Professor Martin Polley

Job: Director, International Centre for Sports History and Culture; Professor of History

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Humanities

Research group(s): International Centre for Sports History and Culture

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0)116 2577662




Personal profile

Martin Polley is the Director of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC), and a Professor in the Department of History. He joined ICSHC in 2014 after teaching sport and history at the University of Winchester and the University of Southampton. He is a social historian with special interests in the history of sport and leisure. His research has focused on a range of issues, including sports diplomacy, Olympic history, amateurism and professionalism, gender, and historiographical and methodological issues in the study of sport, and he has published widely in these areas. He is the author of Moving the Goalposts: a history of sport and society since 1945 (Routledge, 1998), Sports History: a practical guide (Palgrave, 2007), and editor of the five-volume collection of primary sources, The History of Sport in Britain 1990-1914 (Routledge, 2003). More recently, his work has focused on Olympic history and his book The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic heritage 1612-2012 (English Heritage, 2011) was published by English Heritage as part of their ground-breaking Played in Britain series. Martin has also written numerous journal articles and chapters in edited collections, most recently in the Routledge Handbook of Sport, Gender and Sexuality and The Handbook of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and he is a regular contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He is a regular reviewer for academic journals and publishers, and is an editor of Sport in History. He blogs on sports history, and has been an interviewee on sports history  in numerous TV and radio documentaries and news programmes with BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, BBC TV, and other channels. As well as giving papers and keynote lectures at conferences in the UK, Canada, Sweden, France, and Japan, he also gives talks at public history events, and has spoken at book festivals, museums, archives, and libraries.

Key research outputs

  • Moving the Goalposts: a history of sport and society since 1945, London: Routledge, 1998. 
  • Sports History: a practical guide, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007. 
  • The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612-2012, London: English Heritage, 2011.

Research interests/expertise

  • History of sport and leisure
  • History of the modern Olympic Games and their predecessors
  • History of sport, politics, and diplomacy
  • History of sport and gender
  • Sports heritage
  • Sports historiography

Areas of teaching

  • History
  • History of sport and leisure


  • BA (Hons) History, University of Wales, 1987
  • PhD in History, University of Wales, 1991

Courses taught

  • HIST 1002, Presenting and Re-presenting the Past
  • HIST 1018, Sport and the Media
  • International MA in management, Law and Humanities of Sport

Membership of professional associations and societies

British Society of Sports History, 1996-present

Conference attendance

  • In Pietri’s Footsteps: the 1908 Olympic Marathon route, ‘Olympic City: London 1908-1948-2012’, Centre for Contemporary British History, 2008.
  • Sport and English Identity, Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism, London School of Economics, 2008.
  • Sweaters and Swimsuits: knitting patterns as historical sources, ‘Centers and Peripheries in Sport’, University of Malmö, 2010.
  • Richard Holt’s Sport and the British: the view of the next generation, ‘Historians on Sport’, International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University, 2010.
  • Olimpick, Olympian and Olympic: alternative British histories, ‘Beyond the Leisure Dome’, British Sociological Association/British Library, British Library, 2011.
  • The Morpeth Olympic Games, ‘Played in Tyne and Wear’, English Heritage/Tyne and Wear Museums, Shipley Art Gallery, 2011.
  • Hampshire and the Olympic Games: a local history of a global event, ‘Leisure in Transition: People, Policy and Places’, Leisure Studies Association, Southampton Solent University, 2011.
  • A History of the Olympic Games in England, National Liberal Club’s Political and Economic Circle, 2011.
  • The British Olympics, English Heritage Members’ Event, Stratford, 2011.
  • The British Olympics, University of Winchester’s 12 For 12 Project, 2011.
  • ‘London’s Parks and London’s Olympic Games’, London Parks and Gardens Trust, Garden Museum, 2012.
  • ‘From Olympia to the Olympic Games’, The Ides of March Lecture, Portsmouth Grammar School, 2012.
  • ‘The British Olympics’, Brympton Festival, 2012.
  • ‘Goalposts and Googlies: sport and the English language’, Winchester English Language Student Conference, University of Winchester, 2012 (Keynote).
  • ‘The Olympic Games in History’, Moving the Goalposts: Sport in Transition, Sports Heritage Network, Lord’s Cricket Ground, 2012 (Keynote).
  • ‘Hampshire and the Olympic Games: a local history of a global event’, Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, Hampshire Record Office, 2012.
  • ‘The Morpeth Olympic Games’, Northumbrian Gathering, Morpeth Town Hall, 2012.
  • ‘Britain’s Healthiest Sons and the Danish Dianas: Gender at the 1908 Olympic Games’, Sports and the City, University of Westminster, 2012.
  • ‘Olympic, Olimpick and Olympian: British re-imaginings between Zeus and Coubertin’, public lecture for the Department of Greek and Latin, University College London, 2012.
  • Beijing Taxi: member of post-screening discussion at Curzon Soho with director Miao Wang and Professor Richard Burdett, 2012.
  • ‘West London’s Olympic Heritage’, Ealing Library, 2012.
  • ‘Olympic, Olimpick and Olympian: British re-imaginings between Zeus and Coubertin’, Anglo-American Conference, Institute of Historical Research, 2012.
  • ‘In a League of its Own: is sport above human rights?’, launch event for Index on Censorship, Free Word Centre, 2012.
  • ‘What do the Olympics mean to us?’, panellist in the Daily Telegraph debate, Dartington Ways With Words Festival, 2012.
  • Opening talk at Philosophy Football’s Alternative Olympic Opening Ceremony Party, 2012.
  • ‘From Zeus to Coubertin’, Swansea Classical Society, National Waterfront Museum, 2012.
  • ‘London’s Olympic History’, Castlehaven Community Association Help Elderly Local People Scheme, Camden, 2012.
  • ‘Britain’s Olympic History’, American Women’s Club, London, 2012.
  • 1936: member of post-performance panel of Tom McNab’s play on the 1936 Olympic Games, Lillian Bayliss Theatre, London, 2012.
  • ‘Politics & Olympics: Ideals and Realities’, Chatham House/Free Word Centre, 2012.
  • ‘The British Olympics: exploring Britain’s Olympic heritage, 1612-2012’, ARLIS (Art Libraries Society) annual conference, 2012 (Keynote).
  • ‘Knitting and the Olympic Games’, In The Loop 3, University of Southampton/ Hampshire County Council, 2012 (Keynote).
  • ‘Sweaters and Swimsuits: knitting patterns as historical sources’, The Material Culture of Sport, Design History Society annual conference, University of Brighton, 2012.
  • ‘Olympic, Olimpick, and Olympian: Britain’s alternative Olympic histories’, Historical Association, Cardiff Branch, 2012.
  • ‘The Olympics and L’Entente Cordiale: The 1908 London Olympic Games and the Franco-British Exhibition’, Hosting, Organising and Celebrating the Olympics, University of Rouen, 2012 (Keynote, and member of the Scientific Committee).
  • ‘The Women of the 1908 Olympics’, Anita White Foundation, University of Chichester, 2013.
  • ‘Knitting and the Olympics: clothing, competition, culture, and control’, Invited Speaker for the AGM of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, 2013.
  • ‘Sport, empire, and diplomacy: British international sport in the 19th and 20th centuries’, Comparative Sport History Seminar between the UK and Japan, Yamaguchi University (Yoshida Campus), Yamaguchi, Japan, 13 March 2014.
  • ‘Sport, empire, and diplomacy: British international sport in the 19th and 20th centuries’, Comparative Sport History Seminar between the UK and Japan, Ryukoju University (Omiya Campus), Kyoto, Japan, 16 March 2014.
  • ‘Sweaters and the Services: knitting patterns and the military’, In The Loop Study Day, Winchester School of Art, April 2014.

Consultancy work

St Bede Church of England Primary School, Winchester: historical advisor on Voices, a creative writing project on Olympic history for Year 5 and 6 children funded through the Cultural Olympiad, 2010.

Department of Sports Studies, University of Winchester, 2010: consultancy on developing a departmental research culture and mentoring individual staff in their research activities.

National Youth Theatre: historical advisor on White City/Black Country, a new play on Olympic history that premiered in August 2011 at the Black Country Living History Museum, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Free Word Centre: historical consultant on Politics & Olympics: Ideals and Realities, an exhibition that runs from 1 May to 9 September 2012.


Externally funded research grants information

English Heritage, 2010

£2,000 fund for research costs for The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612-2012, published by English Heritage in 2011 as part of their Played in Britain series.

Creative Campus Initiative, 2008-2010

Member of successful bid development and writing team for £1,000,000 from HEFCE for Cultural Olympiad projects across 12 universities in southern England; recipient of £1,800 for ‘Voices’, my Cultural Olympiad project using stories form Olympic and Paralympic history to inspire new creative writing amongst Year 5 and 6 children at St Bede Primary School, Winchester.

Professional esteem indicators

Sport in History, editor, 2011-present

Peer reviewer for articles in the following journals: Cultural Trends; Education, Knowledge and Economy; International Journal of the History of Sport; Journal of the Society of Archivists; Journal of Sports History; Literature and History; London Journal; National Identities; Sport in History.

Peer reviewer for books (proposals and manuscripts) for the following publishers: Bloomsbury; Manchester University Press; Oxford University Press; Palgrave; Pearson; Routledge.

Peer reviewer for research bids for the following bodies: Arts and Humanities Research Council; Czech Science Foundation; Economic and Social Research Council; Leverhulme Trust.

I have acted as external examiner on PhDs for the following institutions: University of Exeter; De Montfort University; Manchester Metropolitan University; Penn State University; University of Portsmouth; Staffordshire University; Stellenbosch University; University of Winchester

Case studies

The British Olympics (English Heritage, 2011) was reviewed in various newspapers and websites, with comments including:

“An impeccably researched record of Britain's relationship with the Olympic movement.” The Independent

“An enthralling narrative.” The Times

“The trickle of books to mark next summer in east London will soon become a flood, but so far easily the most vivid and exuberant is Martin Polley's... I guarantee every literate and sporty child would relish a copy.” Frank Keating in The Guardian

With stunning photos, this book is a kind of alternative route map to follow as the 2012 extravaganza threatens to engulf us all.”  Philosophy Football

In 2012, I acted as historical consultant for the National Youth Theatre’s Olympic-themed play, White City/Black Country, which was performed at the Black Country Museum. I worked with the cast on the historical background to the 1908 and 1948 London Olympics. The play’s director, Paul Edwards, wrote ‘Martin’s workshop was both informative and engaging, and provided our cast with an excellent contextual knowledge of the time periods and events that our production was concerned with. By drawing comparisons with present day events, Martin enabled participants to develop their understanding of Olympic history in a way that was relevant to the project, and it was accessible to all.’