Swantje SCHARENBERG: Die Konstruktion des öffentlichen Sports in der Tagespresse der Weimarer Republik, in: German History, vol 31 (2013), No 4, pp. 590-591.

Sport, from football to Bavarian finger-wrestling (Fingerhakeln), has a central place in German society: according to the German Olympic Sports Confederation, in 2010 roughly every third German was a member of a sports club. Not surprisingly, considering its social and cultural importance, sport in Germany has always been closely intertwined with the country’s eventful political history, with the gymnastics movement of the nineteenth century, the Nazi para-military training (Wehrertüchtigung) programme and the East German sporting system all reflecting contemporary ideological currents.

Swantje Scharenberg’s book, based on her Habilitation, considers the role of sport — more precisely of professional competitive sport—in the Weimar Republic, when spectator sports such as boxing and football developed into mass phenomena in Germany. Professional competitive athletics, despite being rejected by traditional sporting organizations — the nationalistic wing of Germany’s gymnastics movement described it as ‘un-German’ and the socialist ‘worker-sportsmen’ (Arbeitersportler) rejected it as ‘bourgeois sports’ — came to represent Weimar democracy. Scharenberg’s central argument is that the press played a crucial role in this process by increasingly covering the careers of star athletes, turning them into ‘sport heroes’. Like all historical research that places the press at its centre, this argument raises some fundamental questions about media influence, which Scharenberg tackles in detail: did the press ‘make’ the celebrity athletes and thus create increased interest in competitive sport?