Are You (F)Allowed to Say That…? Rugby, Religion and Rights.

I have written before in my blog about contemporary issues in sport, for example, lad culture and Serena Williams. Often, these posts are triggered by conversations with friends or sporting scandals, this past month has been no exception and a topic that has caught my attention is the fallout around Israel Falou.

Christian Post headline “World’s top rugby player Israel Folau won’t recant statement that sinners, gays will go to Hell” April 23, 2019

The Irish Times headline “Aki says he ‘mistakenly’ liked Israel Folau’s homophobic post” April 25, 2019

The Guardian headline “Rugby Australia risks galvanising Pasifika around Israel Folau” April 22, 2019

What has intrigued me about this particular sporting scandal is the complex set of issues entwined within one social media post, that then involves national and international sport and non-sport communities. I tried to map it out below using the 3 elements – law, ethics and politics – my comfort topics because that was the structure of my Masters course (International Law, Ethics and Politics).

blog g

A couple of reflections and unanswered questions…

In terms of politics, it is an important year for rugby and tapping into the East Asian market with the Japan Rugby World Cup. A strong stance against the freedom of speech/faith of athletes is a big gamble in my view. As not all East Asian or wider Asian countries share the same perspective on religion, social media and sport.

In this situation, I am not too familiar with academic literature on religion and/or Christians and sport, although there is plenty of it. For example:

Christianity and Social Scientific Perspectives on Sport – Sport in Society Special Issue

Sports and Christianity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Global Perspectives on Sports and Christianity

In the coming weeks, months and years it will be interesting to how academic and non-academic debate develops… three questions I immediately have:

Has Rugby Australia set a historic precedent here?

What will the reaction of the religious sports community be?

Will this issue carry into the Rugby World Cup and continue to divide opinion?

The other major complexities of this issue are the ethical and legal aspects. It is palpable the Western influenced climate towards inclusion and tolerance in the modern era of sports governance. I have written about this before in the context of the Sochi Winter Olympics and sexuality. In my opinion, there is no international sporting law that definitively dictates how sporting bodies, athletes or leagues should act. Instead, the individual, organisational and external pressures (such as, sponsors, faith, public or media) are prompting the actions and/or regulation.
So, based on the Folau fallout. Does sport need a universal stance on inclusion? Alternatively, is this a Nation State matter on the right for athletes to have freedom of speech? Jack Anderson outlines the legal position for Rugby Australia and Folau, and concludes in sporting terms:

“Given the unique employment environment of sport, it seems reasonable to suggest that even if Folau succeeds in the hearing, it is highly unlikely he will ever play again for the Wallabies or even the Waratahs.”

The Conversation headline “Explainer: does Rugby Australia have legal grounds to sack Israel Folau foranti-gay social media posts?” April 29, 2019

As ever, sport intersects many points of society. The Folau fallout intersects significantly with international law, ethics and politics. A need for considered and critical thinking is a must… finally, I decided to consult the Pope (as I was born/raised a Roman Catholic) and found this piece of considered thinking:

The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognise the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.”

Why the only future worth building includes everyone, His Holiness Pope Francis at Ted2017

I am not sure sport and rugby can solve “the future of humankind” but this Folau fallout certainly has put the “you” and “us” notion to the test.



I did not think I would ever quote the Pope in a blog!

Glamorous Outputs, Messy Process and Present Reflections: My Latest Journal Article

Thursday 23rd March 2019, the start of the email from the Taylor and Francis Group:

Dear Verity Postlethwaite,

Congratulations, we’re delighted to let you know that your final published article (the Version of Record) is now on Taylor & Francis Online.

Immediate thoughts and feelings:

  1. I want to edit and proof again, I am terrified people will actually read this… why do I use commas so much, did I spell everything in the right version of English and what an earth is my tense…
  2. Okay, this is great, another milestone for my CV and present / future employers…
  3. Wow, I need to say thank you to so many people… I should tweet and email them.
  4. How do I reflect on this? I should blog.
  5. How do I promote this? I should tweet about my blog which is about my article!

Yes, I am person with a brain that goes into overload. A normal occurrence within society and, especially, academic brains. As a doctoral researcher a peer-reviewed publication is something I am very proud of. In this blog I will reflect on what the article is about, and why to access and read it. Plus, a couple of short reflections on the process of writing an article (from my novice perspective).

Inspiring a generation: an examination of stakeholder relations in the context of London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics educational programmes

Twitter article

The article is a product of my doctoral thesis, attending and engaging with the UK Sport Development Network conferences, and activities with the Sport and Recreation Alliance. You can read the abstract publicly, so I will not repeat it here. In my own retrospective words this piece represents a development in thinking around:

  • how to link sport mega event organising committee literature, in particular, around legacy; with sport policy literature, in particular, around young people and education;
  • it attempts to squeeze in a number of contextual, theoretical and discussion points around the clarity, purpose and understanding of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games’ educational programmes, notably, the Get Set initiative;
  • using publicly accessible documents from a parliamentary Education Committee and a critical discourse analysis framework (alongside my wonderful supervisors Geoff and Gyozo) we explored the extensive dialogue from multiple stakeholders (such as, politicians, teachers, athletes and sport organisations);
  • the discussion and conclusion represent a need to further look at event and legacy governance in both: (1) everyday political domestic circumstances and then, (2) the extraordinary circumstances of hosting a sporting event (and in this case study London 2012 and a sport mega event).

I am, hopefully, going to channel the feedback and ongoing discussion about the article into my thesis. A benefit of taking time to write this piece was to receive extensive and productive peer feedback from reviewers (thanks again to the journal Managing Sport and Leisure, the anonymous reviewers and the Special Issue editors Aaron and Vassilios). Specifically writing this article allowed me to think about the big ideas in my thesis (approx. 80,000 words), into a smaller (and more glamorous) output of a journal article (approx. 8,000 words). However, this reflection comes with a cautionary note, that this article has taken probably about 12 + months to write, submit, correct and approve. In terms of hours at least 140 hours of work (35 hours per initial research, write up, edit, and submission to approval), about an hour per published word! Apologies if my maths is slightly out.

I am sure in reading this you can now understand that my current writing priority is the doctoral thesis. More articles will come, but for now I need to split my time between research for the fellowship in Japan and writing the thesis. When reading about this time management strategy I sense a lot of eyebrows will be raised, yes, it is ambitious. However, my most valuable lesson from the past 12- 18 months and in reflecting on writing this article, is to live in the present. Stop planning, being seduced by the glamorous outputs, saying yes to future things, and trying to do too much too soon. Focus on the present and chipping away at your day to day.


Like a very intelligent red jumper wearing philosopher once answered:

“‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’

‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh, ‘what do you say, Piglet?’

‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.”                                                                                              —Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne


Book Chapter Review: LGBT Athletes in the Sports Media

Typical academic practice is not to review your own work, but this is my blog! And I am going to review a book chapter I recently co-authored.

Bullingham, Rachael and Verity Postlethwaite (2019) Chapter 3 “Lesbian Athletes in the Sports Media: Ambivalence, Scrutiny and Invisibility” in Rory Magrath (Ed.) LGBT Athletes in the Sports Media. Palgrave Macmillan. 

I am not going to simply review the content. Nor, I am going to claim that it is great and you should buy the book (at £89.99) or buy the chapter (at £23.94). [Saving another blog post to discuss the high cost of academic books…]

Instead, I am going to use this blog post to counter the opinion that academic book chapters and collaborating are not valuable uses of time. A school of thought has developed that journal articles, funding bids, authored monographs etc. are more valuable academic outputs. I agree with some of the points around this, especially, that book chapters/edited collections can vary enormously in quality and relevance. However, the edited book that Rory Magrath has put together and the chapter I have written with Rachael highlight some worthwhile review points. I contemplate such points briefly below…

The chapter has relevant content

What is the chapter about? Rachael and I undertook a print media analysis of two prominent lesbian football players in the UK and USA – Casey Stoney and Megan Rapinoe – to understand how lesbian athletes navigate the current sports media landscape. More specifically, if there are dominant representation trends in print media around lesbian athletes.

Our chapter shows that UK and USA print media representations of lesbian athletes do not follow the same patterns of representation around heterosexual female athletes or gay male athletes. The two cases of Stoney and Rapinoe, also, demonstrate that there are nuances in how individual lesbian athletes are portrayed. Media representation trends should not be reduced to one narrative, in the chapter we briefly developed discussion points around ambivalence, scrutiny and invisibility around lesbian athletes.

Process of contributing to an edited book

The value of producing the chapter at my career stage (doctoral student) is to experience the nitty gritty of academic publishing, for example, proof of concept, oodles of drafts, copy editing, and the sheer time it takes to bring together an edited collection. A number of people may see this as chasing outputs and beefing out my CV. However, beyond a line on my CV I can now confidently state in a future application or interview that I understand the detail of producing an edited collection, academic publishing and contributing book chapters.

Experience of collaborating

A further value, personally, is developing the art of collaborating. Again, it is personal preference within the social sciences of academia to collaborate or write solo, but I prefer to work with people. I have previously written with mentors and supervisors, whereas, this chapter was the first piece I had written with a peer. I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot about my style/habits, plus about Rachael’s. I am sure we will develop this further in the future, and the book chapter was a great way to start a collaborative partnership.

Outputs to outcomes…

Finally, outputs to outcomes… this chapter represents a pebble in the thoughts and data Rachael and I discussed. Plus, as I am a doctoral student, I needed to be mindful that this does not directly relate to my doctoral thesis. Consequently, for me, this was more of a development of my Masters work and adding to my CV/experience.

For Rachael, as this is her area of expertise, it has contributed to further outcomes for her and the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Worcester. Such as, conference presentations, attending national policy events and further research collaboration. Rachael is currently working on projects around: elite athletes, homosexuality and team sport; examining homophobia in educational settings; and the role of televised media – commentators / pundits – in representations of females and sexuality.

Finally, writing this blog reminds me that the book chapter was FUN to produce. Sometimes you can see a book chapter in print and skim over all of the time, effort and energy put into making it. This book chapter was really fun to write, especially, as we managed to sneak in a reference to Callie and Arizona from Grey’s Anatomy (if you know, you know).


A Sporting Asian Adventure: Thinking Through What is Asia? InterAsian?

A long(ish) blog this month, and quite academic heavy. However, some accessible links three quarters of the way through for anyone interested in further reading or pieces.

At the beginning of December last year I was privileged to take part in the ‘InterAsian Connections VI: Hanoi’ international conference.  Supported by the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences the conference was part of a larger partnership between multiple universities and the American based Social Science Research Council. The VI edition featured eight workshops on varying topics and I participated in the ‘Sport Mega-Events as Hubs for InterAsian Interactions.’ I contributed a paper with a collaborator Dr. J Simon Rofe. The paper was part of ongoing research at SOAS University of London where I have been a Teaching Fellow and Research Associate during 2017/18 academic year.

A few brief reflections from my experiences.

1) Vietnam as a host country. It was my first time in Vietnam and after being in Japan (see my last blog post) I was unsure of what to expect. Vietnam (and mostly Hanoi/Ho Chi Minh where I stayed) is full of character and clearly growing at a real quick rate. Sporting wise the friendly matches for the 2019 AFC Asian Football Cup were on whilst I was there. During an evening and a match the whole city of Hanoi stopped as the football was played. The streets were lined with people to watch the match on big and little screens. It was at the level of excitement and patriotism that England reaches during a major cup competition, let alone friendly matches. It was very interesting to see first-hand. Secondly, in less elite and more recreational sporting experiences I noticed a lot of people playing a strange street game using what looked like an industrial shuttlecock (see video below). On further investigation it is Jianzi or foot badminton. I, of course, bought one and it is a lot trickier than it looks.

2) Context of the workshop. The sport-mega event workshop attracted scholars who specialised in a number of Asian related countries, including Japan, China, Qatar, Tukey, Indonesia, South East Asia and South Korea. My knowledge of these areas prior to the conference was very basic, therefore, the four days was a personal quest to understand the historical and contemporary dynamics of the region. It was, also, very refreshing to engage with scholars who specialise in a country/area, rather than necessarily a sport based academic discipline. Through the discussions I observed that on the surface the countries are linked by the traditional sporting committees/competitions, such as, the Asian International Olympic Committee; Asia Football FIFA cluster and the Asian Games. However, in terms of regional/local events when you scratch beneath the surface there are deep rooted and historical distinctions to how Asian countries interact with each other through sporting and non-sporting contexts. I need to explore further a number of papers and resources connected to my fellow workshop participants, a few are listed here:

Friederike Trotier’s paper “Changing an image through sports events: Palembang’s success story” (restricted access)

Centre for Sport and Human Rights (open access)

John McManus’s book: Turkey and football  – Welcome to Hell? In search of the real Turkish football (available to buy)

Simon Creak’s (et al.) contributions to the Wilson Centre Sport in the Cold War Podcast Series (open access)

Susan Brownell’s co-authored anthology The Olympics in East Asia: Nationalism, Regionalism, and Globalism on the Center Stage of World Sports (open access)

All of these links and pieces will help me to better understand: what does sport (and sport-mega events) mean for ‘Asia’ as a region? Does it create InterAsian relations and diplomacy?

3) Our paper in the workshop. Titled ‘Knowledge Transfer to Diplomacy: United Kingdom and East Asian Sport-Mega Events’ it is a working progress. In short, this paper contributed the idea of using a diplomatic framework to study recent sport-mega events in South Korea, Japan and China. The focus on East Asia is, firstly, because each country hosts the Winter or Summer Olympics and Paralympics (2018 to 2022), then the Japan Rugby World Cup 2019. Secondly, as London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics then the England 2015 Rugby World Cup there has been a number of activities around transferring knowledge and developing diplomatic ties. A particular nexus has formed between London, England (the UK) and East Asian sport-mega event hosts. From a UK perspective there have been sustained and pro-active public and private attempts to be ‘world-leading’ experts of sport-mega events, such as, the Make Britain Great campaign. Now, having attended the conference and discussed the paper, the next stage is to better understand ‘who’ interacts and ‘what’ modes do these relations contribute to wider diplomacy or specific sporting expertise between East Asia and the UK. Then, more broadly in an InterAsian context…

I think I will blog on each of these three individual topics (Vietnam, sport-mega events as hubs, and sport diplomacy between the UK and East Asia) in 2019/2020 as I read and think more. In the meantime, I am going to focus on Japan and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, largely because I head back out there at the end of March.

A belated Happy New Year to everyone and thank you for all the views, comments and support throughout 2018.

Cheers to 2019 and best wishes,


Japan is Calling: A Trip and a Fellowship

The past month my white, female, able-bodied and English perspective on life has been well and truly ruptured. I have spent time in Canada, Australia and Japan talking to many different people about how their communities engage with sport. As a result, this blog should write easily. Yet, I am little overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings. Instead of writing some Frantz Fanon esq. account of my current brain activity, I will write about two experiences I’ve had in Japan this past week or so.

The first experience comes from when I was invited to watch a wheelchair basketball tournament with colleagues and friends from Toin University of Yokohama. The tournament took place at the Yokohama Rapport Sports and Cultural Centre for the Disabled, the facility is part of Yokohama city adjacent to the Nissan Sports Stadium. The venue (the first of its kind in Japan) was built in 1992 as an initiative to increase access to and participation in physical activities for people with disabilities. I was struck by the established nature of the centre and the ethos behind it. Rather than being for elite athletes or medical purposes it was a centre for the community, for example, it had a bowling alley, fitness gym, young people’s area and swimming pool, all open to anyone. It is not something I have come across before in England. It has sparked my interest in why these facilities came about in Japan, and since the 1990’s how the facilities have evolved. (Also, the wheelchair basketball was brilliant to watch live!)


The second experience was a lecture I attended at Toin University of Yokohama. The lecture was led by Prof. Nobuko and she had invited Shinya Ohta to speak. Shinya works for a commercial Japanese TV station (WOWOW) and is currently a chief producer for the documentary series ‘Who I Am’ (the series has clips on YouTube). It is a 5 year project based on hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and capitalising/galvanising interest on the International Paralympic Movement through the athletes themselves. Instead of focusing on Japanese athletes and their pursuit for medals, the series (currently 16 episodes) documents Paralympic athletes from around the world and allows them to describe and discuss their identity, community and connection to sport. In contrast to the inclusive facility in Yokohama this lecture showed me a glimpse of a more recently established and progressive use of media to forge relationships between:


Shinya spoke of the aim of the series to be a catalyst for greater inclusion in Japanese society, achieved in this project through more television coverage and growing the awareness of the Paralympic Movement in Japan.

The Yokohama facility and the ‘Who I Am’ series represent (different) opportunities for Japan to use the thrust of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics to further conversations around inclusivity and disability. From my short stay, I could see a number of individuals and networks putting a lot of effort into contributing to such conversations. And. Importantly, considering the question of: what about after Tokyo 2020?

I am pleased to confirm that I have the opportunity to return to Japan next year for four months to pursue this research further. It is a fellowship funded through the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Pre/Postdoctoral scheme. I will receive support from Dr Gyozo Molnar at the University of Worcester in the UK, and then from my host Japanese partner Professor Nobuko Tanaka at Toin University of Yokohama. My fellowship is part of a broader official partnership between Toin and Worcester (since 2016) and this situation made it possible for me to come to Japan. Toin is like Worcester in that it is driving an agenda for inclusive practice. In Japan, such situation has not been seen a lot yet and that is why Worcester colleagues were invited to Japan.

The trip this past two weeks has been to scope out, manage the culture shock and get thinking about what we can achieve through the fellowship. Many thanks to Prof. Nobuko for all her time and introducing me to an amazing group of people.

Exciting times…

If anyone reading this has insight/recommendations for research/living in Japan, please, message me. Equally, anyone with insight/recommendations for research on the Paralympics and/or disability, please, message me or prepare to be messaged by me in the coming months.


Disability, Sport and Research

The past couple of months I have considered the aspect of disability in my PhD thesis. Largely because the Paralympic Games featured significantly in the educational programme connected to London 2012, with the Paralympic values of inspiration, determination, courage and equality a central feature alongside the Olympic values. I am discussing this topic at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference this week, exploring whether through London 2012 there was perception change that has influenced UK education based sport policy beyond 2012.

The area of disability and disability sport is not something I have considered extensively before and it has raised some interesting issues. The two points that I have pondered more broadly are:

  • the dominance of the Paralympics and International Paralympic Committee in my own research around disability sport. In March this year, the organisation continued their direction of alignment with the International Olympic Committee and building a brand around international elite disability sport. I am continuing to ponder whether this global elite sport movement productively represents disability sport?
  • beyond elite and competitive disability sport, the relationship between everyday physical activity and sport and disability communities. The Activity Alliance released a research report recently around ‘The Activity Trap: Disabled people’s fear of being active’ and the issues around physical activity in everyday lived experiences of the disability community. In my own Paralympic-centric understanding of disability, have I missed the relationship between disability and everyday sporting issues?

The above bullet points are a couple of sentences of academic chatter to highlight how my own research has challenged my own understandings of disability, and what London 2012 did for particular disability communities. I am not going to be able to answer all of this by the end of my PhD. Nevertheless, it is an area that I want to delve into further, especially, with the upcoming ‘inclusive’ sport mega events of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in the North of England. As ever, plenty to ponder!


The End of the Summer… Hello World 2.0

Back in September 2015 I blogged for the first time. Around 1095 days, 156 weeks, 36 months and 3 years later I decided to write this milestone blog, and ponder where I am up to?

Quantifiably, WordPress tells me that in the past 3 years I have published 38 blogs, 19,429 words and it has been read by over 1600 people around the world. Cool! Qualitatively, the topics have ranged from American football to lad culture; pondering the art of networking and how to interpret varying forms of media and sporting events.

At the end of September 2018 and in writing this blog I drafted several paragraphs: 1) reminiscing about my blog, 2) wondering what I should write about next, 3) evaluating my experience of writing a blog, 4) considering whether I am still a sports researcher and enthusiast… none have been particularly interesting!

So where next?

I need to finish my PhD. And on the 29th October I leave the country for 6 weeks.

It is the end of the summer and the end of the first era of my blog. In the coming month or so I want to think through where next, what next, and how to communicate such.

Thankfully sport continues to be interesting and pose a number of questions…