Like potlatch in this blog post, I’ve long been fascinated by the role of sport in our economy and culture. It’s an activity which in our capitalist society has acquired an iconic value. he rhetoric of businessmen is full of sporting analogies, always used with approval.
Of course, the analogies are obvious. Competitiveness and team-building are key concepts for capitalists. And potlatch is surely right in describing how the rhetoric of sport, like the rhetoric of capital, is increasingly concerned with crude power. This contrasts with the interplay of equal participants envisaged by market theory.
Crucially, sport legitimises some of the most feral aspects of capitalism. It posits an environment where there must be winners or losers, and allows the position of the winner to be rationalised as achievement, rather than the product of inherent inequality. At the same time, market capitalism can draw on sport to wrap itself in metaphors of fair play, obedience to the rules and the spirit of the game, hiding the feral exchanges of power that I would argue more accurately characterise capitalist behaviour.
It’s also about metaphors of control. Organised sport in Britain is very much tied up with the public school ethos (although there is of course an essential strand of working men coming together in sports clubs). It’s about getting the apparently unruly to put aside their bad habits and come together in an ideologically safe way, expending energy in activity that reinforces rather than threatening the established order.
And finally it’s about national glory. Not just the nationalism of getting behind “our team” and the way in which the achievement (or otherwise) of eleven men on a football pitch becomes synonymous with national success; but through prestigious grands projets like the Olympics and the World Cup, reminiscent of the heyday of imperialism in the reach of their ambition, the ideology they glorify and the financial disaster that invariably follows in their wake.
Sport is much more than a game, in other words; it’s an important expression of dominant ideology. It illuminates the hegemony.