How can sport support nation-building in a country?
A major part of building a nation is creating a sense of nationalism. People in a country have to feel that they are all part of the same nation and that they are proud to be part of that nation. Sport is one way to help make people feel this way.
The most likely way to use sport to build a nation is to promote the national team in some sport that is popular throughout the country. In most countries of the world, football (soccer) is a very popular sport. If the country has a national team that competes against other countries, the government can encourage people to follow that team. This will be particularly effective if the team is competitive. The people of the country can feel proud that they are associated with a team that is going out and winning (or going out and competing gallantly against overwhelming odds).
This can, at times, even be possible if the sport is not already popular among all groups in a country. A prime example of this is Nelson Mandela’s handling of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The apartheid regime in South Africa had only recently fallen and the country was somewhat fragile. Rugby was the sport of the white people and had a limited following among other races. However, Mandela (then the president) embraced the national team as it played in the World Cup at home. This helped to bring white and non-white South Africans together. It did not solve all of the country’s problems or make it completely unified, but it helped.
For better or for worse, people get very excited about sport. They identify strongly with teams that they like. They feel kinship of a sort with those who like the same team. This is why sport can be used to help build a nation. If the people of a country share a passion for a given sport or a given team, that shared passion can give them something in common that makes them feel that they are part of the same nation.