The Spirit of the Game

How Sport Made the Modern World

Constable (Jan, 2012)
ISBN: 9781849015042

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How sport lost its Corinthian spirit, and why big business and politicians jumped on the band wagon.

The spirit of the game was first nurtured on the playing fields of the English public school, and in the pages of Tom Brown’s Schooldays – this Corinthian spirit was then exported around the world. The competitive spirit, the importance of fairness, the nobility of the gifted amateur seemed to sum up everything that was good about Britishness and the games they played.

Today, sport is dominated by corruption, money, celebrity and players who are willing to dive in the box if it wins them a penalty. Yet, we still believe and talk about the game as if it had a higher moral purpose. Since the age of Thomas Arnold, Sport has been used to glorify dictatorships and was at the heart of cold war diplomacy. Prime Ministers, princes and presidents will do whatever they can to ensure that their country holds a major sporting tournament. Nelson Mandela saw the victory of the Rugby World Cup as essential to his hopes for the Rainbow Nation.

Mihir Bose has lived his life around sport and in this book he tells the story of how Sport has lost its original spirit and how it has emerged in the 20th century to become the most powerful political tool in the world. With examples and stories from around the world including how the sport-hating Thomas Arnold become an icon; how a German manufacturer gave Jessie Owens a pair of shoes at the Berlin games of 1936 and went on to dominate the world of sport; how India stole cricket from the ICC; how an Essex car dealer become the most powerful man in Formula 1; and who really sold football out.


‘This is a fascinating history of the origins and transformation of sport from a pastime to a business. Mihir Bose is the perfect mixture of dedicated historian, meticulous investigative journalist and an observer who has never lost his view that sport matters only because it has a meaning beyond money and celebrity.’ Sir Michael Parkinson

‘Mihir Bose has covered the sports-politics-business nexus for almost 30 years. His hugely ambitious new book examines not only how sport has become big business but also how this change has altered the original concept of sporting spirit . . . Mr Bose’s research is wide and deep, and his prose bright and clear. He has wonderfully illuminated the rise and fall of the sporting spirit.’ Review by Simon Kuper in the Financial Times

‘There’s lots of nice detail’ Review by Chris Maume in The Independent

‘Bose’s impressive book collates a vast amount of detail’  Review by Michael Prodger in the Evening Standard

‘The sparkling chapter on apartheid in South Africa describes how Bose and a distinguished group of cricketers met Nelson Mandela at his home in Soweto in 1991 . . . I cannot think of a more exhaustive book on modern sport.’ Review by Ed Smith in The Spectator

‘[Bose] has written many books on sport, and this book is a distillation of four decades as an author and reporter. It is a superbly entertaining read.’ Review by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph

‘His charting of modern sport’s evolution lies at the heart of this book, and is comprehensive, perceptive, well-informed. . . He leads us through totalitarianism, television and the influence of gambling with a sure hand.’ Review by Simon Redfern in The Independent on Sunday

‘Bose is an entertaining guide. . . he brings things up to date with a sharp-eyed and occasionally sharp-tongued survey of today’s sporting pathologies: corporate greed, match-fixing, doping, corrupt and incompetent governance.’ Review by David Goldblatt in The Observer

‘. . . a serious message emerges from Mr Bose’s history. In evolving from “a recreational activity run by volunteers into a corporate entity”, sport, he reckons, has lost much of its fun. . . All the change, though, is not for the worse. Mr Bose also cites reasons to celebrate.’ Review in The Economist

“In this Olympic year there is much talk of sport and the spirit of fair play uniting nations. Fine words, but as Mihir Bose points out in his excellent new book . . . the reality is rather different.” Review in Choice magazine

‘. . . it is a deep and fascinating study peppered with perceptive insights, written in a bright and engaging style.’ The Sports Bookshelf

‘For anyone interested in sport, history, business or anything to do with the modern world, this is a fascinating and stimulating book.’ Review by Christopher Satterthwaite in Management Today

‘Packed with fascinating stories’ We Love This Book

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