How can sports support nation-building in a country?

Sports can support nation-building by creating a sense of national pride and unity. They can also bring positive attention to a nation through its participation in or hosting of an international sporting event.

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Sport is often praised for its potential to bring people together and to provide unity amongst people. Supporting a sports team unites people by providing them with a social link, something they all have in common: their excitement for a particular sporting event and the support for their team. This...

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Sport is often praised for its potential to bring people together and to provide unity amongst people. Supporting a sports team unites people by providing them with a social link, something they all have in common: their excitement for a particular sporting event and the support for their team. This even works on a national level, as undoubtedly sporting events can help bringing a nation closer together and they can most certainly support nation-building.

Germany is a good example for this. After World War II, Germany had been divided into two countries, East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) and West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany). After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the German reunification in 1990, Germans from the East and the West suddenly found themselves reunited. Whilst this was most certainly a very joyous occasion, it soon became apparent that it was difficult for Germans to define themselves as a nation. After all, Germany had not only been divided geographically, but also economically, given that East Germany had been a communist country and West Germany had been a typical capitalist country.

Therefore, the FIFA World Cup of 1994 provided a much-needed occasion for all Germans to feel united. For the first time since World War II, the German national football team consisted of players from all parts of Germany. Players that in the past had to play for two different national teams finally were able to play united in one team. This provided all Germans with a sense of unity and national pride. East Germans and West Germans both supported the German football team and were proud to be Germans. Despite the years of separation, East and West Germans were finally able to experience the joy and happiness of sport together, leading to a more common feeling of pride in their country. This event was undoubtedly a massive stepping stone in the nation-building process of the newly reunited Germany in the 1990s. This example clearly shows the important role sport can play in the nation-building process in general.

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Nation building involves both creating a sense of pride in one's country among the citizenry and also enhancing a country's status in the eyes of other nations, which, of course, is a chief way to build national unity and pride at home as well. People love to feel they come from a country that others admire and respect.

For that reason, hosting international sporting events, such as the Olympics, can be a nation building exercise that brings much positive attention and can build a sense of prestige and good feeling about a country.

Adolph Hitler understood that when Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics, an event which he used to maximize propaganda for the supposedly superior Aryan nation he was building—and to dispel rumors his country was a rogue police state engaged in uncivilized persecution of Jews and other minorities. While his is a particularly notorious example, to this day countries that hope to enhance their international prestige will spend massive amounts of money to host the Olympic Games. Meanwhile, most countries carefully tally their medal winners to boost patriotism and the perception that their own nation is better or more gutsy than others.

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Nation building is the process of unifying a country and solidifying its identity. Sports is actually an excellent way of doing this because it creates a unified goal and brands all the differing groups in the nation under one banner. There is a sense of camaraderie inherent in sports because, regardless of the ideological differences you may have against another individual, you both wholeheartedly support your team.

In America, it is difficult to understand this because there isn't one dominant national team for any sport, but the film Remember the Titans explores a similar dynamic. The town in the movie is divided over racial tensions and the integration of the high school, but the dominant football team at the high school begins to wear away the prejudices because the townspeople earnestly support their school in spite of their racial divide. This unified goal and support of the team eventually leads them to coming together as a town and breaking through the racial barriers that were holding them back.

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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.

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