The Social Functions of Sport: A Theoretical Approach to the Interplay of Emerging Powers, National Identity, and Global Sport Events

Authors: Lenger, Alexander; Schumacher, Florian
Almanac: Globalistics and globalization studiesGlobal Transformations and Global Future.

Many social scientists see Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa as emerging powers. Analyzing to what extent these countries have the size, the resources, and the will to achieve great power status they find that all these countries are the largest countries with the biggest economies in their regions and play an important role in the global polity. The effects of symbolic power accumulation, however, are frequently ignored and significantly underestimated. The paper contributes to the discussion on emerging powers by analyzing global symbolic power formation. Therefore, a field of global symbolism, namely the global field of sport is reviewed. Sport in general can be seen as a mechanism to strengthen the national identity of any country and its vision of itself. Hence, the paper argues that the investment into sport is a useful strategy to improve citizens' self-perception as an emerging power and to gain support for their ‘expanding’ politics. Furthermore, it argues that the power status of emerging powers can be read off from the supply and success in international and global sport events. Consequently, it is not of great surprise that emerging countries have started hosing major sport event recently (Olympic Summer Games 2008 and Olympic Winter Games 2022 in China; Soccer World Championship 2010 in South Africa, Commonwealth Games 2010 and Cricket World Cup 2011 in India; Olympic Winter Games 2014 and the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, FIFA World Cup 2014 and the Olympic Summer Games 2016 in Brazil).

Keywords: globalization, international relations, emerging powers, collective identity, nation building, symbolic power, sport, Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup.