Sport Is Neither Solely a Vehicle for Cultural Homogeneity nor a Medium for National Resistance; It Is Both. Discuss Giving Examples of Sports Role in Both Globalisation Processes and the Reproduction of National Identities.
The essay title alludes to the fact that sport has been used as a vehicle for both cultural homogeneity and national resistance. Cultural homogeneity is when people/nations embrace the same culture (‘the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively’) (Allen, 1990, p. 282) throughout the nation/world. National resistance is when people within a nation (‘an imagined community based on … race, ethnicity, language, religion (etc)’ (Jarry and Jarry, 2000, p. 403) oppose the majority or authority ideology.
Globalisation in the essay will be defined as ‘the key idea of one single world or human society, in which all regional, national and local elements are tied together in the interdependent whole’’ (Holton, 1998, cited in Bairner, 2001, pp. 6) and will follow the ‘transformationalist theory’ that globalisation is caused by multiple factors (Hargreaves in Sugden and Tomlinson, 2002; Brookes, 2002). National identity is the way in which a nation wants to be recognised by its own members and others.
The essay will discuss how sport is used to demonstrate these in particular reference to cultural imperialism, cultural change, politics, national identity and international relations, and finally commercialism. During British cultural imperialism, sports were taught as a method of educating colonies to reproduce British values and national identities and thus sport was used as a vehicle for cultural homogeneity (Stoddart, 2006). For example, to encourage Nigerian Unity to the British Crown, ‘Empire Days’ were held which had a sporting focus (Bairner, 2001).
However, even though sports were accepted and played, the rules were changed so that countries could put their own national twist on these sports and avoid hegemony and the British hopes of cultural homogenisation throughout the empire (Barnier, 2001). From a Marxist perspective, the colonising British (bourgeoisie) used sport to establish social and political unity because it distracted the colonies (the proletariat) from the injustices in their lives caused by colonisation. Sport was embraced by the colonies themselves because it was seen by them as apolitical, i. e during sport the class structure was not so evident.
However Paul Buhle (cited in Hughson, 1998) suggests that although cricket proved to be the civilising agent in the Caribbean colonies it was in turn also used by them for national resistance. This was initially achieved through a different style of play and secondly and more importantly, through superior play by the colonial teams compared with their British counterparts. The West Indies also used their cricketing success against the British ‘as a symbol of their emerging independence and autonomy in relation to one of the countries that colonised their homelands in the past’ (Coakley, 2001, p. 95). These examples demonstrate sport being used as both a vehicle for cultural homogeneity and varying levels of national resistance. Houlihan (1994) argues that the impact of worldwide change to a sport by nations once under colonial influence is directly proportional to the size, wealth and power of that country. Poor dependent states affect on the worldwide view of the game is seen to be miniscule whereas the richer ex colonies such as Australia have had more impact. Continuing with the cricket example we can look at a number of changes to the sport since colonisation.
The British cricketing authorities (MCC) had resisted change to the format and financials of the sport for many years. However Kerry Packer created a more highly paid commercialised alternative ‘Rebel Tour’ to which many of the best players turned to (Cashmore, 2000). Eventually the British establishment embraced the Packer format and the game moved forwards. Subsequent to that the Australians created one day cricket which has since spread throughout cricketing nations. Again the British Authorities had missed the need for change to a more modern game.
More recently the Indian Cricket Super League has taken relatively lowly paid cricketers (compared with the financial packages other sporting stars are able to attract) and is challenging to move them away from contracts solely with their national teams to the new highly paid and commercially driven 20/20 format of the game. All these are clear manifestations of colonial impact on the globalisation of sport and demonstrate how over time as Britain has decreased its control and power over colonial countries those countries have in turn gained power over sport and their own national identities.
Sport has not only been used by the British elite classes in colonisation but also to effect change in Britain itself. During the 19th Century the British Government had a policy to decrease the levels of social disorder and crime. Consequently the Government tried to implement strategies to ban particularly violent sports, which was later known as the ‘rationalisation of sport. An example was the banning of barbaric sports such as cock fighting and bear baiting, however this was met with underground resistance ‘so that a plebeian tradition of popular disreputable sports and recreations survived and each developed further in some cases’ (Hargreaves in Allison 1986, p. 246). This example demonstrates how the government made a change away from violent pastimes to reflect their desire to have a less violent society (cultural homogeniety) but was met with a defiant reaction from the populace (national resistance).
Sport has also been used as a tool for nations, groups and individuals to affect political change. Within Ireland, political groups have used sport to ‘undermine official nationalism by linking itself to sub-nation-state national identities and providing a vehicle for the expression of alternative visions of the nation’ (Cronin and Mayall, 1998; MacClancy, 1996; Mongan, 1996 cited in Barnier, 2001, p. 18) i. e sport has been used to challenge the official political vision of the state.
For example, in 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was associated with the Militantly Nationalist Irish Republican Brotherhood who would not allow members of their association to play traditional English sports as one of their stances against the English (Houlihan, 1994) thus ‘Gaelic sports… very existence is a key reminder of cultural divisions. ’ (Sugden and Barnier in Allison, 1986, p. 115-116) Alternatively sport has been used as a tool of resistance to these hegemonic pressures by social groups, this will be discussed in relation to racial, disability and gender inequalities.
The use of sport as a level playing field has allowed ethnic minorities to demonstrate that they can be superior to the ethnic majority within a nation. In the 1960s in America there was a very racist culture however in the 1966 Division I NCAA Championship Final Coach Don Haskins (Texas Western University) in an unprecedented move played five black players against the five white players of the opposing team, Kentucky University. Texas Western won the game, which was known as one of he greatest sporting upsets of all time, as people previously believed that a white player had to be on court because the black players would run amok if they weren’t. This led to the popular white view changing of black African Americans and led to greater racial harmony within Western Texas as well as throughout the United States, thus cultural homogeneity became more evident as peoples’ racial views became increasingly similar. This was evident in the increase in acceptance of African-Americans in teams, for example between 1966 and 1985, the average number of blacks on college teams jumped from two and a half to nine. Fitzpatrick, 2003). Individuals as well as groups can also use sport as a vehicle for messaging their political motives. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed the ‘Black Power Salute’ on the medal podium, as a protest against racial discrimination of Black African Americans in the United States. (Othello Harris in Riordan and Kruger, 1999) Cathy Freeman, who performed her lap of honour with both the Aboriginal and Australian flags after winning gold in the 400m at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, thus demonstrating her desire to unite both the Aboriginal and mainstream Australian cultures.
These examples demonstrate both national resistance and cultural homogenisation based on the athlete’s motives. The traditional Victorian womens’ role in society has been to cook, clean and raise children, sport was seen as a masculine endeavour and something that women should not participate in. However women have been fighting these prejudices by performing equally or better than men. For example Fanny Blankers Koen, mother of two, won four gold medals in the 1948 Olympic Games (Cashmore, 2000). This demonstrated that women could also perform at the top of their field and win numerous medals even having bared children.
Performances like Koens led to changes in the Law such as Title IX in the USA 1972, which stated that no person should be discriminated due to their gender and thus led to increased gender integration within the United States with many countries following suit such as the United Kingdoms Sex Discrimination Act in 1979. Throughout time those that are disabled have been discriminated against. Since the founding of disabled sport by Guttmann in 1900, sport has been used by the disabled as a means of acceptance and a method of showing superiority to the able-bodied.
Although there are high levels of ableism throughout the media no-one can deny the superior performances by athletes such as Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius although having been amputated at the knee has set times that qualify him to participate in able–bodied competitions. These examples demonstrate that minority groups can achieve the same levels of success and better the dominant majorities in sport. As a result of this majorities have had to sit-up and take notice of these athletes and what they stand for.
This has led to changes in society as people have come to change their opinions of others leading to higher levels of social acceptance and an increased cultural homogeneity as people throughout the world have shared kindred opinions. A win or a loss in sport can be the difference between a nation producing cultural homogeneity or national resistance this is because sporting competition between nations can create extremely powerful nationalistic emotions within people that other political tools cannot (Allison, 1986).
If a nation performs poorly in a major international sporting competition sometimes the populace reflect badly through negative and un-patriotic undermining conversation but conversely the feel-good factor when a nation performs particularly well can be reflected in the nations work-force and productivity as well as underpinning its economy. In an article by Nugent and Hajibagheri (2009) it is estimated that whoever wins the 2010 Soccer World Cup will gain up to a 10% boost in their economy. If the majority of the populace have similar patriotic feelings it can swiftly develop cultural homogenisation within that country.
However if overdone these nationalistic feelings can promote jingoism and promote national resistance to other countries globally. An example of media xenophobia was on the day of the 1996 World Cup Soccer Semi-Finals between England and Germany the Daily Mirror published the headline ‘Achtung Surrender. For you fritz, ze Euro ’96 Championship is over’ (Brookes, 2002, p. 95). The negative rivalry between England and Germany across all sports continually acts as a reminder of the wars between our countries not allowing us to move on in a positive manner.
A counter argument to this is that sport between nations is also used to promote international friendship. For example the Olympic Charter states that sport should be performed under the ‘Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. ’ (Olympic Charter, 2007) However, Espy (cited in Taylor, 1986, p. 234) challenges the Olympic Charter as he believes ‘the modern games have been utilised not so much for international fair play, peace and understanding as for national self-interest, survival and pride. Thus confirming that there are still many cultural differences highlighted through sport that would suggest sport can be used as a vehicle to resist cultural homogeneity. Some political establishments have recognised sport can be associated with the ‘institutionalisation of skill and prowess’ (Allison, 1986) and great performance in sport can lead to international acknowledgement. Sport can be used by countries to express national identity with the objective of gaining international recognition.
This was a political strategy used by both the Nazis and Communists. When the Nazis first came to power, sport was changed within German schools so that children did not compete against each other but instead enjoyed sport together, for example by ripping up the ‘British inspired’ running tracks creating national unity (Kruger, 1999). However by the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the Nazis had put the tracks back in place as Hitler wanted a first class team to demonstrate Aryan Supremacy (Kruger in Riordan and Kruger 1999).
It could be argued that sport was used for national resistance to the capitalist and communist nations, on the other hand it could be argued that Hitler’s ultimate aim once he had conquered the world with the Aryan race was to use sport to promote cultural homogeneity similarly to how he had in schools at the beginning of his dictatorship. However within this scenario other nations were using the games as an opportunity to resist Hitler’s ideology.
A famous example of this was the outstanding performances by an African – American Jesse Owens who won four Olympic gold medals including the key 100m sprint (Cashmore, 2000). This somewhat undermined Hitler’s message of the Aryan Race taking over the world and was a clear example of national resistance to the Fascist attempt to achieve cultural homogeneity. Sport was also used to create unity between Fascist countries with the establishment of the European Sports Federation in 1942 which was established to co-ordinate Fascist sport (Kruger in Riordan and Kruger, 1999).
The purpose of the federation was to enable Fascist countries to compete against each other across a range of sports and was a clear indictment of how important sport was as a rallying call to the masses by the leaders of those Fascist Empires. In the early 20th Century the emerging Eastern European Communist parties’ used sports policy as an integral part of their political agendas. At the time, the German Democratic Republic used 2% of their GNP to fund sport each year (Allison, 1986).
With a population of only seventeen million they were placed in the top three countries in the Olympic medal table in four consecutive Olympic Games (1968 to 1980) (Riordan in Riordan and Kruger, 1999). The German Democratic Republics creation of what was known as the ‘East German Machine’ was used to display superiority of Communism over Capitalism and thus National Resistance to Capitalist influences but was perceived as too controlling and very negatively by the Western World. Sport appeared to be the only tool Communism could offer to demonstrate its attractions over Capitalism.
The tool proved affective because when the German Democratic Republic was first created it was not accepted by other nations throughout the world, for example denial of visas to the USA and its NATO Allies were made thirty-five times between 1957-1967 (Riordan in Riordan and Kruger, 1999). However, as a result of its growing sporting success ,the German Democratic Republic could not be ignored and were finally accepted into the United Nations in 1973 (Riordan in Riordan and Kruger, 1999).
This congruence into the United Nation established a degree of cultural homogeneity as people became more accepting of the Communist Ideology. However, although the East Germans appeared very successful at that time, the spread of their political views to countries that were not communist was mostly unsuccessful. For example very few nations agreed to support the tit-for-tat Soviet Union boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles, Olympic Games compared with the sixty-six nations that supported the USA in their boycott of the 1980 Moscow, Olympic Games (Riordan in Riordan and Kruger, 1999).
It can therefore be argued that western capitalist culture was more influential throughout the world than the communist culture at that time and that cultural homogeniety was only superficially achieved. It should be acknowledged that sport on a world stage is a powerful weapon for political ideologies. However, ultimately the rest of the world resisted the underling communist ideology and thus sport allowed the GDR to show only an artificial face of success. In the 21st Century the most modern form of communism is emerging from China, it has a rapidly growing economy, with GDP of 4,326. 9 billion in 2008 which is continually increasing (there was a 9% growth in 2008) and population of 1,325. 64 billion people (The world bank group, 2009) China is believed to have used the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as a world stage for international recognition as a global ‘superpower’ (Dong and Magan, 2008) and to gain positive publicity for the nation’s political, economic and cultural infrastructure (Jorn-Carsten and Duggan, 2008) which had previously been shunned by the rest of the world.
The quality of the Beijing Games was argued to be the most spectacular ever held. Although Communisms track record against capitalism has not shown any wins yet, the sheer size and magnitude as well as its growing polarity and wealth means China has a lot more favourable odds compared to communist nations before it. Thus it means that western cultures may soon be challenged and eventually be overturned by the emergence of Communist China as a growing world force. Nations have not been the only manipulators of sport to affect their own ends.
Increasingly sport is being used as a vehicle for corporate cultural homogeneity through commercialisation and globalisation. In more modern times commercialism is believed to have had an ever increasing impact on sport, influencing changes in rules, format and profile. After the 1984 Olympic Games Peter Ueberroth (responsible for organising the first commercialised Olympic Games) believed that the growing commercialism of sport led to a change of focus from politics to consumerism and that the Olympics were now characterised by athletic-economic rather than athletic-political.
John Horan stated that ‘Its not the Free World vs Communism anymore. Now you take sides with sneaker companies. Now everybody looks at the Olympics as Nike versus Reebok’’ (in Coakley, 2001, pp. 401). Thus it is believed that sport is no longer characterised by competition between nations but by competitions between multi-national companies.
As multi-national organisations continue to globalise their services and products throughout the world, supported by major advances in technology, their customers also see parallel international branding exercises through a variety of sports related activities, merchandising, sponsorships, endorsements and ownership. The social acceptance and importance of sport to the populace makes it a preferred route to advertise global corporate messages. A thirty second add during the superbowl is now worth more than $1. 5 million (Cashmore, 2000).
These adverts are watched by people from all over the world. This advertising, packaging and merchandising means that increasingly the same products are being found in all corners of the globe, for example, wherever you are in the world someone within twenty feet of you will be wearing a Nike product (Cashmore, 2000) as such it is believed by many that ‘the differences between nation states have been substantially eroded and that the global, economic, political and cultural integration is, if not complete, then certainly well-advanced’ (Walters, 1995, cited in Rowe et al, pp. 20). Thus the international commercialism of sport has led to globalisation of products leading to cultures becoming increasingly similar. Amateur sport is dying out as professionalism grows due to increasing commercialism of sport. Commercialism has led to increasing sponsorship and endorsement leading to Riordan (cited in Allison, 1986) arguing that there is no longer a focus by the athlete to represent their country but instead to sign multi-million pound sponsorship and endorsement contracts.
This may lead to a conflict of interest between athletes and spectators as spectators are more interested in national competitions and performance compared to athletes who are more interested in commercial competitions and financial reward. As home teams are no longer represented by athletes from that town/city it is leading to fans no longer indentifying their teams and players with ‘the languages of communal traditions and loyalties (these) are increasingly supplemented by corporate images and the discourse of consumer choice’ (Whitson, 1998, pp. 60)
In North America there is a huge focus on franchise sports teams competing against each other which represent a ‘quasi-international status’ (Barnier, 2001) rather than international competition. For example, in the National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar players from all over the world compete in the highest level of basketball the result of which is seen to be more important than any international games or national rankings in the sport. Likewise in India the advancement of shorter and more dynamic 20/20 cricket game has led to a new marketplace and new spectators that hitherto had not been interested in the sport.
In the future, this form of Americanisation may spread to other countries and lead to spectators of a variety of sports becoming less interested in international competitions and as such sport may no longer be thought of as a display of national identity as spectators become more interested in commercialised franchise sport between teams. In conclusion there are numerous arguments and evidence that can be used to support notions for or against sports use as a vehicle for cultural homogenisation and national identity.
Globalizing impulses have had little resistance and a much greater effect in the past century on the levels of cultural homogenisation through the increase of communication, sponsorship and ownership of sport by multi-national companies. However there is much more debate and controversy surrounding cultural hegemony and counter-cultural hegemonic influences. Sport has had the most impact in examples where the oppressed (minority) have achieved cultural homogeneity despite the national resistance of the majority.
This is demonstrated through the growing acceptance of ethnic minorities, women and the disabled in society in relatively short-periods of time. This contrasts with less impact demonstrated where the majority (oppressor) try and enforce cultural homogeneity on the minority oppressed. For example during cultural imperialism the British oppressors came across resistance by the colonies to sports and in the end this led to colonies being given back their independence. Another example is the rationalisation of sport, which although on the surface appears successful there are still ‘underground arbaric sports’ occurring on a regular basis. Finally those nations that have tried to enforce their political ideologies upon each other have been largely unsuccessful ultimately ending in the collapse of many of these states such as the GDR. Ultimately this essay has identified that cultural homogeneity is primarily affected by the growing increase in commercialism which is fuelled by globalising impulses and also developed through politics and expressions of national identity through sport. Alternatively the primary factors affecting national resistance appear to be the constant political battles within and between nations.
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