Sport and Globalization

Joseph Maguire. Handbook of Sports Studies. Editor: Jay Coakley & Eric Dunning. 2000. Sage Publishing.

Scaling the highest mountains, traversing the most difficult terrain, exploring the depths of the sea and skimming across the oceans, soaring through the skies and descending into deep valley gorges, tunnelling far into the interior of the earth and shaping its exterior with both ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ surfaces and structures, sportsmen and sportswomen straddle the globe, and the ‘sportization’ of the planet seemingly knows no bounds. How is this globalization of modern sport to be understood? To begin to answer this question some of the main issues that underpin the debates regarding the connections between sport and globalization will be outlined. In addition, a review of the research of exponents of various traditions that have sought to understand these connections will be undertaken. On this basis, an alternative perspective on globalization and the diffusion of modern sport will be outlined. Finally, the role that sport plays in global processes will be examined.

Studying Global Sport: Issues, Questions, and Dimensions

What do we know about globalization? If a review of globalization research is undertaken, several areas of agreement can be identified. Analyses deal with processes that transcend the boundaries of nation-states. These processes are not of recent origin. These processes—involving what writers term increasing intensification of global interconnectedness—are very long-term in nature. While they have not occurred evenly across all areas of the globe, the more recent history of these processes would suggest that the rate of change is gathering momentum. Despite the ‘unevenness’ of these processes, it is more difficult to understand local or national experiences without reference to these global flows. The flow of leisure styles, customs and practices from one part of the world to another, ‘long-haul’ tourism and global events, such as music festivals and the Olympic Games, are examples of these processes at work. In addition, people’s living conditions, beliefs, knowledge and actions are intertwined, to varying degrees, with unfolding globalization processes.

These processes include the emergence of a global economy, a transnational cosmopolitan culture and a range of international social movements. Studies also identify that a multitude of transnational or global economic and technological exchanges, communication networks and migratory patterns characterize this interconnected world pattern. People, and nation-states, are woven together in a tighter and deeper interdependency network. These globalization processes also appear to be leading to a form of time-space compression. That is, people are experiencing spatial and temporal dimensions differently. There is a speeding up of time and a ‘shrinking’ of space. Modern technologies enable people, images, ideas and money to criss-cross the globe with great rapidity. Finally, while these processes lead, as noted, to a greater degree of interdependence, and also to an increased awareness of a sense of the world as a whole, we also see a concomitant resurgence of the local/national. These elements are two sides of the same coin. People become more attuned to the notion that their local lives, and national ‘place’ of living, are part of a single social space—the globe.

There are, however, a number of difficult conceptual issues that need to be grasped in understanding global processes. Advocates of competing traditions, including the modernization perspective, theories of imperialism, dependency theory, world systems theory, figurational/process sociology and globalization research, have sought to compare and contrast the development of different societies. More recently, these traditions have found expression in the study of sport. Competing claims have been made regarding the adequacy of these traditions. In section two an evaluation of how these traditions—or specific pieces of work within them—have variously advanced our collective fund of relatively adequate social scientific knowledge regarding the emergence, diffusion and globalization of sport cultures will be undertaken.

In understanding global sport processes several conceptual snares evident in the debates that have been generated by the antagonistic claims of the traditions referred to need to be avoided. These cul-de-sacs arguably centre on four main areas. First, the recourse to dichotomous thinking; secondly, the use of monocausal logic and explanation; thirdly, the tendency to view these processes as governed by either the intended or the unintended actions of groups of people; and fourth, the lack of an adequate account of gender power as it is represented and expressed in global processes. Janet Wolfe (1991), for example, has cogently argued that the omission of gender issues is a serious failing in globalization research.

If the recent literature in the sociology of sport is examined, several binary oppositions can be identified that structure debates about global sport developments. These include universalism versus particularism; homogenization versus differentiation; integration versus fragmentation; centralization versus decentralization; juxtaposition versus syncretization. Further, the monocausal logic that has been evident centres variously on either the technological, the economic or the political. These tendencies are vividly evident in the recent debates published in publications such as the Sociology of Sport Journal, the Journal of Sport and Social Issues and Media, Culture and Society. An either/or resolution of this complex structured process will not do. Put simply, a balance or blend between intended ideological practices and unplanned sets of interdependencies structure globalization processes. The precise pattern must be studied empirically.

There is one further conceptual snare that must be avoided. The use of the globalization concept has prompted accusations from some quarters that those analyses that use the term are automatically and/or implicitly emphasizing a homogenization thesis. Such analyses are then alleged to suggest that a global culture will emerge—or has already emerged—that will suspend or end conflict. But to associate the term globalization exclusively with such a modernization thesis, confirming the triumph of the West in some simple sense, does serious violence to a range of perspectives examining global development. Further, to suggest that such an approach assumes that all parties contribute equally in this global process is itself a parody of a set of complex arguments.

What then can we say so far with some certainty regarding the connections between globalization and modern sport? Globalization processes have no zero starting point. It is clear that they gathered momentum between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries and continued apace throughout the twentieth century. Several of the more recent features of these processes can be identified. These include: an increase in the number of international agencies; the growth of increasing global forms of communication; the development of global competitions and prizes; and the development of standard notions of ‘rights’ and citizenship that have become increasingly standardized internationally. The emergence and diffusion of sport is clearly interwoven with this overall process. The development of national and international sports organizations, the growth of competition between national teams, the world-wide acceptance of rules governing specific, that is ‘Western,’ ‘sport’ forms, and the establishment of global competitions such as the Olympic Games and soccer’s World Cup tournament are all indicative of the occurrence of globalization in the sportsworld.

Neither the broader globalization processes, nor those identified here which relate to sport, are the direct outcome of inter-state processes. Rather, these processes need to be accounted for in relation to how they operate relatively independently of conventionally designated societal and socio-cultural processes. It is perhaps a point which those researchers who have examined the development of sport have yet to appreciate fully. While the globalization of sport is connected to the intended ideological practices of specific groups of people from particular countries, its pattern and development cannot be reduced solely to these ideological practices. Out of the plans and intentions of these groups something that was neither planned nor intended emerged.

The speed, scale and volume of sports development is interwoven with the broader global flow of people, technology, finance, images and ideologies (Appadurai, 1990). Global migration of both professional and college sports personnel was a pronounced feature of sports development in the 1980s. The flow from country to country of sports goods, equipment and ‘landscapes’ (for example, golf courses, artificial playing surfaces) has grown by such a scale and volume that it is currently a multi-billion dollar business. At the level of economics stands the fact that the flow of finance in the global sports arena has come to centre not only on the international trade in sports personnel, prize money and endorsements, but on the marketing of sport along specific, for example, American, lines. Crucial in all these regards, of course, has been the development of a ‘media-sport production complex’ which projects images to large global audiences (Maguire, 1993a). It can also be observed that global sports festivals such as the Olympics, the Asian Games and the Pan-American Games have come to serve as vehicles for the expression of ideologies that are not only national in character (the Berlin, Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics) but are also transnational in their consequences.

Both the intended and unintended aspects of global sport development require attention. The intended acts of representatives of transnational agencies or the transnational capitalist class are potentially more significant in the short term. Over the longer term, however, the unintended, relatively autonomous transnational practices predominate. These practices ‘structure’ the subsequent plans and actions of transnational agencies and the transnational capitalist class. Globalization processes involve a blend between intended and unintended practices. While people have to cope with the problems of interdependency which globalization engenders, the fact that these processes are relatively autonomous ensures that people can intervene. Global practices still lie within the province of human actions.

Although elite sports migrants, officials and consumers are no less caught up in this unfolding globalization process, they do have the capacity to reinterpret cultural products and experiences into something distinct. Furthermore, the receptivity of national popular cultures to non-indigenous cultural wares can be both active and heterogenous. That is not to overlook, however, that there is a political economy at work in the production and consumption of global sport products. Globalization is best understood as a balance and blend between diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties, a commingling of cultures and attempts by more established groups to control and regulate access to global flows (Maguire, 1994a, 1994b, 1999). Global sport development can be understood in the same terms: that is, at the turn of this new century we are witnessing the globalization of sports and of the increasing diversity of sports cultures. What has so far been argued is a summary of available knowledge. Let me now turn to reviewing in more detail how exponents of different traditions have sought to explain these developments.

Sport in the Global Process: Competing Traditions

It is perhaps interesting to note that scholars accept the basic premise that ‘England became the cradle and focus of modern sporting life’ (Dunning and Sheard, 1979; Gruneau, 1988; Guttmann, 1991). Here, however, the consensus breaks down. Different interpretations exist with regard to the dynamics underpinning the emergence and subsequent diffusion of modern sport (Dunning and Sheard, 1979; Gorn and Goldstein, 1993; J.A. Hargreaves, 1994; J.E. Hargreaves, 1986; Mandell, 1984). Similar themes, issues and questions that characterize the broader debate regarding global cultural flows, also surface in discussing modern sport. Not surprisingly, similar fault lines regarding homogeneity/heterogeneity; monocausal/multicausal; unidimensional/multidimensional; unity/fragmentation; universalism/particular-ism, are also evident. In the following section, key research is outlined and such work is positioned along the fault lines identified.

The clearest exposition of the modernization thesis as it applies to sport can be found in the work of Eric Wagner. Reviewing a diverse set of trends that are said to characterize global sport, Wagner correctly observes that ‘Americanization is part of these trends but it is only one part of much broader processes; it is not by itself the key process’ (Wagner, 1990: 400). This much is not incompatible with the argument presented in this chapter. Yet, Wagner mistakenly then assigns central status to what he terms, ‘international modernization’ (Wagner, 1990: 402). While he acknowledges important caveats, such as ‘sport culture flowing in all directions,’ and a ‘blending of many sport traditions,’ Wagner does appear to downplay the conflictual nature of these processes, over-emphasize the ability of people to pick and choose as they wish from global sport cultures, and see such development as a sign of progress. His concluding comments echo many of the features, and weaknesses, of the modernization perspective outlined earlier in this chapter. This is what he had to say:

I think we make too much of cultural dependency in sports when in fact it is people themselves who generally determine what they do and do not want, and it is the people who modify and adapt the cultural imports, the sports, to fit their own needs and values. Bringing sports into a new cultural context probably serves more as examples available for people to pick up or trade if they wish, rather than any imposed or forced cultural change … The long term trend has to be, I think, towards greater homogenization, and I don’t think there is anything bad or imperialistic about this; rather, these sports trends ultimately must reflect the will of the people. (Wagner, 1990: 402)

Though modernization was one of the first approaches within the field, ideas of this kind still surface in the literature on sport. Consider Baker and Mangan’s (1987) collection of papers on sport in Africa (Wagner, 1989 on Africa), Cashman’s exploration of the phenomenon of Indian cricket (1988), Arbena’s evaluation of literature relating to Latin America and papers published in comparative sport studies edited by Wilcox (1995). In his early writing on this subject, Allen Guttmann supported this position, arguing that Wagner was ‘correct to insist that we are witnessing a homogenization of world sports rather than an Americanization,’ and that ‘the concept of modernization is preferable because it also implies something about the nature of the global transformation’ (Guttmann, 1991: 187-8). Though he acknowledges that terms like ‘Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, the traditional and the modern, the particularistic and the universalistic’ employ an ‘admittedly simplified dichotomy,’ Guttmann still works within a modernization time frame, and overlooks what Robertson describes as the ‘universalization of particularism’ and not just the ‘particularization of universalism’ (Robertson, 1992). This is odd. In other work by Guttmann, important lines of enquiry are opened up when he refers to the diffusion of game forms in the ancient world and to the influence of the Orient on the West (Guttmann, 1993). Guttmann’s solution, as we shall see later, has been to adopt a cultural hegemony position and to concentrate on more recent events.

While advocates of a cultural imperialist and dependency theory approach would reject several, if not all of the premises outlined by Wagner and Guttmann, these perspectives do share a common assumption that we are witnessing the homogenization of world sports. Within sport history research, informed by a cultural imperialist perspective, several insightful case studies of the connection between the diffusion of sport and imperialism have been provided (Mangan, 1986; Stoddart, 1988, 1989). The diffusion of sport, out of its European heartland, moved along the formal and the informal lines of Empire—particularly, though not exclusively, the British. But it was not just the diffusion of specific sports, such as cricket, that reflected this broader process (James, 1963). From a cultural imperialist perspective, what was also at stake was the diffusion of a cultural/sporting ideology and a form of Western cosmology. This argument can be highlighted with reference to the work of Henning Eichberg, John Bale and Johan Galtung.

Eichberg’s study probes several of the issues identified. He suggests that Olympism is a ‘social pattern’ that reflects the ‘everyday culture of the western (and east European) industrial society’ (Eichberg, 1984: 97). He highlights several negative consequences of Olympism, including drugs, violence and the scientification of sport. Eichberg maintains that these excesses are not accidental or marginal, but logically related to the configuration of Western Olympic sport, with its emphasis on ‘quicker, higher, stronger.’ Olympism is seen to reflect the colonial dominance of the West and its spread across the globe has been remarkably successful. While it is possible to agree with Eichberg on this, Wilson overstates this case when he suggests that, ‘the major impetus for the globalization of sport was the Olympic movement’ (Wilson, 1994: 356). The dynamics underpinning the globalization of sport are more multifaceted than this. Indeed, as Eichberg argues, Western domination is increasingly subject to resistance. Alternatives to Olympism are emerging. These alternatives include, a resurgence of national cultural games, open air movements, expressive activities and meditative exercises. He concludes that ‘the age of Western colonial dominance is coming to an end—and with it the predominance of Olympic sports,’ and that, ‘new physical cultures will arise … from the different cultural traditions of the world’ (Eichberg, 1984: 102). Not all, as we shall see, share Eichberg’s optimism.

Tackling these issues within the subdiscipline of sports geography, John Bale paints a more conflict-ridden and destructive picture of the impact of the diffusion of sport along the lines of Empire. As Bale records, ‘Western sports did not simply take root in virgin soil; they were firmly implanted—sometimes ruthlessly—by imperialists’ (Bale, 1994: 8). For Bale, such ‘sports colonization’ marginalized, or destroyed, indigenous movement cultures and, ‘as cultural imperialism swept the globe, sports played their part in Westernizing the landscapes of the colonies’ (Bale, 1994: 8). There is much in this latter argument and Bale’s pioneering study raises our understanding of sport landscapes to a new level. There are, however, grounds for suggesting that the homogenization process is not as complete as these observations appear to indicate. This reservation is not, however, shared by Galtung. In similar vein, to Bale and Eichberg, Galtung sets up his analysis with the following question:

What happens when there is massive export of sports, radiating from Western centres, following old colonial trade and control lines, into the last little corner of the world, leaving cricket bats, soccer fields, racing tracks, courts of all sorts and what not behind? (Galtung, 1991: 150)

For Galtung, the answer is clear. Sports carry the socio-cultural code of the senders, and those from the West, ‘serve as fully fledged carriers of the combination typical for expansionist occidental cosmology’ (Galtung, 1991: 150). Unlike Eichberg, however, Galtung detects no hopeful alternatives. Whatever the merits of his overall argument, Galtung rightly points to the role of the body in these processes, and insightfully observes that, as people learn these body cultures at an early stage in their lives, they leave ‘imprints that may well be indelible’ (Galtung, 1991: 150).

Although the research highlighted above emphasizes a cultural imperialist perspective, variants of dependency theory have been used extensively in the study of sport. Several studies have also examined Latin and South America (Arbena, 1988, 1993; Mandle and Mandle, 1988). Alan Klein’s study of Dominican baseball is an example of dependency research at its best (Klein, 1989, 1991). Grounded in a careful and sophisticated anthropological approach, he probes the contradictory status and role of baseball in relations between the Dominican Republic and the United States of America. Klein skilfully observes:

Because baseball is the only area in which Dominicans come up against Americans and demonstrate superiority, it fosters national pride and keeps foreign influence at bay. But the resistance is incomplete. At an organizational level American baseball interests have gained power and are now unwittingly dismantling Dominican baseball. Therefore, just when the Dominicans are in a position to resist the influence of foreigners, the core of their resistance is slipping away into the hands of the foreigners themselves. (Klein, 1991: 3)

Despite noting, in similar fashion to Eichberg’s interpretation of the Olympic movement, that ‘Caribbean baseball is rooted in colonialism,’ Klein does not convey the sense of uniformity, or of total domination, that Galtung does. On the contrary, while pointing to the unequal nature of power relations, Klein remarks, ‘having struggled in obscurity to refine the game Dominicans have made it their own, a game marked by their cadence and colour’ (Klein, 1991: 156). Local responses to broader processes are acknowledged. Klein goes further, and argues that, ‘the Dominicans are a beleaguered people who may someday rebel; to predict when the flash point will occur, look first to the firefights being waged in a game that has inspired their confidence. Look first at Sugarball’ (Klein, 1991: 156).

Other scholars working within this broad cultural imperialist/dependency theory tradition downplay the role of Americanization, and instead, highlight the role of global capitalism. Bruce Kidd’s study of sport in Canada, located within a broader analysis of the development of Canadian national culture, demonstrates several of the qualities of this approach (Kidd, 1981, 1991). Noting the potential importance of sport in the strengthening and enunciation of national identity, Kidd observes that the commodification of Canadian sport has served to undermine this potential. Focusing on the National Hockey League (NHL) as a ‘critical case’ in this regard, he highlights how both the ideological marketing strategy of the NHL and the general process of commodification between the two world wars served to ‘accelerate the disintegration of beliefs and practices that had once supported and nurtured autonomous Canadian institutions’ (Kidd, 1981: 713). For him, an explanation of these processes lies not in Americanizationper se but in a critique of capitalism. Kidd observes:

Explanation lies neither in US expansion nor national betrayal, but in the dynamics of capital. Once sport became a sphere of commodity production … then it was almost inevitable that the best Canadian hockey would be controlled by the richest and most powerful aggregates of capital and sold in the richer and more populous markets of the US. The disappearance of community control over Canadian hockey strengthened a much larger process—the centralization of all popular forms of culture. (Kidd, 1981: 714)

Whereas Kidd deals with issues between ‘core’ economies, George Sage (1995) draws on the work of Wallerstein and adopts a more ‘world-system model’ to explain the global sporting goods industry. Surveying the social and environmental costs associated with the relocation strategies of multinational corporations, such as Nike, Sage concludes that such companies have been ‘following a model which places exports over domestic needs, profits over worker rights, growth over the environment,’ and that, a ‘neo-colonial system of unequal economic and political relationships among the First and Third World countries envisioned by Wallerstein’s world-system model of global development becomes abundantly evident to even a casual observer’ (Sage, 1995: 48). The important insights provided by Sage on the global sports goods industry need further exploration.

While noting the obvious American influences on Australian popular culture, McKay and Miller (1991) adopt a similar stance to Sage. They view the concept of Americanization to be of limited help in explaining the form and content of Australian sport. For them, the political economy of Australian sport can best be analysed by concepts such as post-Fordism, the globalization of consumerism and the cultural logic of late capitalism. Though McKay and Miller (1991), and McKay, Lawrence, Miller and Rowe (1993), prefer the term ‘corporate sport,’ Donnelly has argued that the ‘notion of corporate sport may easily be extended to indicate the Americanization of sport, since most of the conditions of corporate sport are either American in origin, or have been more fully developed in America’ (Donnelly, 1996: 246). It would seem, however, that neither Sage, nor McKay and his fellow researchers, would accept this interpretation. As McKay and Miller remark, ‘in the discourse of the daily report from the stock exchange, the Americans are not the only players in the cultural game’ (McKay and Miller, 1991: 93). The dynamics of this ‘cultural game,’ with its links with both a colonial past, but also with a recognition of Australia’s geographical position in relation to its South-east Asia neighbours, can be fruitfully developed in the context of a discussion of global sport, nationhood and local identities.

Although McKay and Miller de-emphasize the pervasiveness of American control, and concentrate on the dynamics of global capitalism per se, the work by David Andrews would, at first sight, appear to be more in keeping with the position adopted by Donnelly. Andrews, for example, highlights the ‘global structure and local influence of the National Basketball League (NBA) as a transnational corporation, whose global ubiquity inevitably contributes to the hyperreal remaking of local identities’ (Andrews, 1997: 72). Andrews goes on to argue that the NBA has been turned ‘into one of the popular commodity-signs which had usurped the material economic commodity as the dynamic force and structuring principle of everyday American existence’ (Andrews, 1997: 74). In language sometimes akin to that used by Adorno, and his fellow contributors to the Frankfurt School, Andrews argues that during the 1980s, ‘the NBA became a hyperreal circus whose simulated, and hence self-perpetuating, popularity seduced the American masses’ (Andrews, 1997: 74). This ‘success’ is not confined to the USA. Though it may be unwise to overestimate the knowledge of the powerful and underestimate the ability of ‘locals’ to reshape, resist, or simply ignore, the marketing strategies of multinationals, Andrews is correct to observe that the NBA does ‘have a vivid global presence’ (Andrews, 1997: 77). The source of debate, however as he himself acknowledges, is ‘the extent to which the circulation of universal American commodity-signs has resulted in the convergence of global markets, lifestyles and identities’ (Andrews, 1997: 77). Despite the manner in which he formulates the early part of his argument, Andrews highlights the, ‘built-in particularity (or heterogeneity) in terms of the ways that products and images are consumed,’ and that, products, images and services from other societies ‘to some extent … inalienably become indigenized’ (Andrews, 1997: 77). As with the broader globalization literature, sociology of sport research is divided over the precise form and blend of homogeneity and heterogeneity characteristic of the global sports process.

What kind of assessment can be made regarding the state of play of the sociological study of global sport? Several writers have attempted some overall review (Donnelly, 1996; Harvey and Houle, 1994; Houlihan, 1994). While there are clear fault lines along which the literature lies, reflecting the more general globalization debate, there is also some overlap. Research from both a modernization and a cultural imperialism perspective concludes that a homogenization process is occurring. This common ground can be seen in Guttmann’s work. While his early work endorsed a modernization perspective, his more recent contribution has swung in favour of a form of cultural imperialism (Guttmann, 1991, 1993, 1994). While issues of cultural struggle and contestation are much more to the fore in this latter work, the common denominator is still an continued emphasis on homogenization.

Within the broad ‘Marxist’ tradition (cultural imperialism, dependency theory, world-systems theory and hegemony theory), common emphasis is placed on power, exploitation and the role that multinationals play in local markets. While the relative role of Americanization and/or global capitalism is disputed, what is agreed upon is that modern sport is structured by a political economy in which multinationals play a decisive part. In some instances, as we have seen, a particularly unidirectional and monocausal focus is used to explain these processes. More recently, work by Andrews and Klein highlights, to a greater extent, issues of local resistance, reinterpretation and indi-genization. In this, they are in keeping with a trend in the more general globalization literature, that emphasizes heterogeneity (Nederveen Pieterse, 1995). Harvey and Houle summarize aspects of this debate that have surfaced in the sociology of sport when they conclude:

Thus, linking sport to globalization leads to an analysis of sport as part of an emergent global culture, as contributing to the definition of new identities, and to the development of a world economy. Therefore, the debate between globalization and Americanization is more than a question of vocabulary. Indeed, it is a question of paradigmatic choice, which leads to completely different interpretations of a series of phenomena. (Harvey and Houle, 1994: 346)

While the observations made here would endorse these writers when they argue that different interpretations of globalization more broadly, and global sport processes in particular, are ‘a question of paradigmatic choice,’ there is room to doubt whether such interpretations are as polarized as they suggest. So what is the alternative?

Towards an Alternative Perspective on Global Sport Processes

From a process/figurational perspective it is evident that in world terms ‘Western’ societies over time became the equivalent of the established groups within particular European nations. The spread of ‘civilized,’ that is, Western, patterns of conduct occurred through the settlement of occidentals or through their assimilation by the upper strata of other nations. Crucially, the same ‘double-bind’ tendencies that marked the upper classes’ colonization of outsiders within the ‘West’ was and remains evident in the ‘West’s’ dealings with ‘outsider’ (non-Western) nations and peoples. With this spread came a particular, contested view of civilization, of humanity as a whole. The members of ‘Western’ societies were acting as a form of established group on a world level (Elias, 1939/1982: 255). Their tastes and conduct, including their sports, formed part of this, and these practices had similar effects to those of elite cultural activities within ‘Western’ societies themselves. They acted as signs of distinction, prestige and power. Yet, just as the established groups within ‘Western’ societies found that their distinguishing conduct flowed, intentionally or unintentionally, across social strata, so the occidentals of the colonies also discovered that a similar process occurred in their dealings with their colonial social inferiors. Indeed, in the context of this cultural interchange, non-Western codes and customs began to permeate into ‘Western’ societies.

It is important to note, however, that the rise of the ‘West’ was contested and its ‘triumph’ was not inevitable. Furthermore, ‘Western’ culture had long been permeated by non-Western cultural forms, people, technologies and knowledge. In a word, these cultural interchanges stretch back to long before the ‘West’ became more dominant in cultural interchange. In addition, ‘Western’ culture was not itself exactly homogenous and all of a piece. Considerable variations existed within it. These cross-cultural processes were characterized by a combination of intentional and unintentional features. The manner and form of the commingling involved were dependent on several factors including the form of colonization, the position of the area in the large network of political, economic and military interdependencies, and the particular region’s history and structure. Processes of commingling were (and are) characterized by unequal power relations. One means by which the established ‘Western’ elites maintained their status and distinction was through the exercise of specific forms of conduct. An example of this was their recourse to specific, status-enhancing sporting practices. This reinforced their distinctive culture, habitus and identity.

Determining the pattern or course of this commingling is an empirical question. The precise patterns experienced in specific countries or regions, and indeed in the broader global process, depend on the balance or blends of diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties, that is, of homogenizing and differentiating tendencies. At different stages the relative balance may incline in favour of one end of the continuum or another. In a specific phase, in a particular region, the dominant feature may favour a decrease in contrasts. This may be particularly the case where a form of colonization is taking place. Clearly the dynamics of these processes are closely connected to the prevailing balance of power between established and outsider groups.

Tracing this process over the long term it is clear that the social barriers built between established Westerners and the native outsiders have proved semi-permeable. The contrast between ‘Western’ and non-Western societies has indeed begun to diminish and we may already be living in a period that could be characterized as the waning of the ‘West.’ The form and extent to which ‘Western’ values have spread through specific regions however, reflect the history and structure of the areas in question. This also applies in the diffusion of non-Western conduct back to specific ‘Western’ nations. Established and outsider groups were and are active in the interpretation of ‘Western’ and non-Western conduct and cultural forms. Pace Robertson (1992), this recognition points to the possibility that existing varieties of ‘civilized’ conduct could survive and new ones emerge.

The figurational approach rejects the idea that the spread or diffusion of styles of behaviour depends solely on the activities of established groups. A two-way process of cultural interaction crosses the semi-permeable barriers that established groups—both within Western societies, and between them and non-Western societies—deployed to maintain their distinctiveness, power and prestige. The more they became interconnected with outsider groups, the more they depended on them for social tasks. In so doing, the contrasts between established and outsiders diminished. The power ratio between these groups moved in an equalizing direction. Concomitantly, new styles of conduct emerged (Elias, 1939/1982: 256). As ‘civilized’ forms of conduct spread across both the rising lower classes of ‘Western’ society and the different classes of the colonies, an amalgamation of the ‘Western’ and the indigenous patterns occurred. Each time this happened upper-class conduct and that of the rising groups interpenetrated. People placed within this situation attempted to reconcile and fuse the pattern of ‘occidentally civilized societies with the habits and traditions of their own society’ and in this they achieved a ‘higher or lesser degree(s) of success’ (Elias, 1939/1982: 309-14). Featherstone, in discussing a range of these global flows, draws on the general work of Elias and observes:

As Elias indicates in his synopsis to The Civilising Process the creation of larger nation-states and blocs and the nature of the power balances, interdependencies and linkages between and across them will influence the types of identity formation and personality structure which develop in various parts of the world. It is only relatively recently and in response to the current phase of intensified global competition and interdependencies that we have started to think that there might be a sociological problem here: how to develop a series of concepts which are adequate to understand this process. (Featherstone, 1995: 135-6)

Concepts such as diminishing contrasts, increasing varieties, established and outsiders, I/we, they/them balances and interdependent commingling, can arguably assist in this task.

What implications are there for the sociological study of world sport? Elias and Dunning did not deploy all of these concepts to assist their analyses of sport. This was unfortunate. Nevertheless, they were aware, unlike some advocates of other approaches, of the global reach of sports. Examining the growing seriousness of sport, Eric Dunning observed that three interrelated processes appear particularly significant. These are state-formation, functional democratization and the spread of sport through the widening network of international interdependencies (Dunning, 1986: 213). Dunning went on to conclude that ‘it remains necessary to spell out precisely what the connections were between, on the one hand, the growing seriousness of sports participation and, on the other, state-formation, functional democratization and the civilizing process. It also remains to show how this trend was connected with the international spread of sport’ (Dunning, 1986: 214). This is the task in which I am presently engaged.

Commenting on the diffusion of English pastimes to continental Europe and beyond, Elias addressed this connection between sportization and civilizing processes. Noting the reigning in of violence, the development of tighter, standardizing sets of rules, the development of governing bodies and the shift in body habitus, Elias observed that ‘the sportization of pastimes, if I may use this expression as shorthand for their transformation in English society into sports and the export of some of them on an almost global scale, is another example of a civilizing spurt’ (Elias, 1986: 21-2).

This sportization process did not merely involve the multi-layered flow of sports, personnel, technologies and landscapes—important though it is to explore the interconnected patterns these flows form (Maguire, 1994a). Studies of these sportization processes can also be understood ‘as contributions to knowledge of changes in the social habitus of people and of the societies they form with each other’ (Elias, 1986: 23). More important than simply the global movement of cultural wares, this shift towards the competitive, regularized, rationalized and gendered bodily exertions of achievement sport, involved changes at the level of personality, body deportment and social interaction. A more rationalized male body habitus came into evidence which was going to affect people and groups in different societies across the globe in fairly fundamental ways.

Though Elias did not fully develop his analysis of the export of this sportization of pastimes, he did point to the significance of the relative autonomy of these sport forms for their adoption outside of England. Referring to organizational developments occurring in the nineteenth century, Elias noted:

Every variety of sport … has a relative autonomy in relation not only to the individuals who play at a given time, but also to the society where it developed. That is the reason why some sports which first developed in England could be transferred to and adopted by other societies as their own. The recognition of this fact opens up a wide field for further investigation. Why, for instance, were some initially English varieties of sport such as Association Football and tennis taken up by many different societies all over the world while the spread of cricket was mainly confined to an exclusive circle of Commonwealth countries? Why did the rugby variety of football not spread as widely as the Association variety? Why did the USA, without abandoning the English varieties completely, develop its own variety of football? (Elias, 1986: 39-40)

Questions of this type lie at the heart of an analysis of the links between sportization and globalization. Note that it is male achievement sport, emerging out of England, that is the dominant player. Though European rivals existed, in particular in the form of German and Swedish gymnastics and also the Czech Sokol movement, and although some older folk pastimes also survived, it was male achievement sport that was to affect people’s body habitus on a global scale. That is not to suggest that there occurred no resistance to, reinterpretation or indeed recycling of, this body culture. Here, too, evidence of the interweaving of the local and the global is evident. The spread of high-status ‘English’ sport forms to continental Europe during the nineteenth century prompted various reactions. In Nordic countries, English sport appears to have been readily embraced but also restylized in the light of local body culture and tradition. In Germany, sections of that society resisted this diffusion. National culture and identity were seen to be threatened by English sport forms. The body culture of the Turner Movement was viewed as superior by German patriots and, as such, English sport forms were labelled as socially inferior. The Germans were not alone. Great Britain’s other main European rival, France, also had citizens who advocated resistance. For example, Pascal Grousset, who founded the Ligue Nationale de l’Education Physique in the late 1880s, condemned the importation of English games and values and argued that the French people would do better to seek their models in antiquity rather then from across La Manche (cited in Weber, 1991). Ancient games of ‘football’ were promoted and medieval competitive pageants revived but to no avail. Those like Baron de Coubertin, who were advocates of English games and public school values, but also Greek antiquity, won the day. By 1892, de Coubertin felt able to declare:

Let us export our oarsmen, our fencers, our runners into other lands. That is the true free trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally. (Pierre de Coubertin, 1892)

Closely connected to the late nineteenth-century reinvention of tradition and the intensification of inter-state tensions, achievement sports came ‘to serve as symbolic representations of competition between states’ and ‘as a status symbol of nations’ (Elias, 1986: 23). Considering achievement sport development during the twentieth century, Elias went on to argue that:

The achievement sport culminating today in the Olympic Games provides telling examples. There the struggle for world records has given the development of sport a different direction. In the form of achievement sport the playful mimetic tensions of leisure sport become dominated and patterned by global tensions and rivalries between different states. (Elias, 1986: 43-4)

What Elias did not fully appreciate and acknowledge however, is that while male achievement sport culture developed in and diffused out of an English context, aspects of it were more fully developed in a later phase of sportization in the context of North America and, in particular, the USA. In England, achievement sport was shackled by an amateur ethos which emphasized ‘fair play’ and downplayed seriousness. Yet, during the third sportization phase, along with the achievement sport body cultures, the notion of ‘le fair play’ did diffuse to continental Europe and to both the formal and informal British Empire (Maguire, 1993a). While such a notion might have been viewed as a sign of distinction and a cultural marker of English gentlemen, sport advocates in other societies chose to practise their sports differently and more seriously. By the fourth sportization phase, it was an American version of the achievement sport ethos that had gained relative ascendancy.

The third sportization phase then entailed the differential diffusion of ‘English’ sport forms. The remarks made by one historian, Ensor, highlight the British perception of this diffusion. In commenting on ‘the development of organized games’ Ensor observed that ‘on any reckoning [this] may rank among England’s leading contributions to world culture’ (1936: 164). Whatever the merits of this evaluation, this diffusion was closely connected to two interrelated processes: the emergence of intense forms of nationalism, and a spurt in globalization processes. During this period we see the intensification of ‘national’ sentiment, the emergence of ethnic nation-states and the invention of traditions. This was to be the seedbed of what Elias noted was a feature of twentieth-century sport, namely the ‘self escalating pressure of inter-state competition in sport and its role as a status symbol of nations’ (Elias, 1986: 23).

From the 1920s through to the late 1960s then, the ‘West’ regulated the field of play, sport organizations, the surplus value associated with sporting festivals and the ideological meanings associated with such events. ‘Western’ and non-Western people actively—as opposed to passively—embraced some aspects of the sports that diffused out of the Anglo/Euro-American core. Galtung is right to assert that sport was and is a ‘carrier of deep culture and structure’ (1982: 136) and in the fourth phase this culture was ‘Western’ in orientation. Indeed, sport can be said to have become a ‘global idiom’ in this phase. Globalizing sport entailed a specific type of ‘Western’ masculine culture as embodied in and through achievement sport.

Yet we have to be careful here in our intra-civilizational analysis. While Galtung has correctly argued that sport is ‘one of the most powerful transfer mechanisms for culture and structure ever known to humankind,’ in suggesting this he overstates the extent to which ‘Western’ domination of global ‘sport’ cultures was and is complete (1991: 150). As Said noted ‘it was the case nearly everywhere in the non-European world that the coming of the white man brought forth some sort of resistance’ (1993: xii). On occasions, as already noted, non-Western people not only resisted and reinterpreted ‘Western’ masculine sport personnel, forms, models and marketing, they also maintained, fostered and promoted, on a global scale, their indigenous recreational pursuits.

While Galtung may be correct to suggest that competitive sports carry a ‘message of western social cosmology’ (1982: 137), this does not mean that people from non-occidental or indeed occidental cultures accepted them uncritically between the 1920s and the late 1960s. Studies of Trobriand cricket (Cashman, 1988), baseball in Japan (Snyder and Spreitzer, 1984), the diffusion of sport to Papua New Guinea (Seward, 1986), and the early twentieth-century development of ‘Finnish baseball’ (Meinander, 1992) all highlight the dynamic interchange between the local, national and the global. Despite what some ‘soundbite sociologists’ suggest, there is nothing sanguine about reaching this conclusion. What one is attempting to do is to describe and analyse how complex social processes really are. For example, while ‘sport,’ or variants of this term, diffused across the globe, in its northern European heartland this form of body culture was reinterpreted and labelled by indigenous people in the light of local history and social structures. In Norway the term Idrett is used, which while referring to sport also incorporates broader traditional body culture. In contrast, in Finland, different terms are used that serve to distinguish between sport (Urheilu) and movement (Liikunta).

It is also important to note that representatives of indigenous cultures have proved adept at embracing a sport form, reinventing it and then recycling it back to the country of origin. The history of nordic skiing is an example of these processes at work. In turn, the core country also embraces cultural flows from outsider states and the ‘reinvented’ sport form diffuses further around the core. The diffusion of Canadian ice-hockey illustrates the processes involved (Maguire, 1996). It should also be observed that this phase of sportization/globalization witnessed the slow decline of modern sport’s founding nation. In the emerging global sport figuration, Englishmen were being beaten—in the early stages of this fourth phase, by fellow occidentals—at games at which they felt they had, by birthright, a ‘god given’ right to be winners.

Whereas the fourth phase of sportization clearly involved an elaborate political economy in which hegemonic control of sport lay with the ‘West,’ control was never complete. Resistance took a variety of forms, such as the Cold War rivalry that was also played out in the sports world. There also occurred the slow assertion of women’s rights and the challenge to hegemonic masculinity. The latter stages of this fourth phase were also characterized by the rise of non-Western nations to sporting prominence, and, sometimes, pre-eminence. Non-Western nations began to beat their former colonial masters, especially the English. This process has intensified in the fifth phase of sportization beginning in the late 1960s, and is apparent in a range of sports including badminton, cricket, soccer, table tennis and track and field. Here, African, Asian and South American nations were and are increasingly to the fore. In a sense, however, they still do so on ‘Western’ terms, for they do so through ‘Western’ sports.

This fifth phase of global sportization exemplifies both a decrease in contrasts but also an increase in varieties. It also highlights the need for detailed empirical case studies. The creolization of sports cultures may be under way but the precise matrix being formed remains to be charted. An increase in the varieties of structures, forms and identities can tentatively be identified. In this connection, Houlihan is correct to point to the need to develop criteria by which to judge the ‘reach’ and ‘response’ of global flows on local cultures. He is also correct to observe that it is important to assess whether these processes affect what he terms the ‘core’ or the ‘ephemeral’ aspects of that culture (Houlihan, 1994). Similar observations were made, as noted with regard to assessing the impact of Americanization processes in the case studies examining basketball and American football and the media-sport complex (Maguire, 1990: 216; 1993a). Equally, while he is correct to point to the need to ‘distinguish between the globalization of particular sports and the globalization of the organizational processes and values of modern sport’ (Houlihan, 1994: 367), it is important not to lose sight of the interconnections between the achievement sport ethos and how it is played out in different kinds of sports. Not all modern sports are the same. Further, while I would concur with Houlihan that it is foolish to claim that victory on the playing field can, in itself, be seen as having a dramatic effect on relations between nations, I would also agree with him that ‘profound differences will nonetheless still divide states and that these differences might be reflected in the sports they play’ (Houlihan, 1994: 364). Perhaps one can go further and argue that only when new ‘sports’ gain cultural ascendancy, and along with these new sports, new global rivals are created, will sport assist in the development of new identities and the jettisoning of older ‘invented traditions’ (Maguire, 1993a). These issues, among others, arguably lie at the heart of the glocal (global/local) sports nexus.


The approach outlined here shares with Arnason the assumption that ‘among the identities that are thus reinforced and reoriented by the global context, civilizational complexes and traditions are not the least important’ (Arnason, 1990: 224). The concepts of diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties, overlooked in Robertson’s work on globalization, help in more adequately conceptualizing such an analysis. These concepts also assist in making sense of the global diffusion, patterning and differential popularization of cultural wares, including sports. Diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties have not, however, been given due prominence in previous figurational accounts of sport. This may explain, in part, some of the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that have arisen over the past three decades. In this context it is particularly important to link the concepts of diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties to a broader intra-civilizational analysis. On this basis the implications for the study of sportization processes can be teased out. In the recent work of Featherstone (1995) and Featherstone and Lash (1995) extensive reference is made to figurational concepts and emphasis is given to the need to think processually and relationally. The need to examine the power dynamics of cross-cultural interdependency chains is also highlighted. Here too, however, as with Robertson, the twin concepts of diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties—as well as sport—are overlooked. Yet, to be fair, both Featherstone and Robertson are rightly pointing to the need for intra-civilizational analyses.

On the basis of what has been argued so far, several key points of departure can be identified which can assist in more adequately orientating analyses of the global sports process. First, adoption of a very long-term perspective can yield many benefits. Though it is legitimate to examine the making of modern sports, intra-civilizational analysis of the European ancient world and of other civilizations is also necessary. The longer-term links of these ancient civilizations with the making of modern sport should not be overlooked. Equally, the interdependency chains that tie more recent developments within the West to non-occidental cultures require consideration. In doing so it is important to distinguish between concepts of development and evolution and to avoid an ethnocentric approach. It is also necessary to grasp that the ‘local’ was and is never hermetically sealed from the ‘other.’ There is no sporting Gemeinschaft waiting to be discovered. The local was always semi-permeable and contoured by centrifugal and centripetal forces. In this connection, it needs also to be understood that this balance of forces was marked by a series of power struggles, elimination combat and a mutual contest of sameness, difference and commingling. The gendered, ethnic and class-based nature of these processes need careful unravelling. In doing so, the analysis must avoid the pursuit of monocausal explanations, the use of dichotomous thinking and the tendency to view these processes as governed by either the intended or the unintended actions of established or outsider groups of people. Analyses that emphasize the multifaceted, multidirectional and complex sets of power balances will be better placed to probe and trace the global sportization process.

Sport then plays a contradictory role in globalization processes and national identity formation. Sport development has been and continues to be contoured by the interlocking processes of diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties. The emergence of modern sport out of its European, and particularly British heartland, was, as noted, closely tied to globalization processes. Its standardization, organizational development and global diffusion both reflected and reinforced the global processes that were then being powered by the West. During the twentieth century sport was to become a ‘global idiom.’ Its laws were, as Ali Mazrui (1976: 411), noted, the first to be voluntarily embraced across the globe.

In certain respects sports also act as ‘anchors of meaning’ at a time when national cultures and identities are experiencing the effects of global time-space compression. Victory over Australia provides the English with a secure status point. The association of sport with a specific place and season also provides a sense of Heimat, a sense of invented ‘permanence.’ Think of Wimbledon, Super Bowl Sunday, the US Masters at Augusta and, for the English, test cricket from Australia during a European winter. These sport occasions are counterpoints to change. As was noted earlier, the formation of sport was closely connected to the invention of traditions that attempt to bind the past and present together. Yet, paradoxically, the media-sport production complex also erodes this sense of stability. Through satellite broadcasting the consumer can cross spaces and be at any sport venue across the globe. It also brings new varieties of sport subcultures to national cultures. New identities can be forged. Some British/English males now identify with, and want to be famous American sports stars, such as the golfer Tiger Woods or ex-basketball player Michael Jordan.

Though sport has reinforced and reflected a diminishing of contrasts between nations, the close association of sport with national cultures and identities also means that moves towards integration of regions at a political level are undermined by the role of sport. Sport, being inherently competitive and based on a hierarchical valuing of worth, binds people to the dominant invented traditions associated with the nation. Yet, there may be also the first signs of countervailing trends. The tentative emergence of a European sports identity is a case in point. The incipient stages of this are evident in the formation of ‘European’ teams to play the United States of America in the men’s Ryder Cup and women’s Solheim Cup golf competitions. The athletics World Cup competition also has teams representing six ‘geographical’ areas, of which Europe is one. The degree to which the athletes involved feel any strong sense of identification with these areas is debatable but, as yet, is also unexplored. EU officials have also raised the idea of a common European team for the Olympics and also endorse a Formula One grand prix of Europe. As with European integration more generally, however, the sports process occupies contested terrain in which the defensive response of strengthened ethnic identities may yet win out over broader pluralizing global flows.