I am a lifelong sports fan. I learned the language of Baseball probably before I could even walk and the language of Basketball soon thereafter. I’m fluent in American Football and can make myself understood in Hockey. I also have varying degrees of fluency in a number of the “minor” sports here in the US, such as Bowling (though I’m not as fluent in speaking Candlepin or Duckpin as I am in the more conventional Tenpin most of us are familiar with.
In their book Gaming the World, Andrei Markovits and Lars Rensmann use the languages of sports to offer a unique perspective on globalization. This is not a book that will be used to settle arguments on sports performances at the neighborhood pub. However, I can see it being used as the foundation of a Sociology class on Sports in Society, as part of a Cultural Anthropology class, or as part of an elective Political Science course work. (in all cases with some necessary supplemental information)
The authors use soccer as the baseline sport because of its global reach and are able to compare the inroads of soccer across the world with the inroads of the North American “Big Four” sports of American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. The basic premise is that there is generally one or two sports in each country that is the sport. The leading sport for the country has its own language and shorthand, spoken by the aficionados, although the US, with the “big four” sports offers a slight variant. With the second globalization of sports (the first being when the sports moved out from England or the US after the initial beginnings), the sports have become the leveling mechanism that allows sports fans to cheer for their local team even when the players are not natives of the country where they are playing.
The authors provide some quite interesting details from historical perspectives to current day including how women’s soccer has made the most inroads in countries where soccer has not been the dominant sport. In those countries where soccer is the dominant sport it appears to be the machismo culture and “how dare women think they can play a man’s sport!” but in countries where soccer has not been dominant such as the US, China and the Koreas, the women have been able to build a following that the men cannot (or at least have not yet) been able to build.
One area they cover that I found a bit surprising is the amount of racism and anti semitism displayed in European soccer leagues, especially levels below the very top, compared to how the US has almost become a paragon of racial restraint (not to say the problem does not exist in the US but that authorities and officials at all levels of sports in the US have made conscious efforts to stop most overt racism, sexism, and anti semitism).
There are a few areas of the book that I take a bit of issue with. By taking a euro-centric perspective on world soccer versus the US Big Four, I think they minimize to an extent the impact of baseball in Asia and Latin America. They do cover the impact of the NBA and basketball in general although by tracing the explosion to the impact of the 1992 US “Dream Team,” I think that once again they miss some of the earlier impacts of foreign players coming to the NBA, although usually on the downside of their careers. And the same holds true for the somewhat limited impact of some of the Japanese baseball players.
There is one very glaring omission in the discussion of impacts of American football versus soccer that I found surprising and with that will leave folks dangling as it will be my first question for our guests. So please join me in the comments and welcome Andrei Markovits and Lars Rensmann as we talk about Gaming the World and the languages of sports.