Modifying the Sign: Sport and Globalization
Montreal hosted the fourteenth quadrennial World Congress of Sociology in the late northern summer of 1998. The conference marked the end of postmodernity—in a sense. A trope that had been ever present four years earlier was gone, erased (or at least rendered palimpsestic) by globalization: “and the postmodern/the postmodern and” saw their status as suffix and prefix written all over. So polysemous was globalization that it included sameness, difference, unity, and disunity—in short, globalization, like postmodernity before it, had come to stand for nothing less than life itself. As such, it was of dubious analytic utility.
What the Financial Times of 30 July 1997 called “the G-word” is not the exclusive property of sociologists, of course. The concept has great currency in the logics of businesses, unions, and governments—Forbes magazine launched Forbes Global in 1998 via a full-page social realist-like advertisement, complete with red flags (which included currency signs), Castro- and Mao-garbed workers, and the slogan “Capitalists of the World Unite!” The avowed intent was to acknowledge and sell “the final victory of capitalism” as embodied in the new ‘zine. The “G-word” is also expressed in the international commodity plans of the sports industry. Just a month after the Montreal congress, Washington, D.C., hosted a “Travel, Events, and Management in Sports” conference, which agreed that globalization was the keyword for that business sector (Sports is global entertainment 1998). Capital certainly makes the connection, in both textual and commercial terms. Reebok advertises itself as a “planet” with “no boundaries” and Delta Air promoted its international service during the 1996 Olympics with images of Nigel Havers (who starred in Chariots of Fire in 1981 as an aristocratic runner) making his merry way from airport to airport as the fortnight progressed, symbolizing the cosmopolitan sports consumer. Nineteen ninety-nine saw the announcement of two investments, one minor and one major, both cutting across ideological and economic boundaries, that emphasize the point. A fourth-division German soccer team in Bonn bought the entire Cuban national squad, with the approval of the government in Havana. And China, where horse racing had been banned since the Revolution fifty years earlier, announced that Australians would build a $256 million race course complex and provide officials, veterinarians, and managers for [End Page 15] what was described locally as “horse racing intelligence competition,” a semantic ruse to get around the law (reported in the New York Times on 1 January 1999). And when Michael Jordan announced his second retirement from basketball, a Chinese newspaper reported the news with the headline “Flying Man Michael Jordan Coming Back to Earth,” and Japanese news organizations sought U.S. commentators for a response. That was hardly surprising given that for some years, children in parts of the world with neither running water nor electricity could be found wearing the number 23 on their backs (Berkow 1999). Even Jordan’s reach pales alongside the power of soccer. It generates about $250 billion annually in revenue and employs 200 million people (Coman, Endean, and Coron 1998). While in August 2000, just prior to the Sydney Olympics, the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers are scheduled to play an exhibition match in Sydney as part of “Australia-U.S. Business Week.” The Olympics are marketed by Australia as a sign that the country is, in a typically supine slogan, “Open for Business” (Broncos 1999). If the “G-word” has a signified, it includes sport.
Globalization is a knowledge-effect with definite impacts on intellectual, economic, social, and governmental practice. At the same time, the notion that it represents a major epistemological break that is an accurate description of change rather than its symptom is problematic. We take the example of sport here to argue against a singular phenomenon of globalization as the truly worldwide operation of multinational capital, and we claim that the sport experience, which links nationalism, public policy, the media, and contemporary cultural industrialization, must be considered in wider deliberations on globalization. Just as sport manages to be a global phenomenon when it stands effectively for the nation, so the nation, as embodied in sovereign politics, continues to be the critical unit of international commerce. And just as most of the money in so-called global sport circulates between Western Europe, Japan, and the United States, so these are the real centers of international capital as sites of both investment and disinvestment.
Our methodological touchstone is Latour’s observation that “the words ‘local’ and ‘global’ offer points of view on networks that are by nature neither local nor global, but are more or less long and more or less connected” (Latour 1993, 122). These words become binarized (and hence all-encompassing) in the globalization literature, where the plenitude of one becomes the lack of the other and vice versa. In place of this logic, we follow the dictum that “if one wants the great systems finally to be open to certain real problems, it is necessary to look for the data and the questions in which they are hidden” (Foucault 1991, 151). Sport really tears apart any claim that globalization is a totality, either as a [End Page 16] process or a structure. Rather, it is a series of discontinuities and continuities.
The notion that space and time are routinely compressed and expanded under globalization draws on two key events: the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 and the Washington Conference of 1884. The first of these acknowledged the emergence of empire, as the pope mediated rivalries between Portugal and Spain through a bifurcation of the world—the first recorded conceptualization of the globe as a site of conquest and exploitation. The second event, taking place the same year as the imperial division of Africa at the Conference of Berlin, standardized Greenwich as the axis of world time and cartography. This development effectively marked the globe as a site of interconnected government and commerce (Schaeffer 1997, 2, 7, 10–11). The phenomenology of sporting experience is very much about this notion of a dominion over space and time, whether at the human or cybernetic level (Barthes 1997, 76)—and spectator sport, as an international phenomenon, relies on precisely this spanning of the dual coordinates of work and leisure.
Capitalism’s uneven and unequal development paralleled the trends of Tordesillas and Washington, as mercantilist accumulation and imperialism (1500–1800) were followed by the classical era of capital with the Industrial Revolution. A period of Northern industrial development and agrarian change was partnered by European emigration to the Americas to solve population overflow, while colonial possessions offered raw materials (Amin 1997, 1, x). The international regime of capitalism had its beginnings in sixteenth-century trade between nations. But the key shift occurred between 1870 and 1914 (not surprisingly, Bahá’u’llah coined the phrase New World Order in 1873 [Calkins and Vézina 1996, 311]). During this period, global output and exchange increased by upwards of an unprecedented 3 percent annually (Hirst 1997, 411). Whereas a century later modern manufacturing techniques were restricted to Europe and the northeastern United States, today they are used across the world (Hindley 1999). In response to the associated relocation of capital, socialists, syndicalists, and anarchists formed large international associations of working people (Herod 1997, 167). Up to World War II, trade focused on national capitals, controlled by nation-states. The period from 1945 to 1973 represented an “interregnum between the age of competing imperial powers and the coming of the global economy” (Teeple 1995, 57) centered in the triad of Europe, Japan, and the United States, “each with their immense hinterland of satellite states” [End Page 17] (Jameson 1996, 2). The international regime following the war was based on U.S. hegemony linked to the expansionary needs of its corporations. With the development of other economies came a growing interdependence between nations, and between companies within nations. World trade between 1950 and 1973 grew by almost 10 percent annually and output by more than 5 percent, most of it between the triad (Hirst 1997, 411). The triad’s continuing significance is clear in sporting terms, too—they are responsible for well over 90 percent of the money expended on the right to telecast the 2000 Sydney Olympics (White 1998).
The new global economic system that evolved from the mid-1970s saw national Keynesianism rejected by Northern class fractions in support of a transnational capital that displaced noncapitalist systems elsewhere (Robinson 1996, 14–15). Regulatory and other mechanisms were set in place to liberalize world trade, contain socialism, promote legislation favorable to capitalist expansion, and aggregate world markets. The latter, which included the formation of the European Union and other trade groupings, was crucial for the promotion of free-trade regimes in the 1980s and beyond (though trade since then has not exceeded that of the postwar quarter century [Hirst 1997, 412]). But according to some, it also undermined state sovereignty. The growth of corporate power had provided enough strength for corporations to demand the removal of national barriers to trade, as the spread of foreign capital and currency markets meant that economic decisions were being undertaken outside the context of the nation-state and in ways that favored the market. The “relationship between capitalism and territoriality” shifted (Robinson 1996, 18) but was still governed by interstate bodies as much as ever, albeit dominated by the G7 (Hirst 1997, 413; McMichael 1996, 177). Capital markets, for example, operated internationally but with national supervision and regulation; all conceivable plans for dealing with their transnational reach still involved formal governance (Global finance 1999). Rather than “a borderless world, this might best be construed as a shift from states managing national economies, to states managing the global economy” (McMichael forthcoming). Workers have dealt with these changing conditions via international trade secretariats, with many U.S. unions following the very logic of manifest geodestiny that animates their bosses (Herod 1997, 168, 171).
Actual labor mobility is not at the wage-earning end of society, but amongst the salariat. Lash and Urry (1994) see reflexive accumulation (the production of knowledge) combining with flexible specialization in the workplace to challenge orthodox notions of space and time. Globally mobile citizens emerge as part of information flows from which they [End Page 18] derive, and in which they create, meaning. In rendering problematic both space and time, globalization confuses identity—one effect of which is to undermine nationalism.
Ordinary people are said to see their futures wrapped up in globalization (see McMichael 1996). For Waters (1995, 3), globalization today is “a social process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural arrangements recede and in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding.” He predicts that “territoriality will disappear as an organizing principle for social and cultural life.” In sporting terms, this would have major implications for the identification of place with person, whether at the national, regional, or urban levels. For Pieterse (1995), there are many “globalizations,” noted for their fluidity, indeterminacy, and “open-endedness.” He suggests we apply the term globalism to describe a policy of furthering globalization (through privatization) or managing it (via regulation).
Robertson (1995) has proposed the ungainly term glocalization, both because global forces do not override locality, and because homogenization and heterogenization are equally crucial. We do not live in a world where, to use a Sartrean phrase, local and regional areas are “condemned to freedom” (Robertson 1995, 39), obliged to interact with wider forces to maintain their economic future. For they do so in differing ways, under different conditions. In this formulation, the local is not the other of the global. With time-compression of the global economy, the local dialectically absorbs, shapes, alters, and opposes wider tendencies while creating and promulgating its own. These, in turn, contribute to the eventual shape of macro or global forms. Like Robertson, Pieterse (1995) rejects any view that globalizing processes necessarily make the world uniform. There may be some synchronization brought about by technological, economic, and cultural flows, but the effect is hybridized. Cultural forms separate from current practices and are recombined in new ones, forming not a global whole but a mélange of sites and spaces. Pieterse believes it is possible to replace an older, homogenizing vocabulary. Instead of modernization, we have modernizations; instead of Westernization as a unidirectional force, we experience global mélange; instead of cultural synchronization, we see creolization; and instead of a world civilization, we talk of a global ecumene (Pieterse 1995, 62). Similarly, Lash and Urry (1994, 280) see the global order as a “structure of flows, a de-centred set of economies of signs in space.”
But there is no doubt that global targets are crucial to capital. As Teeple (1995, 65–66) argues,
with the coming of computer-based systems, capitalist production became less constrained by large-scale, long-term investments, and with the continued [End Page 19] diminution of national barriers it could increasingly be “sited” in regions or countries with the most favorable conditions for accumulation (for instance, proximity to markets, types of labor force, and state concessions).
By 1994, half the hundred biggest economies in the world “belonged” not to nation-states, but to multinational corporations (MNCs) (Donnelly 1996, 239). Four hundred of the latter accounted for two-thirds of fixed assets and 70 percent of trade (Robinson 1996, 20). With control of the economy in the hands of MNCs, some common elements appear to be gaining hold. One is the view that the “unmitigated rule” of corporate private property must be sacrosanct. Another is that the welfare state should largely be dismantled. Teeple (1995, 6) suggests “the same changes wrought by globalization are the rationale for neo-liberalism.” The rise of neoliberalism is a key feature of globalization—the state has not disappeared but has become an aid to accumulation (Robinson 1996, 19). Neoliberalism is associated with individual freedom, the sanctity of the marketplace, and minimal government involvement in economic matters (Overbeek 1990). It provides an intellectual alibi for a comparatively unimpeded flow of capital across national boundaries. What appears to be emerging is the rejection of corporatist or tripartite approaches to solving economic problems, where labor, capital, and the state work together. Subordinate groups are now given little or no credence; the state—on behalf of capital—actively undermines the union movement through policies designed to “free” labor from employment laws; and the Keynesian-style welfare system, which helped to redistribute funds to the working class, is dismantled. Hamilton (1996, 5) noted that
the preferences of citizens expressed through elected governments take second place to those of international financial markets. When unemployment increases, the markets generally rally because higher unemployment reduces the likelihood of inflation. If governments increase spending on social welfare they are in danger of being punished by capital withdrawals, driving up interest rates and causing exchange rates and incomes to fall. The effect is reinforced if the new spending is to be financed by increased taxes on capital or wealth. The wishes of the citizens cannot be fulfilled; it is an insult on democracy.
Governments want to deliver voters ongoing sovereignty and controlled financial markets, along with international capital markets—what the Economist calls an “impossible trinity” (Global finance 1999, 4). The real issue today, then, is the extent to which the historic promises made by established and emergent governments after 1945 to secure (a) the [End Page 20] economic welfare of citizens and (b) their political sovereignty can still be kept. Neoliberalism is the latest lever for these guarantees, and the one that has gone furthest toward breaking them.
The first promise initially seemed workable locally, via state-based management of supply and demand and the creation of industries to substitute imports with domestically produced items. The second promise required concerted international action to convince the colonial powers (principally Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Portugal) that the peoples whom they had enslaved should be given the right of self-determination via nationalism. The latter became a powerful ideology of political mobilization as a supposed precursor to liberation.
The second promise—which was made good—then led the resulting postcolonial governments to enter into pacts with their peoples to deliver the first promise. Most followed import-substitution industrialization, frequently via MNCs that established local presences. But Third World states suffered dependent underdevelopment and were unable to grow economically. Their political postcoloniality rarely became economic, with the exception of former British colonies in Asia, which pursued export-oriented industrialization and service-based expansion. With the crises of the 1970s, even those states that had bourgeoisies with sufficient capital formation to permit a welfare system found that stagflation had undermined their capacity to hedge employment against inflation. We know the consequences: “the space of economic management of capital accumulation [no longer] coincided with that of its political and social dimensions” (Amin 1997, xi). Import substitution of the 1950s and 1960s was progressively problematized and dismantled from the 1970s to today, a tendency that grew in velocity and scope with the erosion of state socialism. We have reached a point where it is said that “the state remains a pre-eminent political actor on the global stage,” but “the aggregation of states . . . is no longer in control of the global policy process,” which is fundamentally nonnormative and is run by banks, corporations, and finance traders (Falk 1997, 124–25, 129–30). In the new system, core and periphery are blurred, the spatial mobility of capital is enhanced, unions are disciplined, the strategic strength of labor is undermined, and the power of the state is circumscribed by the ability of capital to move across borders—a fundamental shift in the bargaining and power relations between capital and labor, facilitated by transportation and information technologies (Ross and Trachte 1990, 63).
We now have firms that view the world as a “mosaic of differentiated sites of potential investment” (Ross and Trachte 1990, 223). Because of their mobility, MNCs can discipline both labor and the state, such that the latter is reluctant to impose new taxes, constraints, or proworker policies in the face of possible declining investment from those firms. [End Page 21] Post-state-socialist labor movements are advised on “appropriate” forms of life by the American Federation of Labor-Council of Industrial Organizations, in keeping with the latter’s strong opposition to Marxism-Leninism over many decades (Herod 1997, 172, 175). The “uncompetitive” countries of the Arab world and Africa have their labor forces bracketed by MNCs as a reserve army of low-cost potential workers who will be imported to the North if required (Amin 1997, ix), while throughout the world, “household and informal sector activities” increase “to sustain global reproduction” (Peterson 1996, 10). Transnational worker solidarity has tended to apply only at the grassroots rather than the peak level (Herod 1997, 185).
The urge that animated thousands of sociologists to displace pomo with globo in a summery Quebec derived, then, from contemporary debates about the direction and penetration of multinational capital and its sign-value (Pieterse 1997). Sport appears to be an obvious instance. For example, hockey gear is designed in Sweden, financed in Canada, manufactured in Denmark, Japan, and the United States, and distributed across North America and Northern Europe (Donnelly 1996, 240), while Nike has transformed itself from (a) an Oregon distributor of Japanese shoes; through (b) an off-shore manufacturer in Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China, and Korea for shoes sold in the United States; into (c) a company with vast international sales and half a million workers earning under $1.50 a day (Harvey, Rail, and Thibault 1996, 265; McMichael 1996, 3; Egan 1998, 67; Ballinger 1998). In the process, it instantiated a gendered division of labor based on shibboleths of female docility and “nimble fingers.” Unsurprisingly, the company left Korea when women workers organized (Peterson 1996, 10; Enloe 1995, 12). Throughout, Nike has sought to stem a backlash at home by encouraging U.S. runners to see themselves as consumers rather than citizens (Barber 1998, 34). Its desire to buy all conceivable social relations of use to it took a new turn at the 1999 Australian Open tennis championships, where college students were paid to occupy key seats in view of television cameras and act out between points, while dressed up as clones of Nike-sponsored players (CNN/Reuters 1999). Then again, the company’s 1997 annual-report boast—“The ‘swooshification of the world’ should more appropriately be deemed the Sportsification of the world. . . . We will mature in tandem with the inexorable penetration of sports into the global psyche”—came only a matter of months before its profit declined by 49 percent and stock dropped by 50 percent (Egan [End Page 22] 1998, 67). Hubris and worker solidarity militated against the company.
This is not the only relationship between sport and “development.” Emergent world-economic sites of the postwar era gained international visibility with the Tokyo Olympics (1964) and the Mexico City Olympics (1968) and soccer World Cup (1970). Such events marked and promoted global integration. At the same time, of course, the 1980 and 1984 Olympics were dominated by superpower assertiveness, with Moscow an advertisement for state socialism and Los Angeles for private enterprise (Whitson and Macintosh 1996, 279). The Peace Corps was once close to being renamed the “Sports Corps,” and Third World states have utilized sport to demonstrate the benefits of nation building (Monnington 1993, 128).
To many critics, sport’s manifest nationalism has masked dependency, as indigenous sports were displaced by those of the colonizers (Kang 1988)—the process of competition, ranking, and nationalism inscribing a deep structure of Western culture (Galtung 1984). Because the Olympic Games are conceived on an intercontinental and postcolonial scale, sports must be played across a minimum of five continents to be included, regardless of their popularity. So sepak, takraw, and kabaddi (the latter’s playing population is conservatively estimated at 270 million) are excluded from the Olympics, whereas minority interests like equestrianism are not (Beh and Leow 1999). For its part, soccer is caught in a brutal struggle for control of the game between the plutocracy of Europe and the demography of Latin America and Africa (Coman, Endean, and Coron 1999).
The sporting corollary to the general trend toward MNC economic domination is the preeminence of privately owned teams rather than nationally representative ones. It has been argued from the Left that “for all the horrors of globalism, one more nail is driven into the coffin of cultural nationalism with every step towards a sporting circus” (Blake 1995, 48). The same touching naïveté is evident on the Right. In 1992, Silvio Berlusconi, owner of the AC Milan football club and later both the Italian prime minister and a convicted criminal, announced that “the concept of the national team will, gradually, become less important. It is the clubs with which the fans associate” (qtd. in Maguire 1994, 460). Given that Nike “owns” the Italian, Brazilian, and Nigerian national sides (Blount 1997, 37), his prediction was conservative—the nation became a club.
It is certainly the case that economic, political, technological, and cultural changes have forged new relations of TV, sport, and nation. What constitutes a national game or a contest between representatives of local, regional, and national identities is subject to constant reformulation. In 1970s cricket and 1990s rugby league, the results of corporate [End Page 23] media takeovers of the very sports themselves were brief but tumultuous schisms in the game, the production of new discourses of tradition and modernity, and a vigorous contest over the right to claim national representative status. The immediate cause of these dramatic events was a contest over free-to-air TV rights between public and private networks (in the case of cricket) and competing media proprietors (in the instance of rugby league) (Miller 1989; Rowe and McKay 1999). Each time, governments stood about and flailed their arms, as per the Clinton administration during the 1994 baseball strike over revenue sharing. But that said, we must equally factor in the success of governments here: first, policing holidays to normalize vacations and regularize recreation as both play and spectatorship; second, securing the conditions of existence for a partial commodification that still made sport governed rather than classically competitive (e.g., antitrust exemptions and the like); third, supporting the generation of a TV/nation/sport complex by putting up the risk capital for a new genre over many years; fourth, allocating resources to sport as both a diplomatic symbol and a domestic training mechanism; and fifth, being the site of appeal by activists opposed to global capital.
And with the spread of sport around the world has come an intense codification, both formally and informally, to the point where quite rigid laws now cross borders under the sign of state and intergovernmental agencies that deal with “political boycotts, nonrecognition of national teams and individuals by host governments, eligibility of athletes, substance abuse, and commercialization and jurisdictional squabbles between competing sports organizations” (Nafziger 1992, 490). This is true of the broader economy. Certain critics argue that the promiscuous nature of capital has been overstated, that the sovereign-state, far from being a series of “glorified local authorities” (Hirst 1997, 409), is in fact crucial to the regulation of MNC activity, with regional blocs strengthening, rather than weakening, the ability of the state to govern. Most people continue to look to it for both economic sanction and return (Smith 1996, 580). The argument here is that the triad of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan forms the only key site of MNC activity (more than two-thirds of MNC sales and assets are located there), with direct foreign investment elsewhere distinctly limited (Hirst 1997, 418; Kozul-Wright and Rowthorn 1998). Perhaps one in twenty MNCs actually invests globally (Gibson-Graham 1996–97, 7–8). Multinationals look around for marginal utility and then retreat to what is known and controllable—so the explosion of foreign investment in the three years from 1994 saw an increase of 40 percent in MNC money poured into the United States, while investment the other way was primarily in Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, France, and Australia (Trade barriers [End Page 24] 1997). Public institutions, many of them international but many also domestic, still provide the framework and in fact much of the investment for the world economy (Atkinson 1997; Gibson-Graham 1996–97, 8). And lest we imagine that Nike is new, a brief look at U.S. shoe manufacture shows similar histories dating from the early nineteenth century, when assembly went offshore to China (Atkinson 1997, 387).
This is not to deny an internationalization of sport through commerce, to match its nineteenth-century diffusion via the British empire. At the top of certain sports, rates of pay for workers who compete internationally have combined with a deregulated world TV market to create labor cosmopolitans across association football, ice hockey, basketball, track, cycling, golf, motor sports, tennis, and cricket. They may migrate on a seasonal, residential, or comprehensive basis (Bale and Maguire 1994; Maguire 1996). This is very much in keeping with other new professional diasporas (Cohen 1997, 155–76). At the opposite end of the scale, North American major league baseball teams all operate in Latin America in search of young men (defined as 11+) who will sign up for a tiny fraction of the cost of equivalently gifted players domiciled in the United States, because the former are outside the amateur draft’s protection of wages and conditions. Few clubs comply with local government regulations for baseball hiring. The two biggest sources for the pros now are California and the Dominican Republic, with Venezuela of increasing importance (Chass 1998a, 1998b).
What of sport as a component of civil society? Barber’s account of a world divided “between global commerce and parochial ethnicity,” bereft of “civic virtues” (1996, 7), could be said to find full expression in sport, where intense regional, ethnic, and national rivalries are still powerful, and even utilized as marketing tools, while commodification gathers pace. Far from being part of a civil society that sees multiple checks on centralized economic or governmental power, as per his vision for “the sovereignty of the democratic state” (Barber 1996, 296), contemporary sport amounts, in such a view, to a continuing spiral into ultra-market, ultra-chauvinistic forms of life.
Yet there is both civil- and state-based global governance at work in sport. For good or ill, neither is fully corporate or nationalistic. For instance, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) are immensely powerful civil associations of cultural elites from across the world that frequently dictate terms to governments and businesses through a complex relationship of interdependency with nationalism and corporate funding. They are even granted “international personality” in legal discourse. Since 1984 the IOC has gone so far as to operate a Court of Arbitration for Sport, to which many sovereign legal systems have [End Page 25] deferred, although there has been strong Third World opposition to its undemocratic ways (Nafziger 1992, 491 n. 9, 506–507, 510; Houlihan 1994, 86). IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, a politician in fascist Spain (“Franco did good things for my country,” he told the New York Times [qtd. in Cohen and Longman 1999, 26]), announced in 1998 that “we function as a state.” That year the IOC’s 114 members (of whom only 12 were women) included 4 African generals, 3 European princes and 1 princess, assorted businessmen and lawyers, a few former athletes, Boris Yeltsin’s old tennis coach, a recruit from the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency, and the disgraced previous head of Italy’s fraudulent drug-testing center. As the IOC aims to take over all international sport, the countervailing pressure of individual federations is strong, but frequently mounted by similarly unrepresentative figures (Clarey 1998; Echikson 1998). For all that, this is no picture of a commodified, corporate, or nation-driven organization—it operates a multimillion Olympic Solidarity program in support of African sports development via coaching clinics, equipment, and scholarships for training (Longman 1999). Nor is it immune to the state. When controversy arose over alleged corruption in the selection of Olympic sites and the IOC’s ability to control the use of performance-enhancing drugs, it was subjected to intense criticism by governments (Montgomery 1999). A new anticorruption treaty endorsed in 1999 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was promoted widely as a way of dealing with the IOC. The U.S. Olympic Committee and the Republican Party favored bringing the IOC within the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and suggested that an executive order be issued decreeing it a “public international organization” (Simpson and Brauchli 1999). Comprehensive governmentalization loomed.
Away from elite spectacle, everyday sport is influenced by the policing rites of the IOC and FIFA and by intergovernmental policies, as parlayed by the Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and the Council of Europe, as well as by social movement manifestoes, such as the 1994 Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport (Harvey, Rail, and Thibault 1996, 263–64, 268; Houlihan 1994, 90–91, 100–101). Although the quadrennial Commonwealth Games have long been its most visible sign, the Commonwealth, keen to separate sport from state, only established a Working Party on Strengthening Commonwealth Sport in 1989. Its task was working toward higher, more equitable levels of sports participation—the games routinely see the handful of British and white-settler nations overwhelm the formerly British Third World in competition, highlighting old colonial inequalities, while male competitors have outnumbered female four to one, and only the independence-year Kingston [End Page 26] Games had been held outside the United Kingdom or the old dominions until Kuala Lumpur in 1998. The Working Party has followed FIFA and the IOC into civil society governance, via Street Kids International, a community-based youth project across Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Zambia, Pakistan, and India (McMurtry 1993).
In short, when the national ideological analog of sport is factored in, we see fruitful tensions between civil, commercial, national, and governmental realms, both at the level of cultural industrialization and symbolic meaning. Consider this instance. In 1995, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union appointed John Hart as coach of its national side, the All Blacks. An executive from one of the country’s premier corporations, Hart had not coached for years. His “corporate-based approach” placed the “accent on management rather than coaching per se” (Thomas 1997, 41). Hart offered as his goal “transforming the All Blacks into a great international sporting brand. At present, the All Blacks are a great international rugby brand: notwithstanding the talk about rugby’s global reach, the two are poles apart” (Hart 1997, 7).
Rugby is played at a competitive international level in Fiji, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, England, France, Ireland, Romania, Japan, Western Samoa, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Wales, Italy, Canada, the United States, and Scotland. But that status was not enough for Hart. He had in mind the sign-value of Manchester United and Brazil in soccer and Chicago in basketball, a value that transcended the material coordinates of their particular sports to stand for something else, known and appreciated by those who would not profess to know or appreciate soccer or basketball (Manchester United has 100 million fan-club members worldwide and is “the most recognized sporting brand in the world” [Larsen and McCann 1998]). Of course, in the process of attaining that cosmopolitanism, teams lose first their regional and then their national identities—just as the Bulls won with an Australian and a Croatian in their starting lineup, so Brazil’s top footballers all play for clubs outside their country of origin, and Manchester United team members may have as little relationship to England as to Manchester (Hobsbawm 1998, 6).
How did the New Zealand coach/manager hope to achieve equivalent recognition for his team? “Great international sporting brands are created by consistent success[,] but it must be success with style. . . . The team become [sic] synonymous with excitement, with glamour, with class.” To this end, Hart stressed the requirement to “globalize rugby.” He understood that “many people are uncomfortable when they hear the All Blacks talked about as a brand and rugby described as a product,” because of the threat this posed to “New Zealand culture,” but he rejected the notion that “rugby can quarantine itself from economic and commercial [End Page 27] reality.” The cultural aspect could be preserved if professionalization were used to nurture junior and amateur play rather than to strive after profit for its own sake (Hart 1997, 7–8). By expanding beyond New Zealand’s limited business and consumer base, the game, the All Blacks, and their followers would see a huge world of money (Thomas 1997, 301). Since publication of Hart’s autobiography, rumors of dissent in the dressing room have accompanied repeated losses, as players find the demands of this corporatization beyond them and in conflict with their sense of the sport.
Such feelings may be transitional, a throwback that will not be experienced by workers who are formed under the sign of global capital rather than being transformed by it. And Hart’s response—sending the players to a training camp administered by New Zealand’s Special Air Service—does not exactly reference the benign, democratic side to the state! But the story does reference many of the tensions we address here. Specifically, it captures a moment of change for a traditionally amateur sport, one imported from a colonial power and then used to represent independence from—and even superiority to—the former ruler. New Zealand rugby drew great patriotic fervor from its amateurism. Now that commodification and televisualization are under way, along with the imposition of governmental norms to prescribe conduct, rugby is in crisis. A sport that relied on a mythic, disinterested masculinity standing for a tiny country—producing remarkable international sporting success—had taken the promise of self-commodification offered by a deregulated television system and had then encountered the disciplines expected of such a shift.
The question is whether these processes are globalizing ones, and whether that implies a relative standardization, in accord with the literature’s expectations, or whether it generates local forms of life, including resistance. Consider the Global Anti-Golf Movement (GAGM), which works against a business and state carve-up of Asia into lawns for Euro-American and Japanese golf cart-driving businessmen (Donnelly 1996, 240). GAGM’s World No-Golf Day (April 29) attracts a great deal of attention. Founded in Penang in 1993 by people from Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Hawaii, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, GAGM is a model of Southern civil society assaulting Northern despoliation and capital plus the emulation effect of a cosmopolitan bourgeoisie (Chatterjee 1993). As the Economist (Asia in the rough 1997) puts it, golf in Asia is “a status symbol”—the heads of government meeting at the Association of South-East Asian Nations regularly schedule a gentlemanly wander around the links. GAGM highlights the impact of golf-course pesticides on human mortality and genetic disorders; the advertising message to the Third World of an unattainable lifestyle; the need [End Page 28] for public recreational space rather than private links; sexual harassment by male golfers of female caddies (it is common for each male Thai player to be “assisted” by four women); and water wastage and soil erosion. The movement has succeeded in preventing golf-course development in several parts of Japan. In addition to GAGM, there is an anti-golf movement in Mexico, where indigenous people’s land has been expropriated. At each site, governments are key participants in the destruction of the environment as they search for foreign exchange—but they are also key points of appeal for activists (Avery 1996; Chatterjee 1993; Asia in the rough 1997; Klein 1999; Robbins 1998). On the Right, upper-class Hindus, who have benefited most from globalized commerce in India, are the most trenchant nationalists where cricket is concerned, deploying this as a test of others’ loyalty, even as their pleasures are sponsored by Coca-Cola and Pepsi and their avowed goal is global expansion of the sport (McDonald 1999, 218, 221, 225–26).
In summary, discussions about globalization need to address the following: transnational capital; opportunities for nation-states to control capital and information flows; pressures on nation-states to adopt neoliberal policies; the growth of extra-state bodies to monitor and regulate production and exchange; differentiated impacts at the local level of exported culture; the role of the triad; the interconnectedness of locations around the world, reducing the importance of space and time; increased flows of people across national boundaries; consumer consciousness of the international culture industries; and counterknowledges based on national interest. Even as globalization is more than a brand name for sociologists and business leaches, and even as it assuredly nominates “real” processes, its provenance as a transcendental signifier is problematic.
Sugden and Tomlinson conclude their landmark study of world soccer (1998, 228) with the following comment: “FIFA can be viewed both as a transnational body which promotes globalization (and transnational capitalism), and as a locus of resistance to entrenched forms of imperialist domination and emergent forms of international and capitalist power.” If the 1998 World Cup saw Adidas beat Nike in the final (in that those companies sponsored the French and Brazilian teams respectively, just as each of the thirty-two national sides was “owned” by a multinational [Going toe to toe 1998; Endean 1998]), the massive expense seemed worthwhile because of the enduring sign-value of the nation as something that could still appeal beyond the brand loyalty of capitalism. Sport’s remarkable capacity to secure committed spectators and TV audiences, interpellated as local, regional, national, and always governed subjects, gives us some clues to globalization that should moderate the headlong, apoplectic rush into corporate millennialism experienced by theorists who look to less universal signage for their data.
Toby Miller is an editor of Social Text. His latest book is SportCult, coedited with Randy Martin (University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
Geoffrey Lawrence is Foundation Professor of sociology and the executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Regional Development at Central Queensland University, Australia. His areas of interest are rural sociology, the sociology of science and technology, and the sociology of sport and leisure.
Jim McKay teaches popular culture in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is the editor of the International Review for the Sociology of Sport and his most recent books are Managing Gender: Affirmative Action and Organizational Power in Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand Sport (State University of New York Press, 1997) and, with Michael Messner and Donald Sabo, Men, Masculinities, and Sport (Sage, forthcoming).
David Rowe is an associate professor in media and cultural studies at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His latest books are Popular Cultures: Rock Music, Sport, and the Politics of Pleasure (Sage, 1995); Tourism, Leisure, Sport: Critical Perspectives (coedited with Geoffrey Lawrence) (Hodder Education, 1998); and Sport, Culture, and the Media: The Unruly Trinity (Open University Press, 1999).
Thanks to Alan Tomlinson, Randy Martin, and Monica Marciczkiewicz for their invaluable comments on earlier drafts and to Federico Windhausen and Paul Martin for information.