Sports are something that have been common throughout time and across the world. Whether it be baseball, soccer, cricket, or backyard football, sports have always brought people together who share a common interest. Sometimes it is for the love of the game, other times it is for the love of a country, but no matter the circumstance, sports have always had a complex relationship with societies and cultures all over the globe.
In this blog post, I am going to touch on a number of different sports and moments in sports that function as a way to bring people of different demographics, backgrounds, and cultures all together for a moment in time. I want to point out how much of a positive impact sports can have and how sports, ranging from professionals down to little league, positively influence people to come together and share a common interest.
http://www.sunnation.co.uk/18-london-olympics-athletes-coaches-refused-asylum-are-still-in-uk/- Flags from the different competing nations at the 2012 Olympic Games
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of sports bringing the whole world together is the Olympic Games. In 1896 the first Olympic games were held under the International Olympic Committee. In those games, 14 nations and 241 different athletes competed in a range of games. In 1924, the first Winter Olympic Games was held. From there many things have changed compared to the games we know today, but there is also much that has stayed the same, most importantly, the fact that nations all around the world are represented by their best men and women to compete in various games.
In the most recent summer games, 2012 held in London, 204 total nations participated with 10,768 total athletes competing. In the 2014 winter games, 88 nations participated with 2,873 athletes representing their countries. These numbers truly give a good perspective of how vast and widespread sports are across the world. Whether 100 athletes are representing their country or one athlete is, it cannot be argued that these sports bring the world together to compete in healthy competition.
2012 Olympic opening ceremony
This video gives a good feel on how much this event means. For a hosting nation, it is an honor and opportunity to put down any qualms you may have with other nations and welcome them for something that the countries can get behind. People work extremely hard to make something like this happen, and aside from the boost they may get from visitors to their economy, the host takes the as an opportunity to show unity to their own nations and the other competing nations.
Throughout history there has no doubt been controversy involving the games. Some examples are in 1980 and 1984, nations boycotted the games due to controversy involving the hosting nation and enemies of the host. 1980 saw the U.S.boycott the Olympics being held in Russia with 62 total eligible countries failing to participate. The next games, Russia boycotted the games being hosted in Los Angeles due to the U.S. boycotting them. This resulted in 15 nations failing to participate. Despite these controversies, the games today still happen, and whether nations boycott or choose not to go for whatever reasons, they come back most of the time to compete in future games. There are wars that destroy lives and pit countries against other countries, and there are sports that give countries a chance to compete against each other without the destruction of land and life.
The greatest example of the Olympics allowing nations to compete in friendly competition is the extremely well known story of the “Miracle on Ice.” In what is one of the greatest upsets in sports history, a team of amateurs and college players formed the U.S. team to take on the juggernaut that was the Soviet Union. The Soviets had won the previous four gold medals while the U.S. team was made up of players who had never dreamed of participating in the Olympics. A country united around these players, and in what was a natural rivalry in the U.S. vs. the Soviets, a rivalry stemming from the Cold War, the greatest moment in American ice hockey history was created.
This was so much more than just a hockey game. It was a moment for people to rally behind their country in something that was as simple as a game. And while the Soviets may not have felt great about losing, it was a chance for a game to have more implication than just a gold medal. This game brought the term “miracle” to life for a whole country. That is the power of sport coming from a global level.
If any more of an example is needed, look no further than the World Cup. In another four year recurring sport, the FIFA World Cup brings together 209 nations to compete for a world championship in what is probably the most popular sport in the world. This is a tournament that can bring not only whole countries together to watch a game, but also instills hope in young athletes everywhere. With soccer being as popular as it is, especially outside of the United States, it gives hope to aspiring soccer players that they may achieve something greater all while representing their nation. All around the world you can see kids playing with a simple ball in the streets. They don’t need fancy stadiums or gear to come together for the love of the game, they just need people that share the interest and a game can breakout.
But as stated earlier, sports have much more impact than just global relations and bringing countries and fans together for some harmless competition. They function in much smaller ways as well. The United States is a prime example of sports creating such large and immeasurable change for the nation’s economy, culture, and social structure.
As far as the economics for sports go, look no further than the NFL. The NFL is the most popular of the four major sports (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) in the U.S. and thus generates the most revenue. According to a CNBC article titled “How the NFL makes the most money of any pro sport” the NFL pulled in 1.07 billion dollars in sponsorship revenue alone. Sure, a lot of that money does end up padding the pockets of big-wigs in the industry, but it also goes to creating jobs for athletes playing in the sports, along with everyone involved along the way. Sports Business Daily reports that the NFL has a total staff of 1858 employees. This does not even included the employees working for the 32 NFL teams. Football as a sport in America creates jobs, provides massive entertainment and ad revenue, and also boosts the economy of cities with teams and the nation as a whole.
This graph shows the total national revenue per team in the NFL
Sports in the U.S. function far beyond economics and that can be seen by the amount of people they reach. Sports alone influence a vast amount of culture, especially pop-culture, in the U.S. Between the four major sports well over a 100 million people were reached. The NFL drew the largest audience at 111.9 million viewers for Super Bowl 50, the World Series in 2015 averaged 14.7 million, the 2015 Stanley Cup averaged 3.7 million, and the 2015 NBA finals averaged 19.9 million(Statistics from Statista.com). Obviously there is some overlap in the viewership, but the fact stands that these sports events reached a vast amount of the population. With that comes the cultural impact these sports have. Of course everyone knows how popular Super Bowl commercials are. These commercials are so popular and cost so much because they reach a crazy amount of people. These are often companies just choosing a time to plug their product where they will reach a lot of people, but these commercials can have a cultural impact. With some sort of message being sent out during this time, lots of people can be reached and a call to action can be placed. This is not something that is common, but it is something that is possible. Commercials like these do exist and even if they do plug a product, they can have a greater meaning as well. Below is a commercial from 2005 that is thanking the troops.
Commercials like these create a vibe for the whole audience. Sports are the cause of this. They create the audience in the first place so that messages like these can be spread in a way that may be costly, but reaches so many more people than a typical ad.
The last thing that I want to talk about in relation to sports is their impact on the social structures of a country. Sticking with the United States, I want to focus on some more minor developments in regards to sports. From a very young age, I was a fan of baseball. This is in large part because of my dad who was himself a sports fan. I played T-ball from a young age and from there I played baseball until I graduated from high school. Always at my games was my dad, cheering from behind the fence, supporting me all along the way. We would go the park and throw the ball or he would hit balls to me so I could practice my fielding. We would attend Rockies games together regularly so that I could see how the professionals do it. And while these times spent watching and playing baseball never led to me becoming a professional, it did instill in me a passion for the game. This was created by a father-son bond that is mimicked throughout the country. Fathers taking their sons or daughters to games, attending their events, helping them practice, and instilling a love for something that will never be lost. This is exactly why sports, specifically baseball, mean so much to me. The bond spent around the baseball field is something that has stuck with me after my father has passed. While there will never be another game we attend or another ball thrown between us, I will never forget the memories he gave me. This is a bond that is shared all around the country, all around the world, all around different sports. It doesn’t need to be between father and son either. It can be between mother and daughter, or uncle and nephew, or between a couple of cousins.
Sports are something that can be shared with most anyone. After a home run is hit at a baseball game, fans stand and cheer and high five those around them. After a team wins a championship, parades are held in the city where tens of thousands get together to celebrate. After a nation wins the World Cup, its citizens, whether they be in poverty or at the top of the world, can come together and be proud of something larger than themselves. These are things sports bring to the world and the exact reason they will be around for a long time to come.