Chapter Nine: Language And Other Cultural Markers

IV. Sport

Here we are on firmer ground. The extent of globalization of rule-making and dispute resolution in sport was described in Chapter Two; this process can only continue.

National allegiances and stereotypes certainly persist, but sport has already become international, thanks to television. Certain sports will continue to bulk large in national self-images and national culture, as for instance football (for all countries) and cricket (for the British Commonwealth), but even there internationalization is creeping in. Many of the superstars of British football are foreigners – French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Brazilian. Several major British football clubs are owned by foreigners, indeed many more are publicly listed and open to foreign takeover. What would you say about the place of football in the cultural make-up of a Chelsea fan, whose club is owned by a Russian billionaire, managed by a Spaniard and fields a majority of non-British players?

The process has gone further in sports such as tennis, whose leading personalities have become more or less detached from their nationality. Fans of Maria Sharapova or Roger Federer support their heroes not because of nationality, either their own or the player's. Tennis, by the way, is played and watched predominantly in English. Almost all tennis stars can speak the language, and they all have English-language web-sites, which in some cases are major businesses in their own right.

It is true that the Davis Cup continues to focus national rivalries, but it is a sideshow in terms of television coverage, money, or cultural impact. As with tennis, so also with motor racing, winter sports, wrestling, golf, and a host of other televisual sports. They are all star-based sports, and often seem more part of the entertainment industry than true sports. (What is a true sport?) Definitely they are part of a cultural mosaic which has an increasingly global tinge.

The Olympic Games are of course firmly based on national competition, and this will not change soon. However, sporting stars also compete at the Olympics and attract as much media attention as national teams. Long-term, it would not be surprising to see the element of individual competition elbowing out national competition even at the Olympics. Certainly this will happen in terms of media coverage and cultural footprint even if the Olympic organization itself continues to cling to national boundaries.

Sporting fan-clubs are a prime example of the role played by the Internet in fostering globalization in a groupish kind of way. Certainly, there are still some sports with a high level of national or regional awareness, of which football must be the leading example. But even in football, stars such as David Beckham have their international fan-clubs, largely operated through the Internet, whose members would presumably stay about the same as the hero concerned moves club or country. Imagine a group of Lewis Hamilton's fans, from a number of different countries, gathering in a bar after a Formula One race in – say – Italy. Of course they will talk in English, perhaps with a smattering of other language words. What could be more groupish, more globalized, or less national?