- Gaming the World: How Sports are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture
Andrei Markovits and Lars Rensmann’s work offers a contemporary exploration of global sports. They ask how have “post industrialization” and “second globalization” transformed sports. How have sports influenced societies and identities? How do sports maintain traditions while affecting globalization, cosmopolitan, political, and cultural changes? And how do sports manage these globalizing cultural changes? (pp. 1–2).
Post industrialization and second globalization occurred in the last thirty years, the time frame for much of the text. This period has given rise to multimedia, which can readily disseminate sport information to a global audience heretofore unprecedented. Global migrants can remain in touch with their sports teams while the franchises simultaneously develop new markets.
Although the authors mostly analyze soccer to demonstrate the rise of globalized sports, there are numerous connections with American football, hockey, baseball, and basketball. They argue that major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, European Champions League, or the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals, become “global spectacles” rather than limited to select audiences in this brave new sporting world.
They posit that teams and franchises represent local and/or national customs or “cultural capital.” This is what makes owning a sport franchise valuable since team ownership is seldom overly-lucrative. Hence, team owners, coaches, players, and even politicians often become, and at least must reckon with, the cultural capital that makes the games valuable. Team and cultural profitability also leads to “cosmopolitanism” of sport teams, which happens when owners recruit international players in pursuit of victory. These imported players can challenge local traditions with their native customs.
The rules and vernacular nuances, or “sports language” also weaves throughout the book. This international lexicon is understood by most and becomes a sporting vocabulary. This allows sports to become a social equalizer while transcending boundaries, neighborhoods, and national borders in conjunction with the economics of international trade.
From the roots of globalized sports to the present, the authors explain how certain sports, such as U.S. soccer, are not part of the “hegemonic sport culture.” Instead these sports experience “Olympianization.” This is when spectatorship reaches peak interest such as the World Cup, European Champions League, or visits of famous teams. It also shows itself when celebrity players, such as David Beckham, attempt to invigorate the MLS.
By contrast, the authors also explore the “Nowitzki effect.” This is named after Dirk Nowitski, whose NBA abilities have made him a star in the U.S., his native Germany, and beyond. Thus, Nowitzki’s ability, coupled with contemporary multimedia, has created an international following that encourages basketball’s growth. The authors likewise draw parallels to other cultural diffusions, including the spreading of baggy shorts from the [End Page 191] University of Michigan’s “Fab Five” to the soccer fields of Europe. There are “high fives” from the U.S. Civil Rights movement to the playing fields of the world. The ubiquity of tattoos on professional athletes is attributed to Dennis Rodman. And the “wave,” which washes around stadiums world wide, is attributed to a 1980 National Hockey League game.
Women’s soccer is also examined through the prism of globalization. Questions of how the female soccer players challenge masculinity, gender, athleticism, and violence are highlighted. The authors argue that the women’s game is successful in countries where the men’s game is peripheral. Nonetheless, the strong grass-roots support of women’s soccer indicates it will remain a sporting mainstay.
Cultural resistance to globalized sports or “counter cosmopolitanism” is a backlash often manifested in stadiums. For example, some U.S. sport fans question the physical aspects of soccer by attacking the sport as un-masculine. Conversely, in Europe, some see U.S. football as a freakish cartoon. This sports xenophobia also rears its ugly head through instances of racism, anti-Semitism, hooliganism, and violence in Europe. While in the U.S., fan violence often erupts from celebratory riots or losses.
Finally, the authors...