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Sport and Risk Culture

The Suffering Body in Sport

ISBN: 978-1-78756-069-7, eISBN: 978-1-78756-068-0

Publication date: 24 July 2019



The aim of this chapter is to examine and problematize the taken-for-granted conceptual understanding of risk practices in sport cultures. By inspecting the mainstay, and one might argue relatively stagnant, constructions of risk in the sociological study of sport, a case for attending to a wider range of risk-based ideologies and cultural practices is presented. The chapter ventures away from viewing risk as predominantly physical in sport settings and constructing athletes as oppressed agents who naively acquiesce to practices of self-injury and self-alienation in sport cultures. Emphasis is given to a broad spectrum of risks undertaken in the practice of sport, and the reflexive, personal nature by which risk may be understood by sports and physical culture participants.


In the first part of the chapter, the relatively simplistic or unidimensional construction of risk in sociological research in sport is reviewed. In the second part, the complexity of the concept of risk is then discussed alongside case examples that push the analytical boundaries of how risk is a multidimensional construct of athletes’ minds, bodies, selves, beliefs, values, and identities in a host of relational contexts.


Risk is best understood as a set of practices and belief that exists on a continuum in sport and physical cultures. Risk-taking in sport, however, can be personally injurious and detrimental along a number of lines but is also often calculated, personally/group satisfying and existentially rewarding at times. If the concept of risk is to be applied and interrogated in sport and physical cultures, it should be done so, therefore, in radically contextual manners.


This chapter illustrates the need for new and exploratory theoretical understandings of what risk means to athletes and other participants in sport and physical culture. New substantive topics are proposed, as are methodological suggestions for representations of the unfolding risk in the process of “doing” sport.



Atkinson, M. (2019), "Sport and Risk Culture", The Suffering Body in Sport (Research in the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 12), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 5-21.



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