Sports and politics both have powerful influences over the lives of individuals who engage themselves within the boarders of these realms. This holds especially true for modernized/developed countries which, by the very nature of their existence, exert control over developing countries. These developing civilizations tend to have less access to organized sports because the politics of their countries do not have the resources to have leisure and entertainment influence their lives. Many have suggested that due to the great influence sports has over developed nations and because developed countries unintentionally influence developing/underdeveloped nations, that sports can help promote social equality, improve leadership/responsibility, and be a method of engaging youth in education in these underdeveloped nations. However, all of these arguments have been met with great criticism. Below, both sides are briefly explored and explained.
First off, an argument made by those who believe sports can inhibit a developing country’s process find the social equality in sport to transcend into everyday society. They use examples from American sports like Jackie Robinson and the multiple professional womens’ leagues that have recently been created. The supporters of this argument correlate American history examples of individuals overcoming racial and gender barriers through sports to the United State’s advancement of our social equality. In a study done by Simon Darnell of Dalhousie University in Canada, he found – by interviewing interns at an organization based in Africa to improve developing countries through sport – that sports promoted social development. More specifically, organized sports brought to African countries by the Canadian program claimed to break down social status barriers as the youth involved didn’t care about their daily lives and if they were a wealthy villager or if they were only 12 years old and had to take care of their younger siblings. Darnell and others claim that temporary social boundary breakdowns that make people forget about social class transcend into everyday life the same way the above American history examples have. (Darnell).
Further, people who support the argument that sports can influence developing nations suggest that leadership roles can be enhanced by sports. Darnell’s study found “the utility of sport as a way to build character… facilitate[d] and promote[d] time management and responsibility…” (65). This idea is supported by the fact that when engaged in organized sports created by the Canadian research team, individuals in developing and underdeveloped nations must adhere to a schedule if they all wish to come together and play. Moreover, the very nature of sport itself is said to leaders and showcase those willing to make sacrifices for the sake of their teams. These character traits are thought to be overshadowed by the hardships that the individuals of these countries face in everyday life yet drawn out by simple sport participation.
Yet still, the same people who hold this view argue that education is improved by sports as well. The idea is that sports influence educational opportunities by creating a closer relationship between teachers and students while encouraging youngsters to be involved with extracurricular activities. They claim it provides teachers with a unique way to interact with children outside of the classroom setting. Also, as a press release recently published form an allAfrica.com news article explains, “we’ve learn[ed] that sport can be a vehicle for engaging young people in education.” Based on the program that Darnell’s research investigated, this article draws a direct link to organized sport availability and improving education in underdeveloped and developing countries.
Conversely, those who believe that sports have little influence over society correlate sports in developed nations as business entities of a capitalist system that is the true influence over societies. This side views politics as the ultimate authorities of organized sports and claims that extraneous societal factors outside of sports influence social equality, leadership and responsibility, and education amongst nations.
For example, the American history of inequality amongst minorities and women still exists. The majority of college athletes are Caucasian males who play sports that are typically not televised; the illusion that minorities contribute more to sports in society is based on the media coverage of few professional sports that indicate this actual uncommon trend. The equality that sports are supposed to promote from a socioeconomic standpoint is also highly contested by this view because the poor have limited access to sports in all countries and this does not change from the simple introduction of sport into an underdeveloped or developing nation. Political action must be taken in order for a change to be made; an example of this is the creation of public parks that give access to sporting grounds for the poor. Additionally, the United State’s “Title IX” law is aimed at creating an equal playing field or boys and girls sports. (Coakley).
However, one could argue this point with the fact that girls are still underrepresented in sports compared to men. Also, there may not be an equal number of minority athletes involved in all sports but there has been acceptance of previously contested minority groups into American sports today.
Furthermore, this side finds leadership qualities and responsibility to not be enhanced by sport but simply magnified by the existence of such organized activities. The study analyzed above was based in Africa, the most impoverished continent in the entire world. Poverty breads responsibility of youth; many youngsters’ parents were not around or dead leaving them to take care of their younger siblings. The circumstances of which these children live in are themselves an inhibitor of character, responsibility, and leadership. In the worst cases, if they don’t grow up fast and take care of daily life conditions, they could starve or risk losing their siblings. Instead of sports demanding these intangibles out of the children that participate in these sports, this argument suggests that the character built by their everyday life situations is magnified by a simple game where they must show sacrifice and teamwork to succeed and win. Despite the structured atmosphere organized sports provide children, this side believes life experiences are more demanding and shape these children and sports participation simply displays these lessons they have learned from life. Some scholars hold this to be true even of developed nations. (Coakley).
Finally, this side claims that education of underdeveloped and developing nations is not enhanced by sports (and thereby changing politics of that nation) but rather politics change sports and education. A simple example of this is the difference between the United States and Europe: America is one of the only countries in the world to emphasize the connection between school sponsored sports and elite sporting performance. In Europe elite youth sports teams are typically based in private clubs that have no affiliation with the educational system. Moreover, studies have shown that educational systems can be compromised by special treatment of athletes because of their isolated status’ from the general school population. (Coakley).
In conclusion, it is difficult to determine if organized sports inhibit the growth of underdeveloped and developing nations. There are so many other variables involved that it’s difficult to determine if sports directly influence change in social equality, enhance leadership and responsibility, and advance educational systems. Whether it is boundaries outlined by a playing field or a country the affects of both can have large impacts on society depending on which argument is examined.
“Africa: UK Sport and Commonwealth Secretariat Collaborate.” AllAfrica.com. Commonwealth News and Information Service, 2 Aug. 2011. Web. 04 Aug. 2011. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201108030017.html>.
Coakley, Jay. Sports in Society; Issues and Controversies. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 10th ed. 2009.
Darnell, Simon C. “Power, Politics and “Sport for Development and Peace”: Investigating the Utility of Sport for International Development.” Sociology of Sport Journal 27 (2010): 54-75. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 4 Aug. 2011.
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