Sports And Nationalism Essay

Munich and the Role of Nationalism in Sports

591 WordsFeb 3rd, 20182 Pages

From cultures around the world, sports stars are honored and praised much more so than other members of the societal group. As a result, sports has become just as much of a mythological part of a nation's culture as it is a practical source of entertainment. Thus, a nation's sports teams and power can have an impact on the society's sense of nationalism. This is exactly what is seen in the movie Munich, where Israel feels the need to violently avenge the murder of many of its sports superheroes. The film clearly shows how sports teams and events can help bolster a strong sense of nationalism, especially within the context of international competitions. This same sentiment remains the same today, although the degree to which it affects nationalism may have been dulled down over the years. The film was a shocking revelation of secret events after a major international incident. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the 2005 film is a historical rendition of actual events that occurred in the early 1970s. Black September terrorists had attacked and killed many Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympics. The group was mainly Palestinian descent, thus fueling the tension between Israel and Palestine and impacting the overall feeling of nationalism within the Israeli state. In response, the Israeli government secretly approved assassins to hunt down members…

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“It became very obvious to me when I got there the extent to which sport reflected two competing ideologies between Irish nationalists and Ulster unionists,” Bairner said. “In a society like that, sport was very politicized and could be used to bring people together but more often was used to divide people.”

The Olympics today represent a confluence of commercialism, professionalism, capitalism and nationalism.

In the United States, nationalism is often eclipsed by a preponderance of professional team sports. International events like the Olympics present an opportunity every four years for Americans to come out of our cocoons and connect with (and take on) the rest of the world.

“You are different from most other places partly because the size of the country and the professional sports, which provide the opportunity for fantastic rivalries, but between different franchises and different cities,” Bairner said. “You see the patriotism of Americans at the Olympics and also at the Ryder Cup.”

Not everyone shares an enthusiasm for opening ceremonies or the Olympic Games. George Orwell, writing in 1945, described sports at the international level as “mimic warfare.”

“I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates good will between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield,” Orwell wrote in “The Sporting Spirit.” “Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.”

Bairner agrees with that assessment with respect to team sports simulating combat and armies. (A classic example came at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, where the United States figuratively sent in the Marines — the Dream Team — to reclaim its lost basketball glory.)

“The minute you put on team sport and wearing the colors of the national team, and they’re seen not as individuals but as these team representatives, I think things do get a bit messier and encourage the kind of rivalries that are not particularly helpful,” Bairner said. Referring to team sports, he added, “They don’t quite fit in with the Olympic spirit; they mess up the Olympic ideal.”

In individual sports like wrestling and boxing, Bairner said, “there is that purity.”

He added, “Ultimately you’re watching people challenging themselves, challenging others challenging their own bodies — it’s to be admired.”

One frequent criticism of the Olympics is that they have become too commercialized. The opening ceremony certainly reflects a commitment by each organizing committee to outperform its predecessor with an unforgettable extravaganza.

The template for commercialization, and polarization, of the Games, especially the opening ceremony, unfolded at the Berlin Games in 1936. Hitler saw the pageantry surrounding the Games — and the Games themselves — as a vehicle to promote a hateful ideology.

“The Berlin Games were a major turning point where a group of politicians knew they could manipulate these Games for their own political purposes,” Bairner said.


One innovation came out of the Berlin Games, and a second was revived. The practice of a torch relay from Greece to the Olympic Games began in 1936. And the idea of lighting an Olympic flame for the duration of the Games was revived by the Berlin organizing committee.

But it wasn’t until 1984 and the Los Angeles Games that the profit-making potential of the Olympics was truly tapped.

So in light of an evolution toward nationalism, commercialism and one-upmanship, where are the Games headed?

Bairner, 60, prefers the quaintness of the 1960 Rome Games, which he watched when he was 9, and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which he watched when he was 13.

“They just seemed simpler, and there was far less hype, far less nationalism and few sports even,” he said. “It seemed the right size.”

Bairner sees the Games becoming a corporate Olympics with nationalism giving way to transnational interests, largely as it has in finance and business. His theory is that because major corporations, especially sports merchandising companies, have so many deals with individual athletes, powerful corporate teams could one day replace national teams.

“That’s a long way off,” Bairner said, “but that would be a situation in which the people who paid for the Olympics would actually be in position to dictate to the I.O.C. how the Games would be organized. That’s when capitalism would collide with patriotism.”

He added: “We do not talk about a bank being solely American or solely British. Sports is one of the few places apart from the battlefield where the idea of national rivalry has been maintained alive. Otherwise, capitalism has managed to say more or less, ‘We’re all in this together.’ ”

Ultimately, the question becomes, to be successful, how much do the Olympics need patriotism? Will fans continue to turn out in record numbers to watch a corporate Olympics? There is an inherent danger of being overly nationalistic.

“On the other hand,” Bairner said, “nationalism adds to the diversity of the world and makes the world an interesting place.”

Which brings me back to the opening ceremony. It represents an emotional element that a corporation cannot replace and commercialization cannot obscure.

When the Olympics are held outside the United States, that moment when Team USA emerges and is announced brings out emotion than cannot be replicated at any other time or event.

Cynicism softens, disappointment wanes, and for that moment, one embraces one’s country — warts and all.

This is a moment and an emotion that no Team Adidas, no Team Reebok, no Team Nike can duplicate. It is a moment Bairner wishes he could experience.

As part of Britain, Scotland does not have its own Olympic team. In 2014, the Scottish National Party will hold a referendum on Scottish independence.

“If there was a Scottish team in the Olympic Games, I would certainly want to be there,” Bairner said. “I would feel that sense of pride, as well, as the Scottish team marched in.”

If the referendum passes and there is an independent Scotland, the government will surely apply to join the Olympic movement.

“Assuming a Scottish team is in the Olympics in the next 20 years or so,” Bairner said, ”I’ll probably be there with you, and my chest will be swelling with pride as well.”

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