Last Updated 10 Mar 2020

Sociology of Sport

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To start with, this essay cites Stan Goff(2008), a former Army Special Forces soldier, who asserted: “The military is a violent macho culture and so as are many sports. Warfare did much to shape the gender roles that now dominate our culture, even those aspects of the male script that are no longer recognizable as martial”. Indeed, the relationship between governments and sport has often been an integral part of the politics pursued by a certain contry. The power of sport articulated in rallying people round big events, has served as an intermediary between the society and the state.

According to Allison(1993) the essence of government involvement in sports vary from one community and society to the next, and government intervenes for one of the following reasons:Firstly, to safeguard the public order;Secondly, to maintain fitness and physical abilities among citizens;Thirdly, to promote prestige and power of group, community, or nation;Fourthly, to promote a sense of identity, belonging, and unity among citizens;Fifthly, to reproduce values consistent with the dominant ideology in a community or society;Sixthly, to increase support for political leaders and government;Lastly, to promote economic development in the community or society.

In modern days, the emerging power of terrorism and its organization has resulted in enhancement of activities incorporated into promoting militarism especially in powerful and wealthy nations as U. S. and Great Britain. What is more, with the help of media, “sport along with other popular cultural practices is being co-opted into a wider strategy that positions the military, government, media and citizens in a joint ceremony of supportive affirmation of militarism”(Kelly, 2010).

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In particular, displays of nationalism in sport have been consolidated by usually government-controlled media, which influence the audience via spectacular productions of national cultural symbols, and hero-ficates so called “War on Terror” process. (Butterworth, 2008;Kelly, 2010). This essay suggests that the increasing propensity to promote militarism as part of important sports activities is rooted in the increasing commercialization and significance of sport for the citizens. In fact, the usage of sport as a tool to break a trail for militarism politics approval from the society is not an innovative approach at all. History shows a lot of examples that illustrate how authorities gain control on sport and use it as a source for disseminating a certain ideology.

For example, “In Franco’s Spain, particularly during the early years, football, just like other public institutions, was characterized by a high level of intervention by the authorities in its administration, organization, ownership and control, so the political regime of the country was reflected in the structures of the sport”(Duke;Crolley, 1996). Furthermore, Duke and Crolley(1996) reveals that administration of the football clubs at that time was in the hands of the military with presidents appointed by the regime. In the core of Franco’s actions towards sport, laid the promotion of a feeling of Spanish national identity and propagandizing Spanish nationalism.

Another example for utilization of sport for political and militaristic purposes in Spain in the last century is the Basque team that went on a tour in Eastern Europe and South America under the pretext that they were raising money and prestige(Duke;Crolley, 1996). Indeed, the real reason for these trips were the desire for spreading the political discourse of the Basque Country and gaining supporters, friends and sympathizers. To continue with the examples of sport being used as an instrument for militarism ideas in the past, the impact that communism had on sport in Eastern Europe took place in creating teams property of the military. An example for that are the clubs established in the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria and other countries from that part of Europe named with the initials “CSKA” standing for Central Sporting Club of the Army.

As reported by Sixsmith(2006) in Soviet Union those days, sport had been a real big deal of national prestige, so best players in regional leagues were all recruited and offered chance of playing for army instead of fighting for them. Likewise, CSKA Moscow were getting the best players who were to present the country on the field and by indirection the ideology of the government, which aimed to embed positive associations regarding the correlation of sport, military and the state in people’s minds. Now, CSKA Moscow football club is not a part of the military CSKA sports club, but still the Russian Ministry of Defense has shares in PFC CSKA Moscow. The militarization of the Bulgarian football club CSKA goes even more with naming the stadium “Stadium of the Bulgarian Army” manifesting for the importance of the army.

In addition, an interesting fact about CSKA Sofia is hat when the communism regime took over the power in Bulgaria in 1944, the official colour of the badge was changed from black to red emphasizing on the association that the red colour symbolizes aggression, red is the colour of the uniform of the Rome legions, The Red Planet is on the God of War and in socio-cultural context, red symbolizes communism. What is more, a five-pointed star was chosen to be placed on the badge, symbolizing the military power and the war. Equally significant example of a government’s use of sport to promote its own political ideology occurred in Nazi Germany in 1936(Coakley, 2001). According to Coakley(2001), Adolph Hitler was especially interested in using the games for reaffirming the ideology of “Nordic supremacy” and decided to devote considerable resources to the preparation of German athletes. Consequently, they won eighty-nine medals and literally outweighed the opposition in the face of U. S..

All presented examples from the past lead to the perception that popular cultural activities such as sport(Kelly, 2010) and organizations related to sport were supporting different dominant ideologies and directly as well as by indirection-militaristic actions. Nowadays, the relationship between sport and the military continue to be strong and following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, a system emerged in which sport culture moved beyond its customary role as an ideological support for the state(King, 2008). Above all, according to Stempel(2006:82) the so called “Bush doctrine” marked a new imperial doctrine that asserted the right of the U. S to attack nation-states that have not attacked, threatened to attack, or even secretly planned to attack the U. S. or its allies.

To clarify his position, Bush(2002) stated in one of his famous popular speeches regarding U. S. ilitary convictions that:”If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. ” Respectively, the increasing military interference of U. S. in Iraq and Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks provoked some questions about the political correctness of these actions. , as reported by Manningham-Buller(2010), despite years of occupation an increasing realization of continued political instability is evident and even the threats of terrorism has increased than decreased towards the ally of U. S-Great Britain. Therefore, the righteousness of militarism had to be promoted not only by the fear factor, but also through involving the symbols of national militarism in people’s culture interests.

For that purpose, the president of U. S and its administration have decided to focus on sports activities, because sport is believed to be close to the heart of people all over. A significant tool for implementation of the Bush administration strategy in sport is considered to be the National Football League which is one of the strongest sports brands in U. S and attracts more people every week than a presidential election could draw no matter that it is once conducted in four years(King, 2008). King(2008) also stresses that professional football is a prominent feature of the American popular culture and well-established vehicle for the circulation of dominant norms and values.

The relationship between NFL and the city of New York, where the terrorist attacks were made perpetrated, included multimillion dollar commitment to enourage tourism, donating money to the city’s September 11 commemoration, the creation of the NFL Disaster Relief Fund and culminated in 2002 when the in the augural Kickoff Live a spectacular festival with the participation of a lot of stars was held in Times Square(King, 2008). The same author argues(2008) that in time, the orientation of NFL projects towards helping the victims and the city itself changed to explicitly patriotic and militaristic projects carried out in collaboration with the Government. To clarify, the projects contained charitable activities implemented by NFL, for example, professional football players from the league were supposed to go visit injured warriors, official football equipment was to be delivered to the military and all of that was based on the Bush’s programme for associating militarism with sport.

Similar is the situation in UK, where in 2009-10 season, the Football League announced its season-long official partner to be “Help for Heroes” and also it celebrated a “helping heroes” week which took place in March, 2010(Kelly, 2010). Furthermore, during the Remembrance Day weekend, all English and Scottish League Football clubs were asked to wear a special Earl Haig red poppy on their shirts(Kelly, 2010). Subsequently, opponents of this discourse who were fans of Celtic raised banners against the red poppy and its symbolism, what later on was to be hugely criticized by the media.

The small minority of fans that dared to stand against the discourse were presented as traitors and in certain scale as criminals. In fact, the protest of the fans was istorted by media and presented in the light of the violation of the Remembrance Day which indeed was not the aim of the Celtic supporters. In general, every attempt for swerving from the discourse of militarism have been sharply stigmatized by the government and its instrument- the media. Truly, the popularizing of militarism in sport encompasses another major component, namely media. As reported by Coakley(2001:395):”Global media coverage has intensified and added new dimensions to the connection between sports and politics. ”. What is more, the same author(2001) suggests that U. S. viewers prefer nationalistic themes that underpinned U. S. values and that claimed U. S. global superiority.

Based on the assumption “us versus them” or “hero” versus “extremists”(Kelly, 2010) media in U. S. tries to create positive image of militarism through presenting it in the context of sport. Equally significant is what Stempel(2006:82) asserts:”Involvement in televised masculinist sports is robustly correlated with support for invading Iraq, the doctrine of preventive attacks, and strong patriotic feelings of the United States. The tie up with Fox TV for popularizing the ideology of “War on Terror” using Super Bowl and the Olympics, aimed to create awareness about “Operation Tribute to Freedom” which was the official name of the U. S. military campaign.

In particular, the pregame, halftime and postgame broadcastings took as a theme “Heroes, Hope and Homeland” , which emphasized on the rejuvenation on the national patriotitism, associating the necessity of the current “positive” discourse with some past military moments like the Cold War and the War in Vietnam. In highlighting the SuperBowl XXXVI broadcasting, McCartney(2008) admin of foxsports, announced:”In what is expected to be the most stirring, patriotic and emotionally charged Super Bowl broadcast ever, reflecting on the atrocities perpetrated on September 11 and the aftermath, FOX’ presentation will weave a compelling, cerebral and visceral mix of music and pageantry with down home football”.

The cultural producers at Fox Sports were focused on to follow the discursive construction and reproduction of national identity implementing two strategies:Firstly, dissimilation, by outlining the threatening and abject other, depending on the enemy, in 2002 for example was Afghanistan);Secondly, assimilation, which points out the selective remembering of the past presented by the broadcast(Silk, Falcous, 2005). Silk and Falcous(2005) continue with the analyzation of the Super Bowl XXXVI with taking into consideration the pregame show beginning, that started by showing two points on the screen-Afghanistan and Lousiana Superdome(the venue of Super Bowl 2002). Afterward, though the the main event was the game, numerous visits to Kandahar were made were Fox representatives along with the American Forces Network had gathered troops on active duty to watch the game in the desert.

Also soldiers from the troops were sending TV “postcards” to their family and friends which contributed to the inspiration of the national spirit and by indirection to the implantation of hatred towards the enemies. What is more, a retrospection of American soldiers lost in Vietnam was made to reiterate the effect of hero-ization of military forces, hence this image was juxtaposed with the image of footballers which created symbolic equalization between players and warriors. The remembering process, according to Bilig(1995), concurrently involves a process of collective forgetting in order to allow a nation celebrate its historical recency. Another example of the discourse of remembering the heroes is provided by Kelly(2010) who comments on the inter-dependent relationship between hero and extremist.

He(2010) suggests that if the term “hero” is used in connection to the military, it acts as a collocation and becomes synonymous with UK soldier, which results in indoctrinating the idea of “our boys” in the national psyche. On the contrary, the opponents of the war are classified as “extremist”, “unpatriotic” or “insurgents”. As Stempel(2006) asserts, sports are amongst the most explicit and mythologized public spectacles of competition, power and domination and consequently they become important sites where Americans are registering, managing, and shaping the complex feelings regarding their power position in the post terrorist attacks on 9/11 world. There are different ways in which a cultural institution as the TV can contribute to the promotion of a certain discourse and dominant ideology.

The justification and modification of war to be seen as righteous and necessary, finds place in Fox’s broadcastings. A major factor that articulated the connection between pride, legacy and sport in the pregame Super Bowl broadcast was the retelling of the “Declaration of Independence”. Fox used numerous famous personalities such as footballers, Hollywood stars and political officers, namely Donald Rumsfeld who was Secretary of state at that time, to announce that United States was united more than ever(Slik, M. and Falcous, M. , 2005). Fox’s presentation of the “Declaration of Independence” is stressed to be representative of the deployment of patriotic themes(Butterworth, 2008) and as Stempel(2006) defines “masculinist moral capital”.

In a critical discussion, Butterworth asserts that the usage of the Declaration, which is considered to be a cornerstone of the American civil religion, serves to renew American’s faith in that religion and exploits patriotism and militarism in ways that justify the mission of the “war on terror” and undermine the democratic values that this war pledges to defend. To continue with the selective recollection of past events from the archives of collective historical memories, Fox retold parts of of Abraham Lincoln speeches, through former Presidents of the U. S. such as Nancy Reagan standing in for her husband, Ronald Reagan. All these actions undertaken by the co-operation between the Government of U. S. and media reflected on the dissemination of nationalistic feelings amongst citizens.

In this line of thoughts, Stempel(2006) decided to use data form a nationally representative survey of 1048 Americans to show that in the summer of 2003, level of involvement in televised masculinist sports was correlated with support for the Iraq war and with strong patriotic feelings for the U. S.. In attempt to provide more clarity of the relationship between mass-mediated sports, gender, and militaristic nationalism, Stempel(2006) divided the analysis of this case into two main theories-critical feminism and figurational sociology mostly related with Norbert Elias. As an illustration of the concept of “critical feminism”, Burstyn(1999) argues that the erosion of and challenges to the systems of man domination have led to amplifying the presentation of masculine power in the popular culture, especially in televised sports.

Accordingly, the hypermasculine culture subsequently has been used for the purpose of building support for war. The second theory, originates from and has been an object of broad analyze of Norbert Elias(1897-1990), who defined a figuration as “a structure of mutually oriented and dependent people”(1978a:261). As reported by Murphy, Sheard and Waddington(2000), Elias criticized the separation of the individual from the society and therefore for him these two concepts refer to interconnected levels of the same human world. To clarify, the same authors(2000) suggest that the concept of figurations was developed to instill the idea that sociology focuses on people bonded together in dynamic constellation.

Like critical feminists, figurationalist, expect that those who are involved in the most masculinist and battlelike sports will be more likely to support the “war on terror” ideology and response to threats to national security(Stempel, 2006). In this line of thoughts, the alliance between U. S. Government and NFL ,as a representative of purely male and aggressive sport, is vital for the symbolic interpretation of war and sport in the United States. From all presented cases, it can be assumed that the involvement in televised masculinist sports powerfully interacts with the support for the military campaigns of certain countries, the doctrine of preventive attacks and strong patriotic feelings(Stempel, 2006).

By executing spectacular productions of national symbols as the national anthem, military flyovers and frequent calls to support the troops during games, media embeds in peoples’ minds the heroic image of the military and its soldiers(Butterworth, 2008). Based on the notion that both masculinity spot and military training are perceived by many as an example of what the real man should be, the similiraties between masculinist sport and militarism appear to be substantial. From this point of view, the Government involvement in sport regarding militarism tends to increase as long as the authorities are interested in propaganding dominant ideologies such as the righteousness of certain military actions. Besides, the increasing number of negative reactions against the “war on terror” recently have resulted in governments’ need of higher levels of support among public.

With this in mind, Edwards and Cromwell(2009:55) stressed:”Sport, popular culture and the media are such powerful voices in the construction of discursive formations, and as any good student of public relations knows, “controlling what we think is not solely a matter of controlling what we know-it is also about influencing who we respect and who we find ridiculous. ” Taking into consideration the popularity of sport worldwide, it seems that the intervention of the nation-state is more likely to continue to occur. Furthermore, sports are connected with power relations in society as a whole and for that reason sports and politics cannot be separated which in the light of this essay’s theme can be translated as- the relationship between sports and militarism will last(Coakley, 2001).

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