Sports seem to bring us together as much as they tear us apart — crowds will come together in community, finding comradery in shunning the other. It seems to be a part of humanity’s rivalling nature, no matter where you go.
Ideally, this goes no further than the relatively small-scale conflict between some sports fans. After all, so many have argued for sports, particularly in education, as a way to teach diversity and acceptance with community and team-building.
Community and the ‘other’
Although there is great potential for this, ultimately things are a bit more complicated. Sports often enforce conformity; there’s the idea of one big machine, comprised of smaller parts, coming together for one cause — homogenization through a collective goal.
Using sports to promote diversity
Still, several European countries saw sports as the way to promote diversity. As Sine Agergaard noted in his book “Rethinking Sports and Integration,” the overall value of sports is seen in government policies. One governmental fund supported the creation of sports clubs as it was seen as “contributing greatly to creating social communities and cohesion.”
However, Agergaard argued a valid point:
This ideal appears blind to the historical and current fact that sports clubs are frequented and led by certain groups and social classes… Club life appears to build social communities between established groups of children and adults, while other groups and individuals stand outside of this cohesion.
One of these groups is that of migrants and their descendants. Agergaard points out how a one-sided understanding of migration focuses on adapting to the host nation and homogeny instead of truly integrating.
Jora Broerse echoes this sentiment in her own article, “Co-Ethnic in Private, Multicultural in Public,” from the Journal of Intercultural Studies. Broerse studied the integration of Portuguese and Brazilian migrants into Dutch society through the lens of sports and came to a similar conclusion as Agergaard:
Even though cultural maintenance is supported, there is a limit to being culturally different and traditions have to be in line with the restrictions imposed by the dominant power relations.
Starting at the root of the problem
Both texts argue for an approach that addresses the broad-scale, systematic issues; things like racism, nationalism, etc. This may feel like an insurmountable hurdle at times. Still, it is the only real hope to dismantle the prejudiced thinking that enforces this kind of cultural domination.
It’s clearly important to create an environment that welcomes and supports diverse groups to join in community. This, by itself, is an honorable goal. Yet there are even more reasons for doing so: In her article “Sports Sciences and Multiculturalism” from KNOWLEDGE International Journal, Danica Pirs advocates for diversity in education — just the kind of broad-scale approach that may be needed:
Efforts within higher education to develop and build students’ reflective-thinking ability, both in and out of the classroom and across disciplines, can have a strong, positive, and corollary impact on levels of tolerance and prejudice toward other groups.
It can be incredibly influential to teach people at a relatively young age about this diversity and reflective/critical thinking, especially through the prevalence of sports.
While there is great potential for bringing diverse communities together with sports, there are also many hurdles to overcome. In their book about sports “Facing the Test of Cultural Diversity,” William Gasparini and Aurélie Cometti note that the very nature of competitive sports doesn’t advocate for deeper dialogue or understanding — but it’s still worth pursuing:
Competitive sport does not promote intercultural dialogue. Competing for a coveted success is therefore barely compatible with developing a ‘deeper understanding of diverse world views and practices.’ However, sport, movement and games can be a particularly suitable field for intercultural dialogue.