East-West Dialogue: Cross-Cultural
Perceptions and Representations
THESIS STATEMENT: Although studies
on sports and nationalism are plentiful, studying nationalism through sports is
a suitable answer to this critique because it shows exactly how common people
assign meaning to their respective countries in light of an everyday
INTRODUCTION: Sports offer an
opportunity to see how individual, national, and global factors together affect
national identities (Skey 2013), studies of sports and nationalism are
important because sports are everywhere in late modern societies and very often
involve nationalist dimensions; these are apparent during international sports
events such as the Olympics and World Cup, but are also found in domestic
sports. Furthermore, since sports seem so important for many people, and so many
resources are devoted to them, it is timely to question how they might have
political and democratic importance.
MAIN BODY PARAGRAPHS: Both
individual and national factors are presented below, and then how these
individual and national factors might combine in random effects and
interactions is discussed. The point is to indicate how these factors might
play a role in the processes of generating national pride from sports.
CONCLUSION: Nationalism (as
related to sports) might play different roles in various countries; it points
beyond the classic east–west distinction and reveals the need for empirical and
Sports offer an opportunity to see how individual,
national, and global factors together affect national identities (Skey 2013),
studies of sports and nationalism are important because sports are everywhere
in late modern societies and very often involve nationalist dimensions; these
are apparent during international sports events such as the Olympics and World
Cup, but are also found in domestic sports. Furthermore, since sports seem so
important for many people, and so many resources are devoted to them, it is
timely to question how they might have political and democratic importance.
Sports being of consequence for national identity is one possible way to
approach this question. Even though a huge literature on nationalism exists, a
common critique has been the “failure to see the everyday nationalism that
organizes people’s sense of belonging” (Billig 1995; Calhoun 2007: 27; Edensor
2006; Skey 2013). Although studies on sports and nationalism are plentiful,
studying nationalism through sports is a suitable answer to this critique
because it shows exactly how common people assign meaning to their respective
countries in light of an everyday phenomenon.
In general, it seems reasonable to presume that sport
nationalism has two sources. On the one hand, sport nationalism might align
itself with nationalism: individuals with strong national sentiments are also
those proud when national athletes succeed. On the other hand, sport nationalism
might also depend on affection for sports: those interested in sports may feel nationally
proud of their athletes despite not otherwise expressing strong national
feelings. Based on these two sources, both individual and national factors are
presented below, and then how these individual and national factors might
combine in random effects and interactions is discussed. The point is to
indicate how these factors might play a role in the processes of generating
national pride from sports.
As Calhoun (2007) and Smith (2009) pointed out, national
identities are often based in deep cultural layers, and among these, “the links
between religion and national consciousness can be very close” (Hobsbawm 1992:
67). Religion could be expected to further nationalism, because it is, like
sports, often linked to rituals, places. Furthermore, in the context of
comparative survey research, culture is often linked to cognitive skills
(Bollen and Medrano 1998; Inglehart 1990); the idea is that more educated
people have a better understanding of otherness, more easily imagine themselves
as a part of larger social groups, and thereby end up being more cosmopolitan
(Beck 2009). In addition to culture, one should expect material resources to
matter in terms of nationalism. The point of such arguments is that people with
secure finances feel less threatened by others than those with insecure
finances. This implies that people with high incomes should be less
nationalistic than those who earn lower salaries.
Studies indicate that the effects of gender depend on the
form of nationalism under study (Kunovich 2009). As such, it is not obvious how
gender might affect sport nationalism, but if it does, it could be reasonable
to assume that because men are often more dedicated to sports than women, they
have a stronger tendency for sport nationalism. Next, studies seem to show that
older people in general are more nationalistic than younger people. This effect
is probably due to younger generations’ more cosmopolitan attitudes, but could
also result from experiences specific to different generations and cohorts in
various countries, related both to sports events and non-sports events
associated with wars and politics.
Cultural globalization measures the spread of ideas,
information, and people, and is assumed to have an effect parallel to education
at the individual level; that is, more globalized countries have more
cosmopolitan citizens, which in turn means they are less nationalistic. One
central theme in the literature on nationalism is the distinction between a
civic/ democratic and primordial/ethnic nationalism, often linked to an
east–west divide (Björklund 2006; Jayet 2012; Smith 2009). The east–west
context could also impact sport nationalism, although it is difficult to get at
this divide except in the case of the countries in the study having (more or
less) geographically clear east-west positions. Furthermore, there are obvious
differences—urban/rural, industrial/postindustrial, particular sports
traditions, national cultures of various types—linked both to nationalism and
For some of the variables, the expectations of the
effects are unclear or there are reasons to expect that these effects will vary
between countries. This is true for age, the effect of which could depend on
specific national events, sports-related or otherwise. Gender roles vary
drastically, and women in countries with more liberal gender regimes might be
more interested in sports and thereby more easily made proud by the
achievements of athletes. The effects of both material (income) and cultural
(education) resources are dependent upon establishing a type of boundary
between “us” and “them.” These boundaries form the basis for comparisons with
others, and the result is supposed to give rise to different levels of
nationalism. This makes it reasonable to assume that the effects of these two
variables at the individual level might depend upon parallel characteristics at
the national level; the way cultural and material boundaries develop at the
individual level depends on the cultural and material resources at the
collective level. For countries with poor economic resources and a less
globalized culture, it is assumed that the effect of income and education will
be more weakly negative than in more prosperous and globalized countries.
Sport nationalism is, generally, a widespread phenomenon;
many people feel very proud when their national athletes do well. Nevertheless,
differences in levels of sport nationalism between countries are also
considerable. A first finding is that West European countries are prominent
among the countries with low levels of sport nationalism, yet in other
“western” countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, the
level is higher than the world average. Second, the East European countries are
mostly above average, though there are substantive differences between them.
For example, the Czechs are below average while Poland is among the most sport
nationalist countries. Three less-developed countries—the Dominican Republic,
South Africa, and the Philippines—are the most sport-nationalist countries,
whereas three Latin American countries—Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay—are close to
the average. Of the Asian countries, South Korea is rather sport-nationalist,
while Japan and Israel are below average.
Given the pervasiveness of sports in late modern
societies and the many evident links to nationalism, it comes as no surprise
that sport-related national identities—being proud when national athletes
succeed—are relatively strong and widespread. Even though, at first glance, a
high level of sport nationalism makes countries appear more similar than
different, there are also strong and systematic differences between countries’
sport nationalism. The countries/ regions with low levels of sport nationalism
are all West European (Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Flanders, and France),
whereas most of Eastern Europe (Poland, Croatia, Russia, Latvia, and Slovenia)
have higher than average values. This could indicate that nationalism, as it is
found in relation to sports, reflects some type of familiar east–west
difference in nationalism. There are, however, two precautions to this conclusion.
First, the Czech Republic, despite being an East European country, is low on
sport nationalism, and several Western countries—Australia, New Zealand, and
the United States—are above the world average of sport nationalism. Second, the
east–west nationalism distinction mostly comes with an idea of substantive
differences (ethnic versus civil) in nationalism. Furthermore, in many cases it
seems that differences in sport nationalism are related to economic and
cultural resources, and as has been determined, variations at the national
level suggest national differences other than east–west. In general, countries
with low GDPs and low levels of democracy and cultural globalization are
clearly more sport nationalistic than other countries. This indicates that nationalism
(as related to sports) might play different roles in various countries; it
points beyond the classic east–west distinction and reveals the need for
empirical and theoretical refinements.
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