The Use of Sport to Support the Feelings of Nationalism


TheUse of Sport to Support the Feelings of Nationalism

TheUse of Sport to Support the Feelings of Nationalism

Manycountries struggle with the idea of building the national identity.In most countries, the political system plays the divisive role,where citizens are classified on the basis of their social as well asdemographic features. However, sports act as a formidable force thatbring people together and help them embrace the idea of the nationalidentity (Jaksa, 2011, p. 39). Both the local and internationalsports are effective in helping people develop the sense of belongingto a given nation. This paper will address ways in which sports areused to enhance and support the feelings of nationalism.

TheoreticalBackground of the Association between Sports and Nationalism

Thereare three major theories that can be used to explain the role ofsports in facilitating the development of nationalism. First, thecognitive development theories (such the Piaget’s perspective) holdthat people go through socialization processes that involve atransition from egocentric to socio-centric as they continue toestablish attachments with different groups (Kim, 2014, p. 1). Theobjective of building these relationships is to help people meettheir basic needs. Some of the basic human needs cited by cognitivetheorists include socio-cultural, economic, and political desires.The fulfillment of these needs helps people enhance the sense ofsecurity, prestige, and a feeling of belonging to social groups thatfacilitate these accomplishments. Cognitive theorists (includingMaslow and Freud) held that the need for an individual to belong to acertain group is a fundamental motivation for all human beings (Kim,2014, p. 1). National attachment is one of the key factors that helppeople fulfill this need and facilitate the construction of anidentity. Sports play the role in bringing people together to formsocial groups that can assist them pursue the sense of belonging asone of the key human needs. Citizen’s desire to be associated withcertain local players as well as teams satisfies this need, thusfacilitating the development of the sense of nationalism.

Secondly,the social identity theory that was put forward by Henri Tajfel holdsthat the people’s identity is determined by the social groups thatthey belong (Kim, 2014, p. 1). Consequently, the significance and thevalue of the group determine the status of individual members. In thecase of sports, each participant (including players and spectators)wish to see their respective countries as being superior. This isassociated with an increase in self-esteem, out-group devaluation,and in-group favoritism. For example, a team of players andspectators from a given country favor their own group and devaluatethe opponents, which is an indication of a growth in the sense ofnationalism.

Third,the framing theory explains how the relationship between media andsports promotes nationalism. The framing theory holds that thepriority and the manner in which a given theme is presented to theaudience by the media determine its ultimate impact (Lott, 2015, p.176). The media plays the role of transmitting the sports to theaudience, thus enhancing their capacity to build the sense ofnational identity. Sports have become a major component of the news.Both the broadcast and print sources of information include sports intheir news coverage. For example, more people watch the internationalgames (such as the Olympic) on their TV than those who get real timeinformation by following different games in the fields. Therefore,sports achieve the goal of developing the spirit of nationalism wheninformation about them reaches the target audience.

Promotionof National Identity

Sportis often used as a tool for promoting the national identity. Thisobjective is achieved in many ways, including the establishment ofteams that enhance the spirit of nationalism by boosting territorialintegrity (Lott, 2015, p. 165). These teams represent theirrespective nations in the international games, such as the World Cupor Olympic. The heroic defeat and the success of the teams arecerebrated by the entire country irrespective of the fact that comecitizens could be divided into ethnic or religious groups. The sporthelps them forget their differences for a moment and cerebrate thevictory of their teams as a country. This helps people identifythemselves with their nation, instead of their demographic and socialgroups.

Inaddition, sport promotes nationalism by facilitating theparticipation of individual and teams. This idea is borrowed from thewestern ideology of the enhancing the spirit of nationalisms byproviding citizens with different platforms through which they canparticipate in the national activities, such as the voting exercise(Lott, 2015, p. 176). Similarly, people who are given the opportunityto represent their countries in the international sports find thechance as an honor. This helps the participants develop the sense ofbelonging to their nations since they understand that they are notjust doing it for the purposes of their self satisfaction, but theimage of their respective countries. In addition, the participationof individuals in major sports as spectators and cheer groups hasbeen associated with the element of emotional appeal that has thecapacity to maintain the imaginary community of a nation. Therefore,sport promotes the sense of belonging to a given nation among theplayers and their spectators.

Sportas a Tool for the Development of the National Unity

Apartfrom the actual participation, sport promotes nationalism througheducation. Sport education enhances nationalism by homogenizingculture and bringing people together. Sport education complementsother classes (such as literature and history) that play a criticalrole of facilitating the development of moral values among the youthsand transmission of the nation’s sport’s heritage (Kim, 2014, p.1). The ability of sport education system to promote nationalismdepends on whether it is delivered in a patriotic context. In somecases, states are able to engage in an active campaign for thepromotion of political as well as territorial patriotism throughsports. This is common in countries that have a multiethnic society,where sports education programs are used to bridge the gaps betweenpeople from different cultural groups. This is a top-down approachthat involves the government’s active participation in thedevelopment of sport activities that can help it reconfigure andreconstruct the national identify.

Nationalismis achieved when players and spectators from different social as wellas demographic groups come together to cerebrate victory in sports.This is accomplished through the incorporation of the minority intothe dominant group (Lott, 2015, p. 176). Sports fill the gap left bythe political system. In most of the developing nations, thepolitical systems follow ethnic divisions, where leaders are electedon the basis of their ethnicity. Participation in sport, on the otherhand, is based on the competencies of individual players, whichcreates an equal opportunity for citizens to represent their countryas long as they are competent enough. Therefore, the government canpromote the sense of unity in the nation by using sport as a tool tocreate the sense of inclusion.

Severalcountries have been using sport as a tool to enhance the sense ofunity and boost nationalism after civil war and ethnic crisis. Sportprovides a common ground on which nations that are divided on thebasis of ethnicity can start the process of reconciliation. Forexample, developing countries (including Kenya, the Philippines, andNigeria) use the international sport platforms to enhance nationalunity among their different ethnic and racial groups (Jaksa, 2011, p.39). In the case of Kenya, the efforts made to make it a superpowerin the majority of tract events have helped the nation see the sportsas a significant integrating influence. In the case of Pakistan, thePrime Minister, Syed Raza, stated publicly that the governmentconsiders sport events as a unifying factor (Jaksa, 2011, p. 40). Byempowering people to take part in the local and international games,governments are able to rally their diverse populations aroundsports.


Sportimproves the feeling of nationalism by bringing people together,creating the sense of identity, and promoting the national unity.Social and cognitive theories support the idea that people have anatural desire to belong to certain groups that can help them achievetheir basic needs. Sport provides an opportunity for people toassociate themselves with individual players and teams that come fromtheir countries. The outcome of the tendency to associate with teamsand players is the development of the sense of nationality. Playersand spectators feel that they belong to one nation, which indicatesthe power of sports in bridging the gaps between social as well asdemographic groups.

Listof references

Jaksa,L., 2011. Sports and collective identity: The effects of athletics onnational unity. SAISReview of International Affairs,p. 39-41.

Kim,M., 2014. The everyday psychology of nationalism. TheAtlantic Monthly.[Online]. Available at: &lt[Accessed 5 August 2016].

Lott,T., 2015. Politicsand nationalism in sport.Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.