John SaundersInternational Sports Studies 43 No. 1 (2021)
https://doi.org/10.30819/iss.43-1.01 pp: 1-6 2021-11-09
Today of course, not only can we watch a live telecast of the Olympic Games in the comfort of our own homes wherever the games are being held, but we can pick up a telephone and talk face to face with friends and relatives in real time, wherever they may be in the world. To today’s generation – generation Z – this does not seem in the least bit remarkable. Indeed, they have been nicknamed ‘the connected generation’ precisely because such a degree of human interconnectedness no longer seems worth commenting on. The media technology and the transport advances that underpin this level of connectedness, have become taken for granted assumptions to them. This is why the global events of 2020 and the associated public health related reactions, have proved to be so remarkable to them. It is mass travel and the closeness and variety of human contact in day-to-day interactions, that have provided the breeding ground for the pandemic. Consequently, moving around and sharing close proximity with many strangers, have been the activities that have had to be curbed, as the initial primary means to manage the spread of the virus. This has caused hardship to many, either through the loss of a job and the associated income or, the lengthy enforced separation from family and friends – for the many who find themselves living and working far removed from their original home.
McLuhan’s powerful metaphor was ahead of its time. His thoughts were centred around media and electronic communications well prior to the notion of a ‘physical’ pandemic, which today has provided an equally potent image of how all of our fortunes have become intertwined, no matter where we sit in the world. Yet it is this event which seems paradoxically to have for the first time forced us to consider more closely the path of progress pursued over the last half century. It is as if we are experiencing for the first time the unleashing of powerful and competing forces, which are both centripetal and centrifugal. On the one hand we are in a world where we have a World Health Organisation. This is a body which has acted as a global force, first declaring the pandemic and subsequently acting in response to it as a part of its brief for international public health. It has brought the world’s scientists and global health professionals together to accelerate the research and development process and develop new norms and standards to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and help care for those affected.
At the same time, we have been witnessing nations retreating from each other and closing their borders in order to restrict the interaction of their citizens with those from other nations around the world. We have perceived that danger and risk are increased by international travel and human to human interaction. As a result, increasingly communication has been carried out from the safety and comfort of one’s own home, with electronic media taking the place of personal interaction in the real world. The change to the media dominated world, foreseen by McLuhan a half century ago, has been hastened and consolidated by the threats posed by Covid 19. Real time interactions can be conducted more safely and more economically by means of the global reach of the internet and the ever-enhanced technologies that are being offered to facilitate that. Yet at a geopolitical level prior to Covid 19, the processes of globalism and nationalism were already being recognised as competing forces. In many countries, tensions have emerged between those who are benefitting from the opportunities presented by the development of free trade between countries and those who are invested in more traditional ventures, set in their own nations and communities. The emerging beneficiaries have become characterised as the global elites. Their demographic profile is one associated with youth, education and progressive social ideas. However, they are counter-balanced by those who, rather than opportunities, have experienced threats from the disruptions and turbulence around them. Among the ideas challenged, have been the expected certainties of employment, social values and the security with which many grew up. Industries which have been the lifeblood of their communities are facing extinction and even the security of housing and a roof over the heads of self and family may be under threat. In such circumstances, some people may see waves of new immigrants, technology, and changing social values as being tides which need to be turned back. Their profile is characterised by a demographic less equipped to face such changes - the more mature, less well educated and less mobile. Yet this tension appears to be creating something more than just the latest version of the generational divide. The recent clashes between Republicans and Democrats in the US have provided a very potent example of these societal stresses. The US has itself exported some of these arenas of conflict to the rest of the world. Black lives Matter and #Me too, are social movements with their foundation in the US which have found their way far beyond the immediate contexts which gave them birth. In the different national settings where these various tensions have emerged, they have been characterised through labels such as left and right, progressive and traditional, the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have nots’ etc. Yet common to all of this growing competitiveness between ideologies and values is a common thread. The common thread lies in the notion of competition itself. It finds itself expressed most potently in the spread and adoption of ideas based on what has been termed the neoliberal values of the free market.
These values have become ingrained in the language and concepts we employ every day. Thus, everything has a price and ultimately the price can be represented by a dollar value. We see this process of commodification around us on a daily basis. Sports studies’ scholars have long drawn attention to its continuing growth in the world of sport, especially in situations when it overwhelms the human characteristics of the athletes who are at the very heart of sport. When the dollar value of the athlete and their performance becomes more important than the individual and the game, then we find ourselves at the heart of some of the core problems reported today. It is at the point where sport changes from an experience, where the athletes develop themselves and become more complete persons experiencing positive and enriching interactions with fellow athletes, to an environment where young athletes experience stress and mental and physical ill health as result of their experiences. Those who are supremely talented (and lucky?) are rewarded with fabulous riches. Others can find themselves cast out on the scrap heap as a result of an unfair selection process or just the misfortune of injury. Sport as always, has proved to be a mirror of life in reflecting this process in the world at large, highlighting the heights that can be climbed by the fortunate as well as the depths that can be plumbed by the ill-fated.
Advocates of the free-market approach will point to the opportunities it can offer. Figures can show that in a period of capitalist organised economies, there has been an unprecedented reduction in the amount of poverty in the world. Despite rapid growth in populations, there has been some extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, the numbers in poverty fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people (The Economist Leader, June 1st, 2013). Nonetheless the critics of capitalism will continue to point to an increasing gap between the haves and don’t haves and specifically a decline in the ‘middle classes’, which have for so long provided the backbone of stable democratic societies.
This delicate balance between retreating into our own boundaries as a means to manage the pandemic and resuming open borders to prevent economic damage to those whose businesses and employment depend upon the continuing movement of people and goods, is one which is being agonised over at this time in liberal democratic societies around the world. The experience of the pandemic has varied between countries, not solely because of the strategies adopted by politicians, but also because of the current health systems and varying social and economic conditions of life in different parts of the world. For many of us, the crises and social disturbances noted above have been played out on our television screens and websites. Increasingly it seems that we have been consuming our life experiences in a world dominated by our screens and sheltered from the real messiness of life. Meanwhile, in those countries with a choice, the debate has been between public health concerns and economic health concerns. Some have argued that the two are not totally independent of each other, while others have argued that the extent to which they are seen as interrelated lies in the extent to which life’s values have themselves become commodified. Others have pointed to the mental health problems experienced by people of all ages as a result of being confined for long periods of time within limited spaces and experiencing few chances to meet with others outside their immediate household. Still others have experienced different conditions – such as the chance to work from home in a comfortable environment and be freed from the drudgery of commuting in crowded traffic or public transport.
So, at a national/communal level as well as at an individual level, this international crisis has exposed people to different decisions. It has offered, for many, a chance to recalibrate their lives. Those who have the resources, are leaving the confines of the big capital cities and seeking a healthier and less turbulent existence in quieter urban centres. For those of us in what can be loosely termed ‘an information industry’, today’s work practices are already an age away from what they were in pre-pandemic times. Yet again, a clear split is evident. The notion of ‘essential industries’ has been reclassified. The delivery of goods, the facilitation of necessary purchase such as food; these and other tasks have acquired a new significance which has enhanced the value of those who deliver these services. However, for those whose tasks can be handled via the internet or offloaded to other anonymous beings a readjustment of a different kind is occurring. So to the future - for those who have suffered ill-health and lost loved ones, the pandemic only reinforces the human priority. Health and well-being trumps economic health and wealth where choices can be made. The closeness of human contact has been reinforced by the tales of families who have been deprived of the touch of their loved ones, many of whom still don’t know when that opportunity will be offered again. When writing our editorial, a year ago, I little expected to be still pursuing a Covid related theme today. Yet where once we were expecting to look back on this time as a minor hiccough, with normal service being resumed sometime last year, it has not turned out to be that way. Rather, it seems that we have been offered a major reset opportunity in the way in which we continue to progress our future as humans. The question is, will we be bold enough to see the opportunity and embrace a healthier more equitable more locally responsible lifestyle or, will we revert to a style of ‘progress’ where powerful countries, organisations and individuals continue to amass increased amounts of wealth and influence and become increasingly less responsive to the needs of individuals in the throng below.
Of course, any retreat from globalisation as it has evolved to date, will involve disruption of a different kind, which will inevitably lead to pain for some. It seems inevitable that any change and consequent progress is going to involve winners and losers. Already airline companies and the travel industry are putting pressure on governments to “get back to normal” i.e. where things were previously. Yet, in the shadow of widespread support for climate activism and the extinction rebellion movement, reports have emerged that since the lockdowns air pollution has dropped dramatically around the world – a finding that clearly offers benefits to all our population. In a similar vein the impossibility of overseas air travel in Australia has resulted in a major increase in local tourism, where more inhabitants are discovering the pleasures of their own nation. The transfer of their tourist and holiday dollars from overseas to local tourist providers has produced at one level a traditional zero-sum outcome, but it has also been accompanied by a growing appreciation of local citizens for the wonders of their own land and understanding of the lives of their fellow citizens as well as massive savings in foregone air travel. Continuing to define life in terms of competition for limited resources will inevitably result in an ever-continuing run of zero-sum games. Looking beyond the prism of competition and personal reward has the potential to add to what Michael Sandel (2020) has termed ‘the common good’. Does the possibility of a reset, offer the opportunity to recalibrate our views of effort and reward to go beyond a dollar value and include this important dimension?
How has sport been experiencing the pandemic and are there chances for a reset here? An opinion piece from Peter Horton in this edition, has highlighted the growing disconnect of professional sport at the highest level from the communities that gave them birth. Is this just another example of the outcome of unrestrained commodification? Professional sport has suffered in the pandemic with the cancelling of fixtures and the enforced absence of crowds. Yet it has shown remarkable resilience. Sport science staff may have been reduced alongside all the auxiliary workers who go to make up the total support staff on match days and other times. Crowds have been absent, but the game has gone on. Players have still been able to play and receive the support they have become used to from trainers, physiotherapists and analysts, although for the moment there may be fewer of them. Fans have had to rely on electronic media to watch their favourites in action– but perhaps that has just encouraged the continuing spread of support now possible through technology which is no longer dependent on personal attendance through the turnstile. Perhaps for those committed to the watching of live sport in the outdoors, this might offer a chance for more attention to be paid to sport at local and community levels. Might the local villagers be encouraged to interrelate with their hometown heroes, rather than the million-dollar entertainers brought in from afar by the big city clubs? To return to the village analogy and the tensions between global and local, could it be that the social structure of the village has become maladapted to the reality of globalisation? If we wish to retain the traditional values of village life, is returning to our village a necessary strategy? If, however we see that today the benefits and advantages lie in functioning as one single global community, then perhaps we need to do some serious thinking as to how that community can function more effectively for all of its members and not just its ‘elites’. As indicated earlier, sport has always been a reflection of our society. Whichever way our communities decide to progress, sport will have a place at their heart and sport scholars will have a place in critically reflecting the nature of the society we are building.
It is on such a note that I am pleased to introduce the content of volume 43:1 to you. We start with a reminder from Hoyoon Jung of the importance of considering the richness provided by a deep analysis of context, when attempting to evaluate and compare outcomes for similar events. He examines the concept of nation building through sport, an outcome that has been frequently attributed to the conduct of successful events. In particular, he examines this outcome in the context of the experiences of South Africa and Brazil as hosts of world sporting events. The mega sporting event that both shared was the FIFA world cup, in 2010 and 2014 respectively. Additional information could be gained by looking backwards to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in the case of South Africa and forward to the 2016 Olympics with regard to Brazil. Differentiating the settings in terms of timing as well as in the makeup of the respective local cultures, has led Jung to conclude that a successful outcome for nation building proved possible in the case of South Africa. However, different settings, both economically and socially, made it impossible for Brazil to replicate the South African experience. From a globally oriented perspective to a more local one, our second paper by Rafal Gotowski and Marta Anna Zurawak examines the growth and development, with regard to both participation and performance, of a more localised activity in Poland - the Nordic walking marathon. Their analysis showed that this is a locally relevant activity that is meeting the health-related exercise needs of an increasing number of people in the middle and later years, including women. It is proving particularly beneficial as an activity due to its ability to offer a high level of intensity while reducing the impact - particularly on the knees.
The article by Petr Vlček, Richard Bailey, Jana Vašíčková XXABSTRACT Claude Scheuer is also concerned with health promoting physical activity. Their focus however is on how the necessary habit of regular and relevant physical activity is currently being introduced to the younger generation in European schools through the various physical education curricula. They conclude that physical education lessons, as they are currently being conducted, are not providing the needed 50% minimum threshold of moderate to vigorous physical activity. They go further, to suggest that in reality, depending on the physical education curriculum to provide the necessary quantum of activity within the child’s week, is going to be a flawed vision, given the instructional and other objectives they are also expected to achieve. They suggest implementing instead an ‘Active Schools’ concept, where the PE lessons are augmented by other school-based contexts within a whole school programme of health enhancing physical activity for children. Finally, we step back to the global and international context and the current Pandemic. Eric Burhaein, Nevzt Demirci, Carla Cristina Vieira Lourenco, Zsolt Nemeth and Diajeng Tyas Pinru Phytanza have collaborated as a concerned group of physical educators to provide an important international position statement which addresses the role which structured and systematic physical activity should assume in the current crisis.
This edition then concludes with two brief contributions. The first is an opinion piece by Peter Horton which provides a professional and scholarly reaction to the recent attempt by a group of European football club owners to challenge the global football community and establish a self-governing and exclusive European Super League. It is an event that has created great alarm and consternation in the world of football. Horton reflects the outrage expressed by that community and concludes: While recognising the benefits accruing from well managed professionalism, the essential conflict between the values of sport and the values of market capitalism will continue to simmer below the surface wherever sport is commodified rather than practised for more ‘intrinsic’ reasons. We conclude however on a more celebratory note. We are pleased to acknowledge the recognition achieved by one of the members of our International Review Board. The career and achievements of Professor John Wang – a local ‘scholar’- have been recognised in his being appointed as the foundation E.W. Barker Professor in Physical Education and Sport at the Nanyang Technological University. This is a well-deserved honour and one that reflects the growing stature of the Singapore Physical Education and Sports Science community within the world of International Sport Studies.
Brisbane, June 2021
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