In early November 2016 I was at the annual conference of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) in Tampa, Florida. Much of the conversation away from the formal papers and talks was of the imminent US presidential election. A few miles down the road in Tampa Donald Trump was beating his populist drum in front of one of his fanatical sell-out rallies. That same evening I sat almost alone in the Tampa Theatre, a beautiful old cinema that opened in 1926, and watched Michael Moore in Trumpland – a film shot in twelve days by Michael Moore showing how the Trumpian mantras were getting through to a range of public audiences. Many people in the UK had been writing Trump off. Moore’s movie showed just how the business tycoon and former reality TV host was making more than just a hopeful bid. Back at the conference venue I struck up conversation with delegates including Bryan Clift, a US political scientist at the University of Bath, on the rise in prominence of populist figures across the cultural and political landscape. Two years later Bryan and I chaired three sessions on populism in sport, leisure and popular culture at the 2018 NASSS conference in Vancouver, after Bath had hosted a BSA (British Sociological Association) day-long workshop in June. That’s the genesis of Populism in Sport, Leisure and Popular Culture, conceived and rehearsed in face-to-face pre-pandemic meetings and across international networks.
The book comprises theoretical overviews of the populism concept, historical and international case-studies, and a section – “Trump Times” – including five chapters on Donald Trump’s use of sport as a means of furthering his populist goals. Trump pops up too in other sections. Core themes of the book are discussed in the podcast below, facilitated by Professor Louise Ryan, chair of the BSA. The book appears in the BSA’s flagship series Sociological Futures and Bryan and I have worked with a richly interdisciplinary group of scholars in getting the book together. I am optimistic that we have made a strong and potentially influential intervention here in bringing what has for so long been a concept almost exclusive to political science into the sociological realm; as well as contributing new analyses and pointing to new research agendas in sport and leisure studies.