Sports Geography

Mark Altaweel


Sports and geography have a relationship similar to many other phenomena. John Bale, who wrote a well-known book on the subject, states that three factors make sports geography an important topic for geographers.[1] Sports, by nature, have location and spatial phenomena that are terrestrial, there are human-environment relationships, and regions have variations with how given sports are played. At international levels, sports reflect political, economic, and cultural power of states, where hosts of major international venues have a strong correlation with these three factors.[2]

Spatial Ties and Conflicts of Sporting Events

In sporting events, excitement levels and feeling of team comradely have strong spatial properties. The feelings of togetherness and belonging are often based on where crowds gather to watch a team and being tightly enclosed in stadiums.[3]

Outside of professional or organized sports, the creation of sporting places that are ad hoc or simply done on any open area can have an important influence on community cohesion and socializing.[4] For instance, it has been shown that communities socialize more closely when playing fields are created. On the other hand, conflict can occur if two nearby communities have different sporting tastes and attempt to use the same social space. In effect, sports help communities to unite, sometimes making it easier for communities to address social problems as sporting places are an escape, but they are potential sources of conflict if different groups have varying sporting tastes.

Geography of sports fans: radio station coverage map for broadcasts of Red Sox and Yankees games.  Map: Tim Wallace, 2011.
Geography of sports fans: radio station coverage map for broadcasts of Red Sox and Yankees games. Map: Tim Wallace, 2011.

Spatial Influences of Athletes

For athletes, space is important in their development as players. One study found that athletes are more likely to become professional or even elite professionals based on where they were born, where factors such as sports enculturation and time for play have a major influence on who becomes inclined for sports. This was found to be the case for US professionals in hockey, basketball, baseball, and golf. More likely, professional athletes will come from cities of less than 500,000 rather than more urban places.[5] Sports and geography, as demonstrated by the variety of studies, has a close relationship that likely means future understanding of sports relevance to communities, teams, or the athletes requires geographic analysis and understanding.

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[1] For more on John Bale’s book, see:  Bale, J. (2003). Sports geography (2nd ed). London ; New York: Routledge.

[2] For more on the role of sports and economic, political, and cultural power of states, see:  Horne, J., & Manzenreiter, W. (2006). An introduction to the sociology of sports mega-events1: An introduction to the sociology of sports mega-events. The Sociological Review, 54, 1–24.

[3] For more on team support and participation, see:  Andrews, G. J. (2016). From post-game to play-by-play: Animating sports movement-space. Progress in Human Geography, 30913251666020.

[4] For more on the role of sports and community cohesion, see:  Koch, N. (Ed.). (2017). Critical geographies of sport: space, power and sport in global perspective. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

[5] For more on a study looking at where athletes come from, see:  Côté, J., Macdonald, D. J., Baker, J., & Abernethy, B. (2006). When “where” is more important than “when”: Birthplace and birthdate effects on the achievement of sporting expertise. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(10), 1065–1073.


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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.