Sport and soft authoritarian nation-building

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Authoritarian regimes have long taken an interest in promoting elite and mass sport, deploying it as both a nation-building strategy and a tool to elicit respect and legitimacy on the global stage. However, authoritarian regimes do not equally engage sport for these ends. Rather, as I argue, it is characteristic of 'soft' authoritarian regimes, i.e. those that rely less on overtly violent tactics of maintaining power ('coercion') and more on seemingly 'positive' tactics ('persuasion'). Through the example of sport in Kazakhstan, and specifically the Astana Professional Cycling Team, I argue that nation-building through state promotion of sport illustrates the ways that soft authoritarian regimes such as that of Nursultan Nazarbayev perpetuate their rule. Adding nation-building as the sixth tool in the Schatz's (2009) 'soft authoritarian toolkit,' I demonstrate through discourse analysis and focus group research, how the nationalist performances surrounding elite sport are fundamental to allowing ordinary people to see their everyday practices and support for the 'nation' as something 'objective,' rather than intimately tied to the system of unequal power relations perpetuated by the ruling regime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-51
Number of pages10
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • Authoritarianism
  • Cycling
  • Focus groups
  • Kazakhstan
  • Nationalism
  • Sport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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