing powers.

-How the Nazis used the Olympics and other sports movements to convince world leaders that they were a tolerant, peaceful society, and gain international respect and admiration for their political order.

-How the Soviet Union and other communist nations used sports programs to gain international respect and admiration for their political systems, embarrass the United States, and how the Western nations sought to counter the communists in the propaganda and political wars through sport.

-How nations used boycotts of sporting events in order to punish nations (such as the USSR for invasions of neighbors, and South Africa for its racist policies)

-Why national governments are willing to invest huge amounts of money and resources in promoting sports programs (even going to such extremes as secretly promoting research into illegal performance enhancing drugs and distributing them to their own athletes)

-Why non-state actors have used international sports venues for political mobilization and display, and will continue to use international sports as political tools.

            Students will not only learn how international sports movements have been used for political purposes, but also how international sports organizations themselves have been able to play politics with national governments to win concessions, and how sports occurrences can be used to explain, conceptualize, and represent international relations at the times.


Class Work and Grading

            Students must obtain a copy of the book, Power, Politics, and the Olympic Games, by Alfred E. Senn (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999). Before each class, students are to have fully read the assigned chapters. Study questions for each week’s reading will be distributed to the class in advance, in order to assist in reading comprehension. Students are also to bring to each class an approximately one-page (double-spaced, standard margins) homework assignment, in which students provide answers to several of the study questions distributed prior to class. Students are not required to answer all study questions in their weekly assignment; they simply must select a few questions (of their choosing) and then answer each question with roughly one or two paragraphs. Homework answers will be worth 40% of the final grade. Homework assignments must be properly labeled with your name, the date, and the week number. Make sure you staple together multiple pages when handing in assignments!! Also, be sure to use spell checkers, and proof-read your assignments for coherency and grammar before handing them in. In order to receive an “A” for the weekly homework assignments, homework must be completed on time. You must properly label on your homework which of the study questions you are answering. When providing your answers, insert the page numbers (in parentheses) of the book which support your answers.

            Class participation in the Monday discussions is an important part of the overall class grade, and will count for 40% of the final grade. For each unexcused absence, an automatic drop in letter grade will occur for this portion of the grade. During each discussion, it is expected that students at all times respect the rights and opinions of others, and will display civility in any debates and discussions. In order to receive an “A” for your weekly participation grade, you must be an active, voluntary participant in the discussions. This means providing thoughtful, meaningful dialogue to the discussions throughout the entire class period. If your participation is sporadic, non-existent, or only provided when called-upon by the instructor, this will not be considered as active, voluntary participation.

            20% of your final class grade will be based upon a final take-home exam. The exam questions will be distributed in class on April 3rd, and will be due April 10th. You will be given 10 short answer questions, and asked to answer 6 of them (your choice). Each question should be answered in paragraph format, and answered in approximately half a page. The same quality control assigned to homework assignments (citing page numbers for references, checking for spelling, grammar, and coherency, etc.) will be expected of the take-home exam. 

            Students will receive grades based solely upon the quality of their own work (i.e., the class will not be based upon a curve). Academic dishonesty (including, but not limited to, plagiarism) as defined according to NIU codes of conduct, will not be tolerated, and any accounts of such will be taken very seriously.

            It is very important that students check their e-mail on a regular basis (preferably daily), since communications will be done according to e-mail. By default, your NIU e-mail address will be used for mailings, unless you provide the instructor with an alternate e-mail address.


Course Dates and Lessons


*Week 1 (January 23rd): Introduction to the class

-Required reading for week 1: pages x-xx (introduction of the book)

***Note: Homework assignments are not due for Week 1, although you must come to class having read the introduction to the book (pp. x-xx)***



*Week 2 (February 6th): pp. 1-49


*Week 3 (February 20th): pp. 50-110


*Week 4 (March 6th): pp. 111-172


*Week 5 (March 20th): pp. 173-232


*Week 6 (April 3): pp. 233-286


**April 10th final paper is due by 5:00pm: hand in to Blake during his office hours**