In the society we live in today, sport isperceived as an influential aspect of many people’s lives. Regardless ofwhether it is played recreationally, professionally or not at all, modern sporthas transformed into a global phenomenon that now, with the various different advancementsin sponsorships, media coverage and technology, is not only capable of thingssuch as enhancing athletic performance, promoting healthy active lifestyles andgenerating revenue, but also amalgamating and divaricating people on both anational and global magnitude. In this essay, I will be discussing the originsof sport and olympism and how it was evolved over time, the profoundcommercialisation of sport on both a national and subsequently a global scale,as well as the impacts of both nationalism and globalisation and theirrelationships with modern sport.Before the Olympics was revolutionized byBaron Pierre de Coubertin in the late 19thcentury into what Jarvie (2006) describes as a “global sportscompetition”, it was originally a religious festival staged on the ancientplains of Olympia, in the city of Elis. The ancient Olympic Games were held inhonour and celebration of Zeus, king of the gods, and people from all over theGreek world would come over to spectate, rejoice and take part.
Unlike theModern Olympic Games, where the emphasis is to compete and triumph within therules and regulations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the ancientGreeks were engrossed with the concept of developing themselves as physicallyfit human beings and weren’t inhibited by any sort of rules or regulations. Asa means of physically enhancing themselves, they would engage in physicalactivities such as running, shot put, javelin, long jump, pankration andequestrian events, all events that would require the athlete to exhibit skillsthat 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 tothree days. The games were extended again to cover five days. These are allexamples of how globalisation in sport has significantly increased over time asthe modern Olympic Games are now just over two weeks long as a means ofaccommodating the plethora of sports and events that are now a part of thegames, as well as the roots of the games gradually changing over time from areligious celebration within a community to an internationally recognisedsporting event.This transformation of the games, inparticular its emphasis and philosophy, was instigated by French historian andeducator Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a man whosevision and political skill, according to Christopher Hill, “led to the revivalof the Olympic Games which had been practised in antiquity” (Hill 1996). Havingfounded the International Olympic Committee in 1894, de Coubertin idealized theOlympic Games as the ultimate ancient athletic competition (Hill 1996). Themodern Olympic Games is an amphitheatre that combines sporting prowess,globalisation and national identity as it is televised and watched on a globalscale, where athletes represent their countries, either individually or as ateam, on what is without a doubt the biggest stage in the world of modernsport.
According to Maguire (2002), a nation is a “human community thatacquired rational consciousness”. On a basic level, a nation is a group ofpeople that all share the same beliefs and views, which one may argue createsthis sense of national identity. Along with these mutual beliefs comes certain’nation-specific’ sports and to some extent, shapes the perspective of anentire nation. For example, if you are from East African countries such as Kenyaor Ethiopia, then the commonly held stereotype is that you must excel at middleand long distance running. The commercialisation and globalisation of modernsport arguably contributes to and fuels the validity of this stereotype as whenwe watch world marathons or cross country races, it is predominantly eastAfricans at the front and subsequently topping the medal tally. In addition tothis, the commercialisation and the amount of money now involved in modernsport has arguably influenced the attitude of these East African countries. Becausethese countries are less economically developed, they live a “more natural wayof 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.
Thisis because their attitude to running differs from other nations; they seerunning as something that is fun or as a means of meeting their transportneeds. Moreover, their running is done effortlessly and without intention, andundoubtedly without government funding, coaching or scientifically derivedtraining programmes. This means they are more likely to take on the commitmentas it is something that is innate to them and their national culture. However, this is not the case for allcountries as many are globally known for several different sports, such as USAwho are famous for sports such as track and field, basketball, Americanfootball and baseball. None of these sports are the sole national sport of theUSA, and it is evident to see that the sports associated with particularnations and their national identities varies depending on the different social,cultural and political contexts at the time and are not necessarily dictated bytradition 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 constructionas society itself changes in unison with its divergent contexts. Due to thesecontexts changing over time, many would argue that the concept of nationalismis therefore difficult to comprehend fully. Grant Jarvie (2006, p.
113) statesthat “general discussions of nationalism and sport are often problematicbecause of the ‘slipperiness’ of the term” and that “nationalism is perhapsmore complex than the conceptual tools we have at our disposal”. He then goeson to present us with four different approaches to nationalism: Primordialist,Modernist, Statist and Political Mythologist. He argues that a Primordialist viewof nationalism is that it is a “product of ethnicity that can be rooted inhistory” (p.113), a view which Rogers Brubaker (1996) dismisses as “a long deadhorse that writers on ethnicity and nationalism continue to flog”. In contrastto Brubaker’s view, there are many modern critics that recognise thesignificance of the Primordialist interpretation, as well as the role that thisposition may play.
Hugo Marcos-Marné (2015) considered primordialism as “representingthe opposite end of the spectrum to constructivism”, a continuum he saw asuseful in reviewing the analytical framework for the study of nationalism andethnicity, though pointing out that pure primordialism is “a difficult positionto hold”, one with which hardly any scholars identify. The second interpretation of nationalismthat Jarvie (2006) identifies is a Modernist interpretation, a view that arguesthat nationalism is “a product of the modern age” (p.113), as well ascontemporary perceptions and contexts.
Moreover, if we were to look atnationalism from a statist perspective, one may argue that “nationalism itself,more than anything else, is associated with the idea of the state” (p.113). Statistsargue that sport is utilised by the state to accomplish forms of stateidentity, in a similar way to a modernist view. The final interpretation ofnationalism that is propagated by Jarvie (2006) is a Political Mythologists, aviewpoint that consists of abstract or allegorical symbols relating to nationalrepresentation, thus allowing a country to share a sense of national harmonyand togetherness.
A good example of this interpretation in sport would be thecrest of the England national football and cricket teams, as the three lions onthe England teams kit are representative of the Royal Arms of England; as wellas lions being frequently depicted in English heraldry as symbols of braveryused to describe valiant warriors in battle. Therefore, wearing the three lionsfills the people of England with immense national pride, as one may argue thatit binds modern England with Medieval England and connects us with ourancestors, thus bringing about this sense of national identity. Despite theobvious positives of Nationalism, such as its indorsement of traditional valuesand challenging the principles of Colonialism, there are also many negativesthat can come with Nationalism. Whereas patriotism is solely about one’s lovefor his or her country, there are many cases where the love of your own nation haselapsed and been replaced by hatred of other nations and cultures. A famousexample would be Adolf Hitler, who in Michael Billig’sbook ‘Banal Nationalism’ (1995), claims he was defending Germany against the Jewish,arguing that the Jews were in fact the attackers. As mentioned previously, there arevarious different views of Nationalism, but Jarvie (2006, p.114-115) also goeson to explain the two different types of Nationalism that exist: Civic andEthnic.
Civic Nationalism is primarily linked with territory and citizenship,whereas on the other hand, Ethnic Nationalism is connected mainly with ties ofblood. He highlights a significant problem with concepts such as Civic andEthnic Nationalism, stating “that they are used to describe certain types ofabstract social relationships, yet what is crucial is not the level ofabstraction or meaning, but the underlying relationship to the reality withinwhich the experience is lived out” (p.115). The main contrast between the twotypes of Nationalism is that your ethnicity is something that is predetermined,whereas your citizenship is open to change. Within modern society, we aresurrounded by people that come from a range of different backgrounds, culturesand ethnicities.
The main consequence of having these two types of Nationalismis that many native countries attempt to keep the two separate. In modernsport, this can be a major issue as Jarvie (2006) states that there are “formsof racism embedded within either absolute definition of Nationalism” (p.115).
An example of this is in football, particularly the Russian Football PremierLeague, where supporters act hostile towards black players and even go as faras 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 monkeyimpressions and even bananas thrown at them. Because of incidents like these,UEFA, the administrative body for association football in Europe, haveimplemented a “say no to racism” campaign that aims to raise awareness ofracial intolerance and discrimination in European football. Furthermore, majorinternational sporting events are a good example of how sport can be used tobring a nation together, as well as amass inspiration and encouragemulticulturalism.
For example, during the World Cup, people put up nationalflags in the windows of their homes or cars as a means of showing their supportof their country. In addition to this, sporting success can assist massively inthe relations between sport and the nations. A recent example of this was inthe 2016 UEFA European Championships, where Wales, a nation who are more famousfor Rugby Union, unexpectedly made it to the semi finals of the tournament.Even though they did not win the competition, the unanticipated overperformanceof the team united the entire nation, whether they were football fans or not astheir country’s performance filled them with a sense of national pride andidentity.As well as increased nationalism,globalisation in sport has increased massively due to mainstream sports such asfootball, rugby and cricket being more accessible as a result of the increased televisionand media coverage. Globalisation, in the words of Mattelart (2000), isdescribed as “a hegemonic role in organising anddecoding the meaning of the world” and is a fundamental componentfor top-class sport, both team and individual sports. Massive transnational corporationssuch as McDonald’s, Sony and Nissan invest large amounts of money into sport inan attempt to capture a global audience.
Just like nationalism, globalisationis a very disputed, abstract notion and depending on what standpoint you take, willhave a different meaning for everyone. Many different sociologists of sport, aswell as other social scientists writing on sport, have used concepts andtheories of globalisation in order to better their understanding of theincreasing tendency of sport to operate on a global scale (Harvey and Houle1994; Houlihan 1994; Maguire 1999; Miller et al. 2001). In one way or another,whether it be positively or negatively, globalisation is affecting everyone ona world-wide magnitude. Additionally, some may argue that globalisation is thecause for sovereignty and independence, but others may disagree and say that itis 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 anew one. Moreover, there have been many impacts of globalisation in sport, suchas the increase in global sporting competitions like the FIFA World Cup and theOlympic Games, the worldwide commercialisation of modern sport, as well as the massgrowth in sporting consumption and consumerism. Essentially, one may argue thatsport has become a business rather than a game; a commodity that is bought andsold.
With all of these aspects in mind, globalisation has not only used sportto bring the world together, but perhaps more importantly, has thus made sport easilyaccessible to the masses as there are now untold chances and opportunities toget involved in sport, whether it be to play, spectate, volunteer or coach. Furthermore,there is arguably a relationship between nationalism and globalisation as nationsstrive to make their national sports accessible in other countries. Asmentioned previously by Jarvie (2006), there are “forms of racism embeddedwithin either absolute definition of Nationalism”, meaning that some nationswouldn’t be too keen on accepting and playing foreign sports. In contrast tothis, some may argue that this internationalization of sports fanaticism has comeabout as a result of globalisation. For example, sports such as basketball andbaseball used to only be popular in the US, and cricket used to only be played withinthe UK.
However, over time, globalisation caused sport popularities to rise. Manypeople now associate cricket with nations such as Pakistan, India andAustralia, whilst basketball is televised and played all over the world. WhilstAmerica are still the top basketball nation, many teams within the NBA recruitfrom other countries. As well as this, there are many nations that have medalledat previous Olympic Games such as Brazil, Spain and Argentina, whose men’sbasketball team won the Olympics back in Athens 2004. A more commonlyrecognised example within modern society is seeing people from other nationswearing American sports merchandise, such as baseball caps and Americanfootball jerseys.If one were to look at globalisation inmodern sport from an economic perspective, one may argue that is a means ofbringing economy and society together.
However, a major weakness of this isthat people may become more materialistic and consumeristic, whilst sportingcustom and tradition is overlooked. People lose their sense of patriotism andnational 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 anotherlevel, beginning to focus principally on brands and brand management, believingthat while products are made in factories, a brand is made in the mindand bought by the consumer. Goldman and Papson (1998) assert that Nikesymbolizes the globalisation of both sports and commodity culture. This form ofglobalisation, in the words of Jarvie (2006) would be classed as economicglobalisation as Nike valued profit over human rights as a means of producingtheir merchandise.
As well as economic globalisation, Jarvie discusses otherforms of globalisation in relation to modern sport. These are: political and culturalglobalisation. Political globalisation is a reference to the increasing numberand power of international sporting governing bodies that influence or governinternational sport. Examples of these include Internationale de FootballAssociation (FIFA) and the International Association of Athletics Federations(IAAF). Cultural globalisation “refers to the growth and exchange of culturalpractices between nations and peoples” (p.
150). The internet and television arethe two main mediums through which Cultural globalisation is being used as bothare accessible to the global population. People see sporting behaviours andactions on TV and the internet of elite performers, thus influencing them to mimicwhat 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 Neymaradopts, many players attempt to copy his playing style. This is an example ofsport being used to attract global audiences.Ultimately, if we look at the intersections between nationalism andglobalisation, many will argue that there is a link between the two as somenations attempt to enforce their cultural, social and political values uponother countries. In terms of sport and nationalism, it could be argued that dueto the increase in globalisation within modern sport, nationalism has weakened overtime. To an extent, many nations, such as the USA, become engrossed withglobalising their sports as a means of making revenue, that local and nationaltraditions, as well as a sense of national pride and identity, is often lost. Inmodern sport, it is clear that there is an obvious connection between nationalismand globalisation.
Both concepts can be perceived as positive or negative, butwhatever your viewpoint may be, it is important to remember that both nationalismand globalisation have a multitude of effects on all of our lives, whether weare aware of them or not.