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Gain perspective on nationalism in the context of sport and physical activity

This is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Sociology of Sport and Physical Activity by Katherine M. Jamieson & Maureen M. Smith.

Do you remember cheering for your favorite team or athlete during the Olympic Games? Do you have relatives or friends from outside your country who took great pride when their home country did well in the Olympics or other international sporting event? When someone mentions the nations of the United States, Canada, Brazil, or Romania, which sports come to mind? You have probably learned to associate baseball, hockey, soccer, and gymnastics with these countries, respectively. And what ideas do you hold about countries that boycott the Olympic Games or that do not allow women to compete on their teams? Each of these questions offers you a chance to aim your sociological imagination at sport and physical activity in national and global contexts.


The relevance of sporting traditions to national identities and the use of sport in support of nationalist propaganda are of keen interest to sociologically informed kinesiologists. In fact, some might say that the sociology of sport began as a field motivated to understand and articulate the importance of sport to a nation’s development, especially in creating a consensus association among a nation’s citizens. Consider the Olympic Games and the pride certain countries have in dominating particular sports or in competing among the top nations in the medal count. Remember your own childhood and which sports were most relevant in your school, community, and leisure experiences - perhaps involvement in these activities created a sense of belonging, purpose, and unity?


While much of the current research on physical culture and nationalism focuses on sport, the field of study we know today as kinesiology emerged in part out of concerns for the health and wellness of the nation. At times this concern for the nation was centered on the effects of major societal change like that of a shift from farm living to city living brought about by industrialization. In other times, the concern for the nation was more directly about national security and a perceived ability to protect one’s nation should it encounter conflict with other nations. In times of war, such concerns may have informed a national curriculum for K-12 physical education. In other times, concerns may have informed educational planning without developing a firm national curriculum. In any case, despite a more current focus on sport in relation to the nation, other physical activity settings, including physical education and leisure, have also been deeply linked to nation building.

Learn more about Fundamentals of Sociology of Sport and Physical Activity.