Small states: Sport and politics at the margin

Barrie Houlihan, Jinming Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


The aims of this article are the identification of the objectives of small states for participation in international sport and investing in elite sport and the analysis of the strategies that small states adopt to maximize their ability to achieve their sport and non-sport objectives. The article discusses the problem of the definition of smallness and explores objective, relative and subjective definitions. There follows an analysis of the characteristics of vulnerability and capacity in relation to strategy development and a review of the utility of international relations theory for the analysis of small states. The article continues with the identification of five possible strategies that might be adopted by small states (independent/autonomous, isomorphist/imitative, isolationist, collective and camp follower) and the resources needed to operationalize the strategies. Following a brief review of the examples of Singapore and Ireland, the article concludes that the scope for the adoption of independent strategies is likely to narrow given the global ambitions of international federations and the International Olympic Committee. The conclusion also considers the prospects for stimulating research in the area of small state sport policy and argues that the prospects are not good.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-344
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Sport Policy
Issue number3
Early online date15 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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