Culture and Sport – New Questions That Uncover the Hidden Messages Within Sports
Sport (or sport) is any form of typically physical, usually competitive, outdoor activity that, through organised or casual competition, attempt to use, develop or improve specific physical capabilities and skills while also providing entertainment for participants, and sometimes, spectators. While there are many different types of sport, most have one thing in common-the desire of participants to advance their ability over time, test their ability against another competing team, or demonstrate their athletic prowess on a grand scale. It is this competitive spirit that often drives amateur athletes to pursue an assortment of different sports, some of which they may not have chosen for themselves in the beginning, due to a lack of adequate training time, resources or access to a sportingly competitive environment.
Professional sport can involve both mental and physical exertion. For example, to succeed at chess you need to be able to think quickly, make split second decisions under pressure, use the space available to your advantage, weigh up risk versus reward, work out strategies against better equipped opponents and generally excel within the limitations of the game itself. At the same time, when playing ice hockey, you will be required to run, sprint, dive and throw your body around like a piece of mechanical equipment to score goals. Therefore, much of the same criteria that apply to chess apply to sports such as ice hockey and football; you need to be able to exert physical exertion, use your brain effectively, make split second decisions under pressure, and use the space available to you to your advantage.
As with any culture, the practice of sports varies greatly from country to country, as do the participants and events associated with each sport. In the United States for example, very little attention has been paid to, or indeed invested in, athlete’s rights, especially when it comes to professional athletes. Similarly, when it comes to the issue of sports for kids, American sport boosters often overlook the unique aspects of cultural and social context that can shape and limit the participation of children in various sports. The sport of American football, for instance, has largely been dominated by men, even though a large number of women have become involved actively in the sport over the past few decades. Similar gender discrepancies and gaps in the participation of children in other sports are also quite widespread throughout the world.
Despite this, there are some areas of sport that can promote good citizenship and cultural values such as respect for human dignity. For instance, many people agree that respect for the physical and mental capabilities of athletes is a positive development in sports, as athletes are usually the best at identifying potential physical problems and overcoming them. This sense of self worth is positive for all individuals, because it encourages the furtherance of the idea of human dignity and contributes to the ideals of fair play and honest competition. Further, it encourages participants to embrace their differences and set goals that span the broad spectrum of society.
Of course, there are many different types of sport and a wide range of cultures, but there are certain basic elements that run across all sports. The spirit of fair play, for example, is an important value that a number of cultures support. Sports that encourage teamwork and the hard work of individual athletes are positive influences on young people in society, especially those who do not live in the culturally supportive environments that many athletes have come to identify with. For instance, organized sports such as American football, basketball, baseball, tennis, golf and softball encourage respect for the opponent and a level of competitiveness among players. By contrast, the culture of street brawls, casual discrimination against women and youths and the lack of respect for the physical capabilities of others is often considered a negative influence in sports activities for youngsters.
Sport-related violence also needs to be discussed when examining the question of culture and sports. In cases such as that of the brutal gang rape of a jogger in New York City last year, we saw the terrible ramifications of the attitudes and behaviors that followed the event. We also saw the new questions being asked about the culture of the sport itself and the impact that the actions had on future athletes. By thinking about these different aspects of sports, it becomes clearer how new questions about culture can crop up when looking at sports and their effect on society and athletes themselves.