In the society we live in today, sport is
perceived as an influential aspect of many people’s lives. Regardless of
whether it is played recreationally, professionally or not at all, modern sport
has transformed into a global phenomenon that now, with the various different advancements
in sponsorships, media coverage and technology, is not only capable of things
such as enhancing athletic performance, promoting healthy active lifestyles and
generating revenue, but also amalgamating and divaricating people on both a
national and global magnitude. In this essay, I will be discussing the origins
of sport and olympism and how it was evolved over time, the profound
commercialisation of sport on both a national and subsequently a global scale,
as well as the impacts of both nationalism and globalisation and their
relationships with modern sport.

Before the Olympics was revolutionized by
Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the late 19th
century into what Jarvie (2006) describes as a “global sports
competition”, it was originally a religious festival staged on the ancient
plains of Olympia, in the city of Elis. The ancient Olympic Games were held in
honour and celebration of Zeus, king of the gods, and people from all over the
Greek world would come over to spectate, rejoice and take part. Unlike the
Modern Olympic Games, where the emphasis is to compete and triumph within the
rules and regulations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the ancient
Greeks were engrossed with the concept of developing themselves as physically
fit human beings and weren’t inhibited by any sort of rules or regulations. As
a means of physically enhancing themselves, they would engage in physical
activities such as running, shot put, javelin, long jump, pankration and
equestrian events, all events that would require the athlete to exhibit skills
that would undoubtedly be of great use to them on the battlefield. Initially,
the ancient Olympic Games were held on one day, before they were extended to
three days. The games were extended again to cover five days. These are all
examples of how globalisation in sport has significantly increased over time as
the modern Olympic Games are now just over two weeks long as a means of
accommodating the plethora of sports and events that are now a part of the
games, as well as the roots of the games gradually changing over time from a
religious celebration within a community to an internationally recognised
sporting event.

This transformation of the games, in
particular its emphasis and philosophy, was instigated by French historian and
educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a man whose
vision and political skill, according to Christopher Hill, “led to the revival
of the Olympic Games which had been practised in antiquity” (Hill 1996). Having
founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894, de Coubertin idealized the
Olympic Games as the ultimate ancient athletic competition (Hill 1996). The
modern Olympic Games is an amphitheatre that combines sporting prowess,
globalisation and national identity as it is televised and watched on a global
scale, where athletes represent their countries, either individually or as a
team, on what is without a doubt the biggest stage in the world of modern
sport. According to Maguire (2002), a nation is a “human community that
acquired rational consciousness”. On a basic level, a nation is a group of
people that all share the same beliefs and views, which one may argue creates
this sense of national identity. Along with these mutual beliefs comes certain
‘nation-specific’ sports and to some extent, shapes the perspective of an
entire nation. For example, if you are from East African countries such as Kenya
or Ethiopia, then the commonly held stereotype is that you must excel at middle
and long distance running. The commercialisation and globalisation of modern
sport arguably contributes to and fuels the validity of this stereotype as when
we watch world marathons or cross country races, it is predominantly east
Africans at the front and subsequently topping the medal tally. In addition to
this, the commercialisation and the amount of money now involved in modern
sport has arguably influenced the attitude of these East African countries. Because
these countries are less economically developed, they live a “more natural way
of life”, which is why according to Bale (2001, 2004), and Bale and Sang (1996),
Africans are widely considered by many to develop into champion runners. This
is because their attitude to running differs from other nations; they see
running as something that is fun or as a means of meeting their transport
needs. Moreover, their running is done effortlessly and without intention, and
undoubtedly without government funding, coaching or scientifically derived
training programmes. This means they are more likely to take on the commitment
as it is something that is innate to them and their national culture.

However, this is not the case for all
countries as many are globally known for several different sports, such as USA
who are famous for sports such as track and field, basketball, American
football and baseball. None of these sports are the sole national sport of the
USA, and it is evident to see that the sports associated with particular
nations and their national identities varies depending on the different social,
cultural and political contexts at the time and are not necessarily dictated by
tradition or past success, as explained by Jarvie (2006). In addition to this,
one may argue that a nation’s sport can be interpreted as a social construction
as society itself changes in unison with its divergent contexts. Due to these
contexts changing over time, many would argue that the concept of nationalism
is therefore difficult to comprehend fully. Grant Jarvie (2006, p.113) states
that “general discussions of nationalism and sport are often problematic
because of the ‘slipperiness’ of the term” and that “nationalism is perhaps
more complex than the conceptual tools we have at our disposal”. He then goes
on to present us with four different approaches to nationalism: Primordialist,
Modernist, Statist and Political Mythologist. He argues that a Primordialist view
of nationalism is that it is a “product of ethnicity that can be rooted in
history” (p.113), a view which Rogers Brubaker (1996) dismisses as “a long dead
horse that writers on ethnicity and nationalism continue to flog”. In contrast
to Brubaker’s view, there are many modern critics that recognise the
significance of the Primordialist interpretation, as well as the role that this
position may play. Hugo Marcos-Marné (2015) considered primordialism as “representing
the opposite end of the spectrum to constructivism”, a continuum he saw as
useful in reviewing the analytical framework for the study of nationalism and
ethnicity, though pointing out that pure primordialism is “a difficult position
to hold”, one with which hardly any scholars identify.

The second interpretation of nationalism
that Jarvie (2006) identifies is a Modernist interpretation, a view that argues
that nationalism is “a product of the modern age” (p.113), as well as
contemporary perceptions and contexts. Moreover, if we were to look at
nationalism from a statist perspective, one may argue that “nationalism itself,
more than anything else, is associated with the idea of the state” (p.113). Statists
argue that sport is utilised by the state to accomplish forms of state
identity, in a similar way to a modernist view. The final interpretation of
nationalism that is propagated by Jarvie (2006) is a Political Mythologists, a
viewpoint that consists of abstract or allegorical symbols relating to national
representation, thus allowing a country to share a sense of national harmony
and togetherness. A good example of this interpretation in sport would be the
crest of the England national football and cricket teams, as the three lions on
the England teams kit are representative of the Royal Arms of England; as well
as lions being frequently depicted in English heraldry as symbols of bravery
used to describe valiant warriors in battle. Therefore, wearing the three lions
fills the people of England with immense national pride, as one may argue that
it binds modern England with Medieval England and connects us with our
ancestors, thus bringing about this sense of national identity. Despite the
obvious positives of Nationalism, such as its indorsement of traditional values
and challenging the principles of Colonialism, there are also many negatives
that can come with Nationalism. Whereas patriotism is solely about one’s love
for his or her country, there are many cases where the love of your own nation has
elapsed and been replaced by hatred of other nations and cultures. A famous
example would be Adolf Hitler, who in Michael Billig’s
book ‘Banal Nationalism’ (1995), claims he was defending Germany against the Jewish,
arguing that the Jews were in fact the attackers.

As mentioned previously, there are
various different views of Nationalism, but Jarvie (2006, p.114-115) also goes
on to explain the two different types of Nationalism that exist: Civic and
Ethnic. Civic Nationalism is primarily linked with territory and citizenship,
whereas on the other hand, Ethnic Nationalism is connected mainly with ties of
blood. He highlights a significant problem with concepts such as Civic and
Ethnic Nationalism, stating “that they are used to describe certain types of
abstract social relationships, yet what is crucial is not the level of
abstraction or meaning, but the underlying relationship to the reality within
which the experience is lived out” (p.115). The main contrast between the two
types of Nationalism is that your ethnicity is something that is predetermined,
whereas your citizenship is open to change. Within modern society, we are
surrounded by people that come from a range of different backgrounds, cultures
and ethnicities. The main consequence of having these two types of Nationalism
is that many native countries attempt to keep the two separate. In modern
sport, this can be a major issue as Jarvie (2006) states that there are “forms
of racism embedded within either absolute definition of Nationalism” (p.115).
An example of this is in football, particularly the Russian Football Premier
League, where supporters act hostile towards black players and even go as far
as booing their own players. Even in some of Europe’s leading football leagues,
black players have walked off of the pitch during a game, had fans doing monkey
impressions and even bananas thrown at them. Because of incidents like these,
UEFA, the administrative body for association football in Europe, have
implemented a “say no to racism” campaign that aims to raise awareness of
racial intolerance and discrimination in European football. Furthermore, major
international sporting events are a good example of how sport can be used to
bring a nation together, as well as amass inspiration and encourage
multiculturalism. For example, during the World Cup, people put up national
flags in the windows of their homes or cars as a means of showing their support
of their country. In addition to this, sporting success can assist massively in
the relations between sport and the nations. A recent example of this was in
the 2016 UEFA European Championships, where Wales, a nation who are more famous
for Rugby Union, unexpectedly made it to the semi finals of the tournament.
Even though they did not win the competition, the unanticipated overperformance
of the team united the entire nation, whether they were football fans or not as
their country’s performance filled them with a sense of national pride and

As well as increased nationalism,
globalisation in sport has increased massively due to mainstream sports such as
football, rugby and cricket being more accessible as a result of the increased television
and media coverage. Globalisation, in the words of Mattelart (2000), is
described as “a hegemonic role in organising and
decoding the meaning of the world” and is a fundamental component
for top-class sport, both team and individual sports. Massive transnational corporations
such as McDonald’s, Sony and Nissan invest large amounts of money into sport in
an attempt to capture a global audience. Just like nationalism, globalisation
is a very disputed, abstract notion and depending on what standpoint you take, will
have a different meaning for everyone. Many different sociologists of sport, as
well as other social scientists writing on sport, have used concepts and
theories of globalisation in order to better their understanding of the
increasing tendency of sport to operate on a global scale (Harvey and Houle
1994; Houlihan 1994; Maguire 1999; Miller et al. 2001). In one way or another,
whether it be positively or negatively, globalisation is affecting everyone on
a world-wide magnitude. Additionally, some may argue that globalisation is the
cause for sovereignty and independence, but others may disagree and say that it
is the cause for seclusion and confinement. Despite the divergences in opinion,
what is agreed on in some cases is that the notion of globalization is not a
new one. Moreover, there have been many impacts of globalisation in sport, such
as the increase in global sporting competitions like the FIFA World Cup and the
Olympic Games, the worldwide commercialisation of modern sport, as well as the mass
growth in sporting consumption and consumerism. Essentially, one may argue that
sport has become a business rather than a game; a commodity that is bought and
sold. With all of these aspects in mind, globalisation has not only used sport
to bring the world together, but perhaps more importantly, has thus made sport easily
accessible to the masses as there are now untold chances and opportunities to
get involved in sport, whether it be to play, spectate, volunteer or coach. Furthermore,
there is arguably a relationship between nationalism and globalisation as nations
strive to make their national sports accessible in other countries. As
mentioned previously by Jarvie (2006), there are “forms of racism embedded
within either absolute definition of Nationalism”, meaning that some nations
wouldn’t be too keen on accepting and playing foreign sports. In contrast to
this, some may argue that this internationalization of sports fanaticism has come
about as a result of globalisation. For example, sports such as basketball and
baseball used to only be popular in the US, and cricket used to only be played within
the UK. However, over time, globalisation caused sport popularities to rise. Many
people now associate cricket with nations such as Pakistan, India and
Australia, whilst basketball is televised and played all over the world. Whilst
America are still the top basketball nation, many teams within the NBA recruit
from other countries. As well as this, there are many nations that have medalled
at previous Olympic Games such as Brazil, Spain and Argentina, whose men’s
basketball team won the Olympics back in Athens 2004. A more commonly
recognised example within modern society is seeing people from other nations
wearing American sports merchandise, such as baseball caps and American
football jerseys.

If one were to look at globalisation in
modern sport from an economic perspective, one may argue that is a means of
bringing economy and society together. However, a major weakness of this is
that people may become more materialistic and consumeristic, whilst sporting
custom and tradition is overlooked. People lose their sense of patriotism and
national pride as they instead become immersed by brands and company logos,
such as Nike and Adidas. Klein (2000)
describes Nike as a transcendent ‘superbrand’ that took branding to another
level, beginning to focus principally on brands and brand management, believing
that while products are made in factories, a brand is made in the mind
and bought by the consumer. Goldman and Papson (1998) assert that Nike
symbolizes the globalisation of both sports and commodity culture. This form of
globalisation, in the words of Jarvie (2006) would be classed as economic
globalisation as Nike valued profit over human rights as a means of producing
their merchandise. As well as economic globalisation, Jarvie discusses other
forms of globalisation in relation to modern sport. These are: political and cultural
globalisation. Political globalisation is a reference to the increasing number
and power of international sporting governing bodies that influence or govern
international sport. Examples of these include Internationale de Football
Association (FIFA) and the International Association of Athletics Federations
(IAAF). Cultural globalisation “refers to the growth and exchange of cultural
practices between nations and peoples” (p.150). The internet and television are
the two main mediums through which Cultural globalisation is being used as both
are accessible to the global population. People see sporting behaviours and
actions on TV and the internet of elite performers, thus influencing them to mimic
what they see. In terms of modern sport, an example would be Neymar, who plays Brazilian
‘samba’ style football. Because of the beautiful style of play that Neymar
adopts, many players attempt to copy his playing style. This is an example of
sport being used to attract global audiences.

Ultimately, if we look at the intersections between nationalism and
globalisation, many will argue that there is a link between the two as some
nations attempt to enforce their cultural, social and political values upon
other countries. In terms of sport and nationalism, it could be argued that due
to the increase in globalisation within modern sport, nationalism has weakened over
time. To an extent, many nations, such as the USA, become engrossed with
globalising their sports as a means of making revenue, that local and national
traditions, as well as a sense of national pride and identity, is often lost. In
modern sport, it is clear that there is an obvious connection between nationalism
and globalisation. Both concepts can be perceived as positive or negative, but
whatever your viewpoint may be, it is important to remember that both nationalism
and globalisation have a multitude of effects on all of our lives, whether we
are aware of them or not.